Norwich soup kitchen's relocation on hold; neighbors ready to object

Norwich - The St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen "will not be able" to return to the former city train station behind Main Street and plans to remain at the former St. Joseph School until a decision is made on a permanent new home - possibly at the former school.

The Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of Norwich, wrote a letter to St. Joseph parishioners on Friday explaining that the soup kitchen and the food pantry will look to remain at the school until a permanent home is found.

"Your continued cooperation and support are vital to the continuation of the ministry," Cote wrote.

Neighbors are aware of the letter and plan to object to any plans to keep the soup kitchen at St. Joseph, resident Brian Kobylarz said.

Kobylarz said there has been a "true decline in the quality of the neighborhood."

The soup kitchen's planned temporary move to the former school cafeteria this summer proved controversial. City building inspectors denied a permit until state building officials agreed to waive certain code requirements for six months. Neighbors objected, citing safety and other concerns.

Diocese spokesman Michael Strammiello said Tuesday that the "on-the-ground" experience thus far at St. Joseph has been positive, making the school a possible favorable permanent location for the soup kitchen, food pantry and related ministry.

"The ministry has found a home," Strammiello said. "They've been welcomed by the parish and the pastor. We know there are some diligent neighbors, and that's good. … The positive experience to date, including the vigilance and caring in the neighborhood, I think puts this location in a favorable position."

Kobylarz disputed that claim. He said formal complaints might be few, but many issues are too small to report, such as more people hanging out at the nearby Cliff Street cemetery, garbage in yards and fear by some residents that soup kitchen patrons might recognize them as having complained about the facility and see where they live. "This is destroying this neighborhood," Kobylarz said.

Strammiello said the Lord family, which owns the train station, revealed that the owners wanted St. Vincent de Paul Place to take over the entire building, which would be too large and cost-prohibitive for the ministry.

Jeff Lord, property manager for the train station, said he has not been informed officially that the diocese will not return to the station. St. Vincent's lease will be up in March or April, he said. The building is undergoing extensive exterior renovations.

James Troeger, director of inspections for the city, said the soup kitchen's six-month occupancy permit expires Jan. 12, and the former school would need renovations to allow the soup kitchen to remain there permanently.

Kobylarz said city officials had told residents there would be public hearings if the soup kitchen plans to move permanently to the school. He said a majority of City Council members and city officials have not wresponded to neighbors' complaints and requests for meetings.

c.bessette@theday.com

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