Fire Engine Pizza may open this winter

The former Melba Street firehouse may open as soon as this winter as the Fire Engine Pizza Company now that the Planning and Zoning Board has voted to allow the building to be used as a restaurant.

The Planning and Zoning Board’s Aug. 20 vote granted site plan approval to operate a restaurant in the building at 204 Melba St., located in the Business District zone.

On the recommendation of City Planner David B. Sulkis, the board made approval conditional on the applicant updating the plans to address the city engineer’s comments and receiving a favorable police report, as the Police Commission has not yet reviewed the proposal. The engineer’s comments were minor in nature relating to some plan details.

Attorney John Knuff said business owners Martin McCarthy and Philip D. Segneri have more than 20 years’ experience in the restaurant business. Knuff said they purchased the former firehouse in 2015 with the intent of making it a neighborhood destination restaurant.

McCarthy and Segneri operate a Fire Engine Pizza Company at 2914 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport. Knuff said they are community oriented and will donate 10% of the day’s sales on Mondays to a charity.

Knuff said the Melba Street restaurant is located in a dense residential area with a large number of multi-family communities, and said he anticipates “many of our patrons will arrive on foot” and because of that he requested and received a parking variance.

The Zoning Board of Appeals granted a parking variance at its January meeting, based on the small lot size of 0.56 acres, allowing for 26 spaces where 72 are required. Plans include construction of an additional 1,224 square foot paved parking area.

There is currently no storm drainage system. The project will have an underground stormwater management system, which is expected to improve water quality of run-off. The existing asphalt driveway on Melba Street to the fire engine doors will be removed and replaced with a lawn, concrete curb, and sidewalk.

The building has 2,866 square feet of space on the first floor, and 2,632 square feet of space on the second floor. At the ZBA meeting, Knuff said the restaurant would have about 100 seats.

Economic Development Director Julie Nash spoke in favor of the restaurant. “Fire Engine Pizza Company will provide a fantastic option for visitors and residents to have a quiet evening out in a family-friendly restaurant,” said Nash.

McCarthy bought the old firehouse on Melba Street from the city in 2015 for $180,000, and said that so far he’s put about $250,000 into it, including gutting the inside, replacing the roof and updating the electrical system.

The project has taken much longer than he initially envisioned, but he said all is good and the restaurant will soon come to fruition.

With P&Z approval recently received, he and Segneri can file for the needed building permits.

“We can do it, and we’re going to do it,” McCarthy said, adding that he hopes to see the restaurant opened this winter.

The project has been “a labor of love,” he said.

The city tried unsuccessfully to sell the old Melba Street firehouse starting in 2014, asking at least $477,000 for the building. No one showed up at an auction to bid.

During a second attempt, the city set no minimum bid. But when five bids came in from people wanting to buy it, Milford’s aldermen rejected all of them.

McCarthy was one of those bidders.

But McCarthy didn’t give up after his bid was rejected and worked with the city to make a deal.

“Ideally this will be our flagship location,” McCarthy said in 2015.

The new restaurant is expected to be nearly identical to the Fire Engine Pizza Company in Black Rock, offering a full menu of pastas and other dishes as well as pizza.

Jill Dion contributed to this article.