Fate of historic house still unclear

Published on February 2, 2012 by

The Black Rock neighborhood scored a victory in December when a Superior Court judge voided permits that would have allowed townhouses to be built at the site of an 80-year-old historic home in the Black Rock Historic District.

The Dec. 12 ruling by Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis declared that a decision by Bridgeport’s Historic Commission No. 1 to allow new structures on the property at 340-344 Brewster St. is null and void. The Historic Commission’s decision, called a certificate of appropriateness, was made on May 5, 2009, after previous applications by the owner, Brewster Street Partners, LLC, had failed. The neighbors, who have long been concerned about the owners’ plans for the property, appealed the decision in Superior Court later that month.

Mitchell De Esso, one of the owners and a principal of Brewster Street Partners, said that he did not know anything about the neighbors’ lawsuit against the Historical Commission. The property, which sits at the corner of Brewster Street and Grovers Avenue, is currently listed for sale.

“It’s a very historic house,” said Anne-Marie Klein, of the Black Rock Historic Preservation Association. “It’s the only one with that architecture.”

The home, built in the Cotswold cottage style in 1940, is located on an oddly shaped lot in the Black Rock Historic District. The home was run down when Brewster Street Partners purchased it in March of 2007.

“The prior owner let it go to pot,” said neighbor Frank Basler, of the Black Rock Historic Preservation Association, who spearheaded the neighborhood’s court case.

The developers, according to the lawsuit, had planned to erect three new residential buildings, two new three-car garages and a large parking area in the backyard of the cottage.

“The decision would permit the erection of new structures that are incongruous with the historic and architectural aspects of our District,” read the lawsuit, which also stated that neighbors’ property values would decline should such a development be built.

The judgment by Bellis bars Brewster Street Partners from building anything on the property without first going to the Historic Commission to obtain another certificate of appropriateness.

Garage is no more
A major point of contention for both the neighbors and the city has been the house’s attached garage, which was knocked down without a permit on Oct. 20, according to William Minor, executive director of the Bridgeport Historic Commission.
According to De Esso, the garage was removed while the owners were cleaning up the property in response to blight sanctions.

“The garage was in bad shape and it fell down,” he said.

The city’s blight ordinance allows the city to charge owners of blighted properties $100 a day. A citation posted on the property states that Brewster Street Partners LLC was fined $500 on Nov. 17, 2011.

City of Bridgeport Director of Communications Elaine Ficarra says that the fine has been appealed and is awaiting a hearing.

“It’s being taken care of,” said De Esso, who added that the neighbors had reported the blight.

The neighbors said they are skeptical about the garage’s collapse.

“The garage lived through (Tropical Storm) Irene,” said Klein.

According to Basler, the Superior Court could order the owners to pay a hefty daily fine until the garage is rebuilt, but Minor, who arrived on-scene during the demolition of the garage, said that his department has no ability to levy fines against property owners.

“(The owners) have three choices, really,” said Minor. “(The group) can file an application for a permit, after the fact with the Historic Commission, they can rebuild it, which is unlikely, or they can do nothing and wait for us to take action.”

Action has been taken, he said. Minor has written a letter to the owners regarding the violation, and has referred the matter to the city’s attorney.

The neighbors are pleased about their win in court, and would like to be involved in future plans for the property.

“We’re just exploring our options right now,” said Basler. He says that the neighbors would like to work with both the city and the property’s owner to come up with a plan for the property.

“We’re exploring our options with the city; we’re exploring our options legally,” he said.

Asked if Brewster Street Partners had plans for 340-344 Brewster St., De Esso said, “absolutely not.”

“No,” he said. “We’re not happy with the Brewster Street (neighbors.)”