Diocese Withdraws Controversial Zoning Application For Two-Year College In North End

After community, political and government pushback, a petition by the Diocese of Bridgeport to host a two-year college program offered by Fairfield University on Jewett Avenue in the North End has been abandoned.

The following appears on the Zoning Commission agenda:

D-1  (22-05)  238 Jewett Ave. – Petition of The Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation – Seeking a special permit and a site plan review to permit the establishment of a 2-year Associates Degree program by Fairfield University in a portion of the existing Diocese headquarters building in the R-A zone. WITHDRAWN on 05/24/22

Neighborhood leaders, including City Councilwoman Michelle Lyons, oppose the plan citing traffic and congestion concerns that would devalue area properties. Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez and former State Rep. Chris Caruso were also key voices against the proposal.

Lopez, on behalf of two city residents including Lyons, submitted a notice of appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals challenging Zoning Administrator’s Dennis Buckley’s decision citing permissible use. Buckley’s decision was based on an initial opinion by city legal counsel Russell Liskov calling for a permitted education use because 238 Jewett Avenue was once the site of Notre Dame Girls High School.

For some, Liskov’s legal opinion was befuddling. That area of the North End 50 years ago was a heavily farmed area dramatically different from today’s intensive residential configuration. In addition, the zoning application clearly stated “Bellarmine College.”

As Lopez noted in the appeal, “What is proposed for 238 Jewett Avenue, consistent with any reasonable reading of the Regulations, is a college, not a school.”

The opposition resonated with Mayor Joe Ganim and the City Attorney’s Office.

One month ago City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer declared in a legal opinion, 238 Jewett Legal Opinion, that the proposal is not a permissible use under zoning regulations.

Meyer, in an interview with OIB, stated a college must be treated differently than a broadly termed education facility because of its intense use.

Ganim added that Fairfield University should examine the University of Bridgeport campus as a location. “While I really like the concept by Fairfield University and the positive impact it will make in the lives of Bridgeport youth, I do believe we should protect our neighborhoods from such intense use.”



  1. Word on the street: ‘there’s this retired judge screwing up things so it’s not business as usual anymore.”
    Rumor has it that many “contacts” at city hall are telling people “no I can’t help you anymore”.
    Ahhh……a new day is finally coming maybe!!
    Thanks your Honor.

  2. I have no special expertise in matters where real estate and regulations of zoning intersect. I have learned this by attending Zoning meetings in Bridgeport and reviewing detailed plans as an assist by one Bridgeport NRZ to right size local development and help it towards success. But is frequently an idea worthy of consideration to ask one’s neighbors what they think about the plans when you are considering serious long term ideas with considerable values and time on the line.
    Bishop Frank and his financial advisors seem to have a property with significant debt attached to it, perhaps more than its value today? He is a careful and serious person and will do his best to find value and put the property to work productively in some way if this proposal dies aborning.
    Fairfield University and its Board continue a tradition of attempting to lend their educational charism to the most needy local students, for over 50 years, who happen to reside in Bridgeport and are attempting to make a leap from public high schools into college options, many for the first time within their family history. My understanding is that this was the purpose of Bellarmine to be a two year school where real competence for college can be established, locally without the extra expense of room and board. in an environment familiar to local students of need and with convenient transportation and with financial aid.
    To those who speculated on Fairfield University’s reasons for placing the school in Bridgeport, did anyone think for a minute that Bridgeport high school graduates, with few if any dollars to spend or waste and need for a better base than may be shown by BOE academic results on average, might feel more welcome at a location dedicated to their needs in Bridgeport, the City itself? The choice of geography made sense to me when I first heard of Bellarmine as borne out by young men from Bridgeport whom I have mentored in recent years with some personal stories of reception on the North Benson Road campus. Imagine raising, all of the funds for capital, personnel, and founding such a program being provided without expense? Too good to be true, and lose? Time will tell.


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