Big Mac or Big D? Duchess restaurant and McDonald's are going toe-to-toe of late, and the dispute has nothing to do with their menus.
McDonald's has yet to receive land use approvals to build a new restaurant at 579 Main Street, but Duchess, which already has a restaurant on the strip, near the corner of Judd Road, has been fighting tooth and nail to stop the international chain from expanding to its side of town.
Both sides have hired attorneys who are heavyweights in their field to represent them.
Lou Berkowitz, whose family started the Duchess chain in Connecticut, hired Kevin Gumpper, an attorney who was is the former chairman of the Plan & Zoning Commission in the town of Fairfield.
In the other corner, Real Time Investments LLC, which is applying for a zone change and a special permit to build the McDonald's, has retained the services of Raymond Rizio, an attorney whose impressive record of winning zoning approvals for his clients in Bridgeport was chronicled in a Connecticut Post article a few years ago.
On Jan. 6, Real Time Investment's hearing before the Planning & Zoning Commission was postponed after Gumpper pointed out an error in the legal notice, which said McDonald's wanted to build on a 1.35 acre property when it should have read 1.15 acres.
Then last Thursday night, Gumpper tried to postpone the hearing again.
Gumpper questioned the accuracy of the description of the site's boundaries in the notice filed in the Town Clerk's Office and said it should have included a map. Rizio countered that the notice was accurate and that any resident interested in seeing the map could have walked down the hall to the land use offices to see it.
"I think the notice is pretty clear," Rizio said. "You have a shaded map in the zoning office. Mr. Gumpper found it. We feel comfortable that the public got this statutory notice and it is fair, accurate and appropriate."
"What was submitted is not accurate," Gumpper argued, adding members of the public should be entitled to see an accurate description in the notice, which must be filed at least 10 days before a hearing.
Planning & Zoning Chairman Richard Zini appeared frustrated by the string of delays in holding the hearing. Gumpper tried to use a Fairfield application for Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course as a precedent supporting his argument, but to no avail.
The hearing went forward that night.
During the public speaking portion of the hearing, Gumpper charged that there was not proper notice and that a portion of the proposed driveway was too close to a neighboring residential property.
He called the increase in traffic of more than 10 percent on Main Street that traffic consultant Michael Galante estimated "astounding."
Gumpper said Duchess pays about $15,000 in annual property taxes, so McDonald's should not generate much more revenue than that.
"What kind of jobs will you get from McDonald's?" he asked. "You have to decide whether a McDonald's operation is really worth a 10 percent increase in traffic."
Gumpper also foresees problems from vehicles lining up to turn left into McDonald's driveway.
"How could you possibly allow this type of use on Main Street?" he asked. "This doesn't make any sense at all."
"I don't think there's a better corporate friend across the country," Rizio said of his client. "And having a McDonald's here would be a great attribute for the town."
Planning & Zoning commissioners want the proposed building to look more colonial. The hearing was continued to March 17, so Rizio can see if McDonald's will allow flexibility in the architectural design.