Judge rejects ‘speakeasy’ appeal

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Shelton City Hall.

Shelton City Hall.

Autumn Driscoll / Autumn Driscoll

Plans to place a gentlemen’s club in space at 303 Old Bridgeport Avenue have hit yet another roadblock.

The Planning & Zoning Commission had originally denied the plans for a gentlemen’s club named Hush to house that space — the former home of the Hunan Pan restaurant. The owners appealed the decision, but that appeal was denied this past week in a ruling by Superior Court Judge Trial Referee Arthur Hiller.

"The judge found that the Planning & Zoning Commission’s actions were appropriate,” said commission Chair Virginia Harger.

“We are weighing our options,” said attorney Jonathan Klein, who represents the business’ owner, Randi-Lee England.

Klein said that the judge did indicate the denial of the appeal in court, but with no order to that effect entered on the docket, a final decision on how to proceed has yet to be made. Harger said that the owners could appeal that judge’s ruling or choose to submit a new application to Planning & Zoning with the appropriate parking, under the city’s regulations.

The ruling marks the latest turn in a legal saga that has gone on for more than two years surrounding the proposed business, which would be called “Hush.”

England has said the bar would operate as a speakeasy — a trend in the bar business hearkening back to the days of Prohibition in the Roaring ’20s — complete with waitresses dressed as “flapper girls.” An initial description including references to “burlesque” performances riled residents who worried that it would be a gentlemen’s club by another name.

The commission in December 2017 turned down the business’ application to open on the first floor of 303 Old Bridgeport Avenue — which sparked applause from a crowd of more than 40 people in attendance.

Commission members cited concerns about traffic and parking, and also said self-described “speakeasies” are prohibited in Shelton. Klein filed an appeal saying the commission caved to public pressure about the business and used the concerns they cited as a pretext.

A judge also didn’t buy the commission’s rationale. After a hearing in the case in March, he handed down a 12-page decision reversing the commission’s decision and directing the commission “to review the formula used in determining the requirements for off-street parking.”

Nearly two months went by with nothing new filed by the city, so Klein asked the judge to hold the commission in contempt and hand down a $5,000-per-month fine unless they issued a certificate of occupancy to his client.

Three weeks later, Teodosio replied with an objection to the motion for contempt saying the business needed 35 off-street parking spaces, citing a memo from City Planner Anthony Panico.

Klein then filed a reply to the city’s reply. He noted the 35 spaces was more than double the amount the commission had previously said would be required at the business — and said the property already had 45 spaces anyway.

At a hearing Monday, Aug. 26, in Milford Superior Court, Hiller gave the commission two weeks to respond to a decision reversing its rejection of “Hush,” which was to be off Bridgeport Avenue, or risk being found in contempt of court. After a lengthy executive session on Wednesday, Aug. 28, the city’s corporation counsel Francis Teodosio read the commission’s statement.

“The Planning & Zoning Commission, having reviewed and searched its record, finds that its conclusion and acceptance that the parking for the proposed use of the applicant was inadequate, as determined both by the Fire Marshal as well as the Planning & Zoning Commission, was and is based on the following evidence in the record:

“The letter of the Fire Marshal in which he states that the 14 spaces is inadequate, and the existing zoning regulations and, in particular, Section 42, standard 31, use restaurant, cocktail, etc., which when applied to the applicant’s own sketch, which was submitted with dimensions at the time of the application, Exhibit 4, dated November 15, 2017, results in the determination that 35 on-site spaces are necessary for the applicant’s proposed use in the basement or lower floor of the subject premises.”

Hiller made the contempt threat after hearing Monday, Aug. 26, from Klein that the commission had not obeyed a May 8 ruling from the judge overturning its decision.