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Shopping center plan clears court appeal

January 22, 2019

BRIDGEPORT - A nearly 30-year effort to construct a shopping center on the city’s border with Trumbull got a major boost on Tuesday.

Controversial developer Manuel Moutinho now appears poised to begin construction on a 22,500 square foot shopping center on Huntington Turnpike despite neighbors’ protests.

In a 20-page decision, Superior Court Judge Dale Radcliffe dismissed an appeal of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of a change on zone for the 2.9-acre property from residential to office/retail.

“The question is not whether those directly impacted, the neighboring property owner, or this court, agree with the decision rendered by six commission members, the only question before this court is whether substantial evidence supports the decision reached,” Radcliffe ruled. “Substantial evidence supports a finding that the commission acted with the intention of promoting the best interests of the community, therefore, the decision is in harmony with Bridgeport’s comprehensive plan.”

Diane Lord, who represents Moutinho’s company, MTM Limited Family Partnership, called the ruling a “well thought out decision by the judge.”

“It follows the law and we are absolutely pleased,” Lord said.

Jonathan Spodnick, whose Trumbull property abuts the project site, had sued to overturn the planning and zoning commission’s decision.

“I have a lot of respect for Judge Radcliffe however, I do take issue with his decision,” said Spodnick’s lawyer, William Varese.

MTM will still need wetlands approval and the approval of a special permit from the zoning commission before it can begin construction. A hearing before the inland wetlands commission is scheduled for next month.

The application process to build a shopping center on the property began in 1990. The application drew neighborhood protests and was denied by the zoning board but later approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. In 1992 a judge upheld an appeal of that decision by neighbors.

In 2005, Moutinho, who convinced the administration of former Mayor Bill Finch to pay him $400,000 to build a driveway through airport property to his own waterside mansion, purchased the Huntington Turnpike property. Nothing was done on the property until June 2011 when city officials, apparently unaware of the 1992 court decision, gave Moutinho the go-ahead to begin construction.

The site was cleared, and preparatory work begun when Rose Meekins, a property owner near the site walked into the zoning office with a copy of the 1992 court decision. The project was immediately shut down.

In January 2018, MTM filed a petition with the zoning commission to change the zone for the shopping center project. On April 30, 2018, despite neighbor protests, the commission approved the zone change by a vote of six to two.

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