Public hearing Wednesday on Eli's outdoor patio request

Milford’s Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing Wednesday to consider leasing a piece of downtown city property to the owner of Eli’s Tavern to use as an outdoor patio.

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Milford City Hall. The matter will come up again later in the evening at the Board of Aldermen’s regular monthly meeting, when the aldermen will be asked to vote on whether to lease the land to Eli’s.

So far, Eli’s at 21 Daniel Street hasn’t had any luck getting city permission to lease the space for a patio.

Following a recommendation from city trial counsel Matthew Woods, the Planning and Zoning Board recently rejected a Conn. General Statutes 8-24 referral for a request from Eli’s owner Richard Ciardiello to lease the land. Woods told the P&Z members that they couldn’t really approve the request because there was no draft lease for them to approve.

Since the P&Z voted against the proposal, the matter will require a two-thirds vote of the aldermen to be approved.

The matter has made headlines lately and has even become a campaign issue for the November election.

The request from Ciardiello is similar to one that was approved in 2005 for the previous owner, Richard Conine, who owned 21 Daniel Street, a nightclub in that building that he sold to Ciardiello in 2012.

The P&Z and the aldermen approved the lease with Conine, which then-Mayor James Richetelli Jr. signed on behalf of the city. The five-year lease for the city-owned land adjoining the nightclub and Café Atlantique was effective Oct. 19, 2005 with a $2,500 annual fee.

But in November 2009, Conine ended the lease, and city officials have said the lease was not assignable to someone else.

That’s been a sticking point for Ciardiello, who said he’d been pretty much promised when he bought the property that there shouldn’t be any trouble getting a similar patio deal with the city that Conine had arranged.
Not so easy
But that wasn’t the case. In 2013, several people raised objections to an outdoor patio for Eli’s at a Planning and Zoning Board public hearing, and they have continued to raise objections at meetings this year. Several said they don’t want to see more of the small bit of open space disappear and turn into a patio; they have said it is a popular gathering space for people. Opponents include Former Mayor Alberta Jagoe, whose family owns property downtown, and Tina Roberts, owner of Café Atlantique next door, who has a similar lease with the city for an outdoor patio.

Ciardiello hired former Speaker of the House James Amann to lobby for him, at the recommendation of Board of Alderman Chairman Philip Vetro, Ciardiello has said. Ciardiello was going to hire a lawyer, but he said Vetro suggested Amann might be better to help him because he understands city processes.

So Amann has been stirring the political embers, arguing that Eli’s is one of the only downtown restaurants without an outdoor patio and arguing that it’s politics that’s keeping Eli’s patio-free.

Mayor Ben Blake has maintained that since there is opposition downtown to Eli’s plan, Eli’s needed to work with those neighbors and try to get them to come to some kind of agreement before asking the city to grant a lease. Blake has also criticized Ciardiello for hiring Amann to lobby for him.

“The City of Milford must fairly represent all of our downtown businesses and stakeholders, not just those able to pay for political lobbyists,” Blake said earlier this year. “Responsible government cannot simply solve one problem by creating three new ones. Before we consider leasing or selling city property, we must first ask for the support of the broader community, including the surrounding property and business owners. Despite Mr. Amann’s claims, several surrounding businesses and community members continue to strongly object to the proposed lease.”