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P and Z treading lightly on The Hops

October 18, 2018

DERBY-It’ll be at least another month before the city’s Planning and Zoning commission decides on what to do with The Hops Co.

During that time Vince McDermott, the city’s planner, Ryan McEvoy, the city engineer and Barbara Schellenberg, the commission’s land use lawyer will be working on a more restrictive Derby Development District than the one proposed by Dominick Thomas, The Hops Co. lawyer.

“I’m torn here,” ommission Chairman Ted Estwan said of the proposed DDD. “It doesn’t cover enough and I want it to cover more. So do we just deny it or do we submit something ourselves?”

All this stems from the popularity of The Hops Co, which Connecticut magazine named the state’s number one beer garden the last two years.

The Hops wants to demolish some of the older buildings on their property and replace them with a 5,000 square foot building to better handle things like weddings which are now served under tents.

They’d also like to increase on-site parking so patrons don’t continue to leave cars in the neighborhoods.

But there is a problem. The Hops sits as a grandfathered non-conforming use on Sodom Lane which is a residential area. So any work they want to do on the property is not allowed unless a zone change is obtained. That’s what Thomas’ proposed Derby Development District zone would do.

“The commission clearly identified the issue that if they do nothing, nothing is solved,” said Thomas. “They have the absolute right to modify my DDD

The site formerly housed Grassy Hill Lodge, which unlike a beer garden, hosted weddings, private parties and corporate gatherings and not every day.

Neighbors like Neil and Barbara Dorso, Tom Leonetti, Steve Ponzillo, Mike Alberta and Joe Jawoliec complain that the Sodom Lane area has become a parking lot with litter and bottles thrown on their property. One, Joe Jalowiec, who owns two commercial properties and five rental homes in the neighborhood, has a West Haven towing company patroling the area and removing cars not allowed to be there. They’ve even hired Charles Willinger Jr., a Bridgeport-based land use lawyer, to fight the proposal.

“It seems obvious the commission is looking to address at least some of the neighbors’ concerns while also allowing The Hops to thrive,” said Willinger, who has been attending the commission meetings. “Those are mutually exclusive goals —the more Hops’ business grows, the more the neighborhood suffers.”

Willinger believes the commission should never have allowed The Hops to change from a wedding/party venue to a beer garden.

“It would have been best if the neighbors had addressed that issue at the time The Hops bought the property,” Willinger said.

So Estwan and fellow commissioners Al Misiewicz and Richard Stankye are exploring ways to satisfy both sides. Misiewicz reviewed Shelton’s Planned Development District regulations and liked the way it read. So much so he handed his copy to the city planner.

They’ve also asked McDermott, McEvoy and Schellenberg to determine where else a DDD zone would fit in Derby if one is approved. They asked what restrictions and requirements they could impose—things like demanding a business remove trash its patrons are believed to have left behind on neighboring lawns. They asked for direction on time limits in performing renovations and the ramifications if they are not met.

But the Dorsos and Ponzillo don’t want the Commission to do anything.

“Leave it the way it is,” Barbara Dorso said. “Expansion will only make things worse. Let’s not escalate our problems.”

Ponzillo, who moved into the area in 1980, agrees.

“Ninety-five percent of the people don’t want it,” he said. “They (The Hops) are not producing jobs, not increasing property values—residents are moving out because of the traffic and the noise...Downtown is where this facility belongs.”

But Estwan said that does nothing to resolve either side’s problems.

“Come Friday the neighbors will have absolutely the same concerns,” he said.