Ten years ago an OIB headline proclaimed “Zoners For Ziti! Amendment approved for Testo’s Restaurant.”
On the proviso the property would not be flipped into a large-scale housing development, despite heated opposition from North End residents, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a change to the city’s master plan of development based on an application on behalf of the Madison Avenue restaurant then owned by Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa in a residential area.
Testa had been rejected in prior zoning applications for the restaurant that he says he opened with a $5 million investment. In 2013 he brought on Chuck Willinger, the land use attorney guru, to represent him with a new strategy, petitioning the zoning board to amend the city’s master plan.
Fast forward 10 years, the restaurant property was sold and lo and behold a 177-unit development is on the horizon that does not require a public hearing. It has some North End residents density apoplectic in an election year for mayor and City Council.
As CT Post reporter Brain Lockhart notes “any opportunity for the public to weigh in and alter the design may have come and gone.”
The rare zone change Testa obtained in 2013 laid the groundwork. The land at 1775 Madison Ave. had for decades been the site of restaurants and there were tight restrictions on what could be constructed there. Testa was granted an ORG (office, retail, general) designation, which his attorney at the time, Charles Willinger, claimed was necessary for his client to pursue refinancing and was not a prelude to a sale and redevelopment of the site.
“It’s not going to make any difference to the neighbors because there will be no changes made to the property,” Willinger sought to assure critics.
Jump ahead to late 2021. Bridgeport, following a broad public-engagement effort, had just updated its ten-year master plan of development and the related city-wide changes to zoning regulations were set to take effect Jan. 1, 2022
But just weeks before those change went into effect, Testa and Testo’s co-owner, his nephew Ralph Giacobbe, quietly submitted plans for an apartment/condominium complex with underground parking to the city.
Their attorney in that matter, Raymond Rizio, had explained that the new zoning rules as of 2022 would have required reducing the building’s height by “about ten feet” and prevented the below-ground parking. So, Rizio said, the plans were submitted in late 2021 so that the ORG designation Testa got in 2013 would be applied to the future housing development.
Full story here.