Updated Tuesday, Jan. 17
The applicant whose proposal for a liquor store was rejected by the Stratford zoning commission is appealing that decision in Superior Court.
Resh LLC was denied its application Dec. 20 when the zoning commission ruled that the proposed location -- the former Office Depot spot at 1100 Barnum Ave. -- was too close to a residential area.
A town regulation prohibits package stores within 200 feet of a residential district. [The regulation can be read in the gallery to the right.] Zoning chairman Chris Silhavey said houses on Frederick Street are only about 50 feet away from the lot in question.
However, other zoning members argued Silhavey was not measuring the distance in accordance with the regulation, which they said is not meant to be calculated as a straight line from point A to point B, but rather as a perpendicular line from storefront to nearest public highway.
With the latter approach, members said, the measurement expands across the plaza's parking lot and exceeds 200 feet. Though three out of five zoning members voted to approve the proposal, the motion needed four "yes" votes in order to pass.
Now it's up to the courts to decide how to measure 200 feet. Resh LLC and members of the zoning commission are scheduled to meet in Bridgeport Superior Court on Feb. 14.
Stratford town attorney Tim Bishop said the applicant is vying for a "certificate of compliance" from the town's zoning department. Bishop said the judge has four months to make a decision, but it's "unlikely" the court will order that the certificate be granted.
According to court documents (attached as a PDF), Resh LLC is alleging "the Commission acted illegally and arbitrarily and in abuse of the discretion vested in it by denying the Application in one or more of the following ways:"
- By disregarding evidence that the distance between the proposed lot and a residential area exceeded 200 feet
- By disregarding evidence that the distance between the proposed lot and the nearest school exceeded 200 feet
- By disregarding past town practices of how to measure the 200 feet
- By disregarding a state zoning rule that says a board may not reverse a decision "unless a change of circumstances intervenes"
- By permitting the Dec. 20 public hearing without first gaining a legal opinion from the town attorney
- By allowing a "tainted" vote by one of the zoning members
In April 2011, the zoning commission unanimously approved a proposal for the same applicant at the same location, according to the documents. But the application was appealed by another liquor store in town.
"Some defects came to light after the appeal," Bishop said. One of the defects which has since been cleared was that a pharmacy in the same plaza had a liquor permit, which violates a town regulation.
The second application proposed in October 2011 was the one that was denied by the zoning commission.
Bishop said the denial of the second application in effect outweighs the approval of the first, and the opportunity to use the first application's approval to one's advantage in court has passed.
The town attorney said the case will ultimately be determined in how the judge decides to measure the 200 feet that serves as a barrier to a residential area from a liquor store.
"That's the issue, essentially," Bishop said.
Zoning Narrowly Rejects Liquor Store Proposal
There was much debate about how to measure a town regulation prohibiting the sale of alcohol within 200 feet of a residential district. And it's likely to continue in the courts.
(Published Dec. 21)
After a heated public hearing in which residents voiced strong opposition against a proposed liquor store, the zoning commission Tuesday narrowly rejected the applicant's plan to move into the former Office Depot site at 1100 Barnum Ave.
Though three out of five members voted to approve the proposal, the motion needed four "yes" votes in order to pass, and commissioner Robert Galello and chairman Chris Silhavey voted no.
"It's not appropriate to the site," said Silhavey, referring to the building's 50-foot proximity to Frederick Street and a town regulation that prohibits package stores within 200 feet of a residential district. [The regulation is attached to this article in the photo gallery above.]
Those who voted in favor of the proposal, however, argued against Silhavey's interpretation of the regulation.
Commissioner James Sheriden said the town has always measured the 200-foot distance as a perpendicular line from a store's front door to the nearest public highway. In this case, that means the line extends across the shopping center's parking lot to Main Street, and from there to the nearest residential district is more than 200 feet.
"I feel for the people who argued basic New England common sense," said Sheriden, commenting on the earlier public hearing. "[But] I feel we should go with past precedent."
Silhavey said he believed the regulation was intended to be measured as a straight line from property line to property line, and it should be faced with a "common sense approach."
As stated before, though the majority of the commission voted in favor of the proposal, it needed at least four votes of approval to pass and it only received three. It's expected that the applicant, Resh LLC, will appeal the commission's decision in court.
Arguing 'Basic New England Common Sense'
Frederick Street resident Nancy Delvicchio was one of eight residents to speak during the public hearing that preceded the administrative session in which the proposal was rejected.
"Frederick Street directly abuts the parking lot and it's used as a direct access," she said. "I don't know why the measurement wouldn't be from the door [of the liquor store] to parking lot to Frederick Street."
Kevin Sheehan owns at 411 Barnum Avenue Cutoff. He went so far as to say that Frederick Street does not end until Barnum Avenue, meaning the parking lot in front of the building in question acts an extension of the residential road.
Sheehan also questioned why the applicant wants to move into a location that is only about 500 feet from . "Why are they fighting for this location?" Sheehan asked the commission. In fact, several residents voiced concern that the proposed liquor store would be easy access for minors.
Housatonic Avenue resident George Mulligan said with the high school "basically a block away," tipsy drivers would put students walking home from school in danger. He said he'd like to see something more "affirmative" than a liquor store occupy the building. It was said during the public hearing that Stratford has about 17 liquor stores.
"Minors can and will walk to the proposed liquor store," said Lee Everetts of Cutspring Road. Everetts, a victim of a drunk driving accident, said adjacent businesses like and are popular spots for young people.
'You Follow Past Practice'
That's what Barry Knott, the attorney representing the applicant, Resh LLC, told the zoning commission prior to its vote. Knott said, under Stratford law, there's only one way to read the regulation measuring 200 feet from a package store to a residential district, and that is through a perpendicular line from the store's front door to the nearest public highway.
Using this calculation, Knott said the shortest distance to a residential zone from the proposed liquor store is 375 feet. Knott singled out planning and zoning administrator Gary Lorentsen, saying the town official has followed this regulation with this exact measurement protocol since 1984.
Before the commission voted to reject the proposal, Silhavey said the regulation originated in the 1950s and the commission should revise it for better clarity.
Editor's note: The name of the applicant was originally misidentified as Fresh LLC.
Updated 9:49 p.m. Tuesday
Although three out of five zoning commissioners voted to approve the plan, the vote needed four to pass.
Chairman Chris Silhavey voted no, saying a common sense approach supports blocking a liquor store from setting up so close to a residential area.
A town law prohibits liquor stores within 200 feet of a residential area, but one way of measuring the distance -- via a perpendicular angle from storefront to Main Street -- had the proposed store outside of 200 feet of a residential area.
Commissioner Robert Galello also voted no. "I have serious problems with the kids," he said. The property is about 500 feet from Stratford High School.
Commissioners Robert Connolly, Michael Henrick and James Sheridan voted to approve the apllicant's proposal. All three said the law of the town, i.e., the way to measure the 200 feet, supports the application.
Prior to the vote, several residents spoke out in opposition of the proposal during a public hearing. Many said, if approved, the liquor store would have easy access to minors.
It's expected that the issue will now head to the courts.
Check back in the morning for the full story, which will include more details on the confusing 200-feet rule, quotes from residents and the eventual rejection of the proposal.
The original story, published Tuesday morning, follows.
Do You Support a Liquor Store Moving Into the Former Office Depot Spot?
Editor's note: The time of the public hearing has been moved up to 6 p.m.
The zoning commission tonight will discuss the potential for a wine and liquor store to move into at 1100 Barnum Ave next to .
The proposal, however, violates a law Stratford has that prohibits the sale of liquor within 1500 feet of a residential area, according to a town official.
That restriction will be debated tonight during an administrative session in room 213 at Stratford Town Hall. A public hearing at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers will precede the meeting.
Let us know how you feel about a new wine and liquor store coming to town by voting in our poll.