Liquor stores closer to schools called a bad mix for Bridgeport
Updated 4:04 pm, Tuesday, October 31, 2017
BRIDGEPORT — City school board members and package store owners find themselves unlikely allies in a fight against a plan to shorten the distances between schools and liquor stores.
Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson called the proposal to allow liquor stores within 750 feet of schools unconscionable.
“You don’t want to turn the corner and walk past a liquor store that has men or women out already inebriated early in the morning or in the afternoon,” Johnson said. “You can not want that for young children.”
Attorney Joel Z. Green, representing the Bridgeport Package Store Owners Association, said the idea is not only a solution to a problem that doesn’t exits, it is one that will hurt the existing 43 liquor establishments — most of them mom and pop businesses — already struggling to stay open in the city.
“Of all challenges that face the city of Bridgeport the need to create the opportunity for more liquor stores is not one that should take up time of this commission,” he said. “It is not going to make life better.”
In all, 30 members of the audience stood when asked who was opposed to the idea. No one rose to support the plan, which was pushed to the end of the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing agenda on Monday. That hearing will be continued on November 22, 2017.
When one speaker, Kyle Langan, a city council candidate in the 132nd district suggested the planned zoning change was politically motivated — designed to benefit the bartender of Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa, who tried unsuccessfully to open a north end package store two yeas ago — Commission Chair Melville T. Riley Jr. strongly denied that was the case.
“Your basic assumption is incorrect,” Riley said. “This has nothing to do with the previous matter.”
If that is the case, Langan couldn’t see why the city was spending resources pursing a change that many studies suggest will add to crime and poverty in already impoverished neighborhoods.
“What side of social justice do you want to sit on,” Langan asked. “Do you want to be looked at as a city that cares about the safety of its citizens?”
The effort to reduce the 1,500 feet distance between liquor stores and “sensitive uses” such as schools, day cares and houses of worship is part of a variety of zoning amendments being considered. This change, however was inspired by Zoning Attorney Chuck Willinger who represents Michael DeFelippo, bartender to Testa and applicant for a package store on Brooklawn Avenue that fell within the 1,500 foot distance.
Willinger has called the distance one of the most restrictive in the state if not country.
The plan is to shorten the distance but also create new standards requiring package stores to be compatible to the master plan, not disrupt neighborhoods, lower property values or have detrimental impacts.
“It also requires a special permit,” Riley said. Permits would be allowed by exception.
School Board Member Maria Pereira told Riley there should be no exception.
“You are not going to see this in Black Rock or Brooklawn,” Pereira said. “You are going to see it on the East Side, East End, South Side and West Side ... You are asking people who are struggling to figure out how to keep the lights on, how to put food on the table to organize the neighborhood to object to a special permit. Those are the people least likely to do it because they are faced with so many other obstacles.”
School Board Chairman Joe Larcheveque said the plan creates too great a risk in a city prone to violent. Already this year there have been 22 homicides.
“Youth violence is more common in minority neighborhoods where there are liquor and convenience stores as underage drinkers are more likely to purchase alcohol from a store than bar or restaurant,” he said.
Wanda Simmons, a city council candidate in the 139th district, called the plan disheartening.
“My district is inundated with alcohol, drugs and crime,” she said. “We don’t need any more liquor stores on East end.”
Green, meanwhile, said the proposal suggests the city doesn’t have enough package stores. It is 14 away from the maximum allowed under state law.
It will hurt what is already a tough business, he said.