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Derby P&Z mulling beer garden’s requested zone change

October 3, 2018

DERBY-Residents with brewing concerns fermenting over a proposed zoning district which could lead to ground breaking changes at The Hops Co.will have to wait at least two weeks.

Weary after hearing nearly two and half hours of legal and technical argument as well as outrage from many of the three dozen residents who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, the Planning and Zoning commission chose to delay a vote until at least Oct. 16.

“My hope is we put both sides in a room and let them iron out their differences,” said Carmen DiCenso, the city’s economic development liaison. He pointed out that Connecticut Magazine recently commended The Hops Co. as “the number one beer garden in the state.”

And while Charles Sampson, the Board of Aldermen’s president said he wants The Hops Co. to grow, he doesn’t believe their current non-conforming location on Sodom Lane abutting single family homes is the correct place for that to happen.

“I’m making my constituents jump through hoops in order to maintain the quality of life that they currently have now,” Charles Sampson, the Board of Aldermen president, told the commission.

Sampson explained the parking issues have forced him to work on three ordinances—one establishing a no parking zone on neighboring streets. Another requiring residents who live on those streets to apply for parking permits to avoid being ticketed and a third setting an appeal process for those residents whose visiting family members are ticketed.

Ted Estwan, the commission chairman said they are searching for a way to deal with residents’ concerns. Since The Hops Co. operates as a non-conforming use they are prohibited from expanding including adding parking spots.

The Hops Co. is located in the former Grassy Hill Lodge, which handled things like weddings, funeral repasses, corporate, family and holiday parties. Aside from those events it did not attract the number of daily customers as The Hops does.

And for neighbors like Tom Lionetti, Neil Dorso, Dnuck Ched, David O’Hara and Mike Alberta the business change has resulted in nightly noise, strewn garbage, increased traffic and parking congestion.

Dorso offered photographs of the whiskey bottles, soda cans, beer cans..you name it“I’ve lived on Sodom Lane for the past 50 years.... and it was very quite,” he said. “Now its a madhouse. I refer to Sodom Lane as Sodom Speedway.”

Ched, who bought a house in Singer Village two years ago, said he would have never bought that property if he knew what was going to happen at The HOPS.

“I hope THC moves,’ he said.

And Lionetti? He spent nine years on the Planning and Zoning commission. Last year he spoke out against converting Marshall Lane Manor into a dormitory for private high school students from China. And now he opposes the zone change.

“On Marshall Lane, we had 100 people come and say they didn’t want the dormitory. And every single one of you voted for it. Why should we come here and tell you our concerns when they just go in here and come out here,” he said while pointing to each ear. “I hope the board listens and votes this down.”

But Estwan warned: “If we do...absolutely nothing...say no to the applicant, everyone walks out of the room (and) life goes on exactly the way it is today. THC continues to operate exactly the way they’re doing. Any concerns the residents have. ..it doesn’t address any of them...The residents have to put up with...whatever they have complained about over the last two months.”

Prior to their decision to mull a vote, the commission listened for hours as Dominic Thomas, the local land use lawyer proposing his Derby Development District zone on behalf of The Hops and Charles Willinger Jr., the Bridgeport-based land use lawyer opposing the new zone on behalf of 26 residents, battled over the technical and legal issues.

Thomas said he wrote the DDD similar to Shelton’s Planned Development District which he credits being used 91 times in that city and providing their commission control over what goes into a site and prohibiting changes without approval.

Unfortunately for Derby you have three places that are popular with young people (Dew Drop Inn, Bad Sons Brewery and The Hops),” Thomas said. “So if you want to hang a sign out that says: ’It’s okay to come here just don’t be too successful. I don’t think that’s the correct message anyone wants to send.”

Willinger and his expert, Catherine Johnson, an architecht and town planner, countered that the DDD and THC’s plans to use it violate all five zoning tests set by state law. These include uniform with building structures, is designed to lessen congestion, is in harmony with a neighborhood’s character and is in accordance with the city’s comprehensive plan of conservation and development.

“Do you really want to have a regulation that effects single family residents at the expense of a non-conforming use that wants to expand?” Willinger said. “It’s going to kill the residential zone.

All this left left the commission in a quandary.

Al Misiewicz, a commissioner, said he was leaning toward approving the DDD as a reasonable tool for the city. “I would like input (on it) from the other side to see if we can come up with a better DDD zone...its going to be give and take.”

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