Bridgeport councilman wins ruling, can open package store
BRIDGEPORT — The six-year battle to change the city’s zoning laws so that city Councilman Michael DeFilippo can open a liquor store in the North End has apparently come to an end with a judge ruling in favor of the zoning changes.
“Despite the tortured route taken in pursuit of a package store at 1044 Brooklawn Ave., the result is a process which is more transparent, and which will prevent abuse through over-the-counter approvals which are the antithesis of transparency,” said Superior Court Judge Dale Radcliffe. “The fact that no package store can be located within the city of Bridgeport without a certificate of location, following an open, public hearing, is a victory for the public's right to know and will help to ensure that concerns regarding public health, safety, welfare and property values are considered.”
“It’s been a long and costly battle for Mike DeFilippo,” said his lawyer, Charles Willinger Jr. “Mike is a highly principled young man who was determined to fight the well-healed liquor association and the package store owners who had one unified goal — stop the competition. Mike was dragged through the fires of hell, but we ultimately prevailed. Good for him.”
DeFilippo was working as a bartender at Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa’s pizza restaurant in 2015 when he first attempted to open a liquor store across the street.
A number of city politicians, including Testa, supported DeFilippo’s request for a zoning variance to open the store.
The store location was within 1,500 feet of houses of worship and a day care, so a liquor store under city regulations is not typically allowed on the premises.
Attorney Joel Green, representing a dozen nearby liquor stores, appealed the zoning application and Radcliffe sustained Green’s objection, noting that to some observers, DeFilippo’s zoning approval could be a result of “the parade of preening politicians endorsing (his) application.”
Willinger then began a push to change the 1,500-foot-rule so his client would not need a zoning variance.
That effort received support from Planning Director Lynn Haig in 2017. Haig endorsed a 750-foot-rule along with new criteria that zoning officials could use to better screen liquor store applications, like evaluating the impact on property values and future development. The zoning board later approved the new rule after a series of public hearings.
Green then appealed that decision.
“The record supports a finding by the commission that use of the property as a package store will not impair the surrounding area and nearby residential areas will not be impacted by the establishment,” Radcliffe ruled.
“While the decision is obviously disappointing, it is well-reasoned and my clients greatly appreciate the court’s thoughtful and detailed recounting of the tortured and troubling history of the recent revisions to the Zoning Regulations relating to the sale of alcohol in Bridgeport,” said Green.