City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer on Friday declared in a legal opinion that Fairfield University’s proposal to locate a two-year college on property owned by the Diocese of Bridgeport in the North End is not a permissible use under zoning regulations.
A previous legal opinion by his office said it was okay.
Neighborhood leaders, including City Councilwoman Michelle Lyons, oppose the plan citing traffic and congestion concerns that would devalue area properties. Former State Rep. Chris Caruso has also been a key voice at neighborhood meetings against the proposal..
Mayor Joe Ganim issued this statement Friday afternoon
In light of the concerns raised by neighbors over this use and our City Attorney’s opinion which states that the subject property cannot be used for a college or university, I’m asking our Economic Development Office to work with The Diocese of Bridgeport on other possible locations within the City.
I have suggested, for example, that they revisit the University of Bridgeport campus and look at the progress that has been made there over the past year. This would give Fairfield University the best opportunity to build out their vision for an Arrupe model in Bridgeport. 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.”
Just days ago retired Superior Court Judge Carmen 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.
As Lopez noted, “This use of the property ceased in the early 1970s and the building has not been used as a high school for nearly fifty (50) years.”
In a legal opinion issued on Friday and addressed to Buckley, Meyer writes:
“Earlier this month, Attorney Liskov was asked whether the property at 238 Jewett Avenue could be used for “educational purposes.” He answered that it could.
“This office has now been asked for an expedited opinion on a different question, specifically whether a “college is a specially permitted use or permitted as of right in a Residence Zone A zone. We conclude that the subject property cannot be so used under its current zoning.”
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 residential configuration. In addition, the zoning application clearly stated “Bellarmine College.”
How did that clearly stated college application become conflated for the broader educational purpose?
Lopez, in her appeal, wrote: “What is proposed for 238 Jewett Avenue, consistent with any reasonable reading of the Regulations, is a college, not a school.”
Meyer, in an interview with OIB, stated a college must be treated differently than a broadly termed education facility because of its intense use.
What will Fairfield U and the Diocese do now? Was this simply a land grab for the Diocese? If FU is really interested in bringing a two-year urban model to Bridgeport, won’t it search for another Bridgeport location?
Lopez issued this statement to OIB after reviewing Meyer’s legal opinion:
“This opinion is a surrender dressed up as an explanation. This face-saving verbiage will fool no one.
First, the Mayor says he can’t get involved in Zoning matters.
However, once it became impossible to defend the indefensible, Mayor Ganim said ‘find a new site.’
This is called leading from behind.
When will the Bridgeport’s City Attorney’s Office start representing the interests of the taxpayers, who pay their salaries, instead of running errands for well-connected lawyers like Attorney Ray Rizio.”