Easing of liquor restrictions hasn’t sparked restaurant interest

A plan to put an upscale restaurant in this old post office building on Church Street in Naugatuck was nixed five years ago because of a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol within 1,500 feet of a church and 300 feet from a school. The Zoning Commission has changed that law, but the building still commands little interest. - RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The historic post office downtown used to collect letters from all over the borough, but for the past eight years it has collected nothing but property taxes.

The post office, built in 1910, closed in 2003 after a newer branch opened just behind it on Water Street. Since then, residents and business owners have proposed a number of uses for the building at 285 Church St., but none of the plans have come to fruition.

“It’s got to be something children-oriented,” said Chester Cornacchia, the only managing member left in a company called Two Eighty Five Church Street, which owns the building. “It’s got to be something forward-thinking for the future of that property.”

Cornacchia said he only wants to sell the building to an occupant who will use it to benefit the community. The building’s spot across the street from the YMCA and several churches makes it accessible to families with children, Cornacchia said.

Cornacchia said he pays about $12,000 a year in property taxes on the building, which he leases out as storage space. The building is 7,515 square feet and is appraised at almost $473,000.

It was designed in the Spanish Revival style by the head architect for the U.S. Department of the Treasury and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

An upscale restaurant, to be run by an executive chef at the Waterbury Palace Supper Club, was proposed for the building five years ago, but the restaurant could not get an alcohol permit because the building stands across the street from the St. Francis of Assisi school and church. The zoning commission in March eliminated the law that prohibited establishments from serving alcohol within 300 feet of a school or church, but no restaurateurs — or any other buyers for that matter — have expressed interest in the property, Cornacchia said.

“You would end up with a restaurant with no parking,” Cornacchia said. “Even if zoning had approved it, the restaurant wouldn’t have happened.”

The federal government sold the building to the borough in 2003. The borough held onto if for just a day, enough time for officials to enact historical preservation restrictions that prevent future owners from altering the exterior or the lobby of the portion facing Church Street.

A company called GRZ bought the building from the borough for $175,000 and weeks later sold it to Two Eighty Five Church Street.

Mayor Robert A. Mezzo, like his predecessors, said he would like to see the building used.

“We would love to entertain a redevelopment proposal, but we don’t own the building,” Mezzo said.

Other failed proposals for the old post office include a funeral home, an annex for the YMCA, a coffee house, a radio station and a self-storage facility that wanted to paint the building red, white and orange and put up a sign with Santa Claus on it.

“There were people at the historical society ready to keel over,” Cornacchia said.