Developer, neighbors working toward Brewster St. compromise

Published on July 5, 2012 by

Brewster Street Partners, LLC and the members of the Black Rock community are working together on a plan that may allow development to go forward at 340-344 Brewster St., the site of a blighted 80-year-old historic home.

“We may finally see a resolution on this issue,” said Gerry Manning, chairman of the Black Rock Neighborhood Revitalization Zone’s land use, zoning and historic district committee and a neighbor of the property at the corner of Brewster Street and Grovers Avenue.

At a meeting at the Burroughs Center on May 24, a development plan was presented to a small group from the community by attorney Ray Rizio, who is representing Mitchell De Esso, a principal of Brewster Street Partners, which owns the property.

According to the plan discussed at the meeting, said Frank Basler, a neighbor and member of the Black Rock NRZ, the exterior of the historic house would be restored, the property would be attractively landscaped and the lot behind the home would be divided into two lots with a shared driveway. One single-family home, built in a historical style, would be built on each lot.

“I think it was a good meeting. And now it’s up to Rizio and De Esso to put something together and come back to us,” said Manning, although he had been unable to attend the meeting.

Rizio said in an email that “details are still being worked out and negotiated.” He did not return requests for further comment.

Manning is careful to note that the neighbors are not in a position to negotiate for anything. Instead, the neighbors are making requests and suggestions, such as requesting a performance bond, which will require the developer to pay a certain amount of money to a bond holder, such as the city, at the beginning of the development process.

The money would be returned to the developer at the end of the project, provided that a series of stipulations are met.

The Black Rock NRZ has created a list of requirements for the bond, although both parties still have to reach an agreement.

The proposed requirements state that the restoration of the cottage must begin before the back lots are developed or subdivided, and suggest that the cottage’s restoration must be complete within nine months of both parties signing an agreement.

Nothing has been finalized; Brewster Street Partners would have to agree to post the performance bond, and there are some doubts about which agency would hold and administer the bond. However, neighbors are optimistic about the idea of development going forward under such a bond.

“I’m very comfortable with this,” said Basler.

The historic 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 2007.

The property has been a source of contention for some time.

Victory for neighbors
The Black Rock neighborhood scored a victory in December 2011 when a Superior Court judge voided permits that would have allowed townhouses to be built at the site.

A 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 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 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.

A major point of dispute 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 one of the owners, who was interviewed in January, the garage was torn down while the owners were cleaning up the property in response to blight sanctions.
While the neighbors could fight to have the developer rebuild the garage exactly as it was, since it had been a part of an historic home and located in an historic district, Manning said that the NRZ will be content with a restored cottage and two new homes built in an historic style on the back lots.

“ ‘Purists’ positions will surely lose the moment,” he wrote in an email. “The economics just do not support a one-home restoration and profitable (return on investment).”