Monday night update: At the request of attorney Chuck Willinger, the agenda item was deferred to the next meeting. Dozens of opposing package store owners were in attendance as well as several City Council members such as Eneida Martinez and Alfredo Castillo and former State Senator Ernie Newton in opposition.
Original story: A 40-strong coalition of city package store owners armed with neighborhood petitions is expected to attend Monday night’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting to oppose a petition by land use attorney Chuck Willinger to reduce “the 1500 foot distance requirement for proposed package stores from houses of worship, schools, hospitals and commercial daycare centers and include text regarding grocery beer permits.” The P&Z meeting is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. in City Hall council chambers.
One of the spearheads of opposition Rich Augustynowicz, owner of the Bev-Max on Wood Avenue, argues “Bridgeport neighborhoods need supermarkets not more liquor stores. Allowing such an amendment to pass will degrade neighborhoods further and devalue property, not to mention all the ills that could occur with this combination.”
Augustynowicz, a retired Stamford police officer raised in The Bronx, New York, told OIB if the 1,500 foot rule is reduced Bridgeport will become “Harlem in the 1960s.”
Willinger’s request to reduce the distance comes after Superior Court Judge Dale Radcliffe overturned a zoning decision he ruled benefited a politically connected applicant for a proposed store on Brooklawn Avenue on the West Side.
In January Radcliffe ruled the “fix was in” condemning political influence that approved an application for a package store opponents argued violated state law including former Republican State Senator Rob Russo, the lone dissenter on the Zoning Board of Appeals decision. Radcliffe ruled “Because the variances granted by the Bridgeport Zoning Board of Appeals are a condition precedent to the lawful operation of a package store … the Defendant is ordered to immediately cease and desist from the use of any portion of 1044 Brooklawn Avenue, as a package store.”
Last spring a steady stream of city politicians lobbied the ZBA to approve the package store application. The applicant Michael DeFilippo hired land use specialist Willinger to make the presentation to the ZBA. Willinger argued a hardship was present because the 1,500 foot rule prevents the building from being used for the desired purpose. He also claimed hardship based on the “need for this type of use.”
Radlciffe overturned the ZBA.
Now Willinger has requested that the P&Z amend the 1,500 foot rule.
DeFilippo, in an OIB commentary in January, clarified the intent of the amendment.
What the amendment does do is to require 750 feet between Bridgeport package stores and Bridgeport schools, houses of worship, commercial day care centers or hospitals. It also clarifies the longstanding position of the zoning office that grocery/beer permits are not subject to the 1,500 foot rule.
The proposed 750 foot distance between Bridgeport package stores and schools, houses of worship, commercial day care centers and hospitals is more than sufficient distance to protect the health and safety of Bridgeport residents although I believe there is absolutely no danger associated with a retail package store selling to adults where no alcohol is consumed on the premises.
I would further point out that in Stratford, Monroe, Trumbull, Fairfield, and Stamford, there are no distance requirements between package stores and schools, houses of worship, commercial day care centers or hospitals. In New Haven a package store may not be located within 500 feet of a school. In Milford a package store may not be located within 300 feet of a school, house of worship, or hospital. In Hartford a package store may not be located within 200 feet of a school, library, hospital, church, charitable institution or funeral home. There has been no adverse effect on neighborhoods in any of the above municipalities as a result of their zoning regulations.