P&Z reaffirms stance that ‘speakeasy’ parking inadequate

Shelton’s Planning & Zoning Commission is doubling down on its stance that parking, as proposed, for the so-called “speakeasy” was inadequate, leading to a denial.

At a hearing Monday, Aug. 26, in Milford Superior Court, Judge Trial Referee Arthur 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 Jonathan Klein, a lawyer representing the business, that the commission had not obeyed a May 8 ruling from the judge overturning its decision.

“If I understand the court correctly, the Planning & Zoning Commission has not complied with the order of the court,” Klein said.

“No, and they should, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to give them two weeks,” Hiller said. “And if they don’t do what they were supposed to do and file something within two weeks, I’m going to have another hearing on contempt. You will then have a decision and you can do with it what you will.”

The hearing marked 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.”

The business’ owner, Randi-Lee 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 Ave., under the location of the former Hunan Pan restaurant. A crowd of more than 40 people applauded the commission’s rejection of the application.

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.

The 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.

He subpoenaed Ken Nappi, the city’s zoning administrator, and Mayor Mark Lauretti, who owned a restaurant on the property years ago. The city asked the judge to quash the subpoenas.

During the Aug. 26 hearing, the judge told Klein he wasn’t going to haul Nappi and the mayor into court.

“I can’t do what you want to do,” Hiller said. “I’m not going to bring these people in when there’s not an issue that I need to hear from them. The record is incomplete.”

But the judge did take issue with the fact that the city’s filing cited Panico, and not the commission itself.

“What I expected was the commission to come back, go into session, consider the questions and determine the answers,” Hiller said. “Mr. Panico is not the commission.”