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St. Vincent soup kitchen files appeal to city Zoning Board of Appeals

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published January 29. 2013 4:00PM   Updated January 29. 2013 11:33PM

Norwich — Separate from a federal lawsuit filed against the city, St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen on Tuesday filed an appeal to the city Zoning Board of Appeals challenging the zoning enforcement officer’s violation notice issued Jan. 14 after temporary permits for the soup kitchen at the former St. Joseph School expired.

The soup kitchen and school building owner St. Joseph’s Polish Roman Catholic Church already have filed suit in federal court challenging the Commission on the City Plan’s Dec. 18 denial of a special permit to occupy the former school permanently.

As part of that appeal, U.S. District Court Judge Warren W. Eginton ordered that the city could issue violation orders to St. Vincent now that temporary permits have expired. But the judge ordered the city not to enforce those orders until a Feb. 25 injunction hearing in the Bridgeport court.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Tianne Curtis issued the violation notice to both St. Vincent and the church, saying that without special permit approval, the operation was in violation of city zoning regulations.

Curtis declined to comment on the ZBA appeal Tuesday but said it follows the normal procedure when an applicant objects to an order from the zoning officer. The appeal will be placed on the March 12 ZBA agenda.

Attorney Timothy Bates, representing St. Vincent and the church, said Tuesday the administrative appeal will not change St. Vincent’s federal court appeal.

“On behalf of St. Vincent de Paul, we want to make sure we are exploring every opportunity to allow the organization to fulfill its religious mission and continue to feed the poor,” Bates said. “We remain committed to our federal court action, but if this matter can be resolved locally, we want to pursue that possibility.”

In his appeal to the ZBA filed Tuesday, Bates argued that the wrong city regulations were cited and that St. Vincent “has not sought a certificate of zoning compliance to operate at the property as of right in any zoning district.”

He also said Curtis “disregarded” a federal religious land-use law that he said “grants heightened protection for religious use of property.”

Along with the appeal, Bates also filed a form to the zoning office saying the applicant reserves the right to file for a zoning variance for St. Vincent to operate at the school.

St. Vincent initially moved temporarily to the school in July as the former home in the former train station behind Main Street underwent structural repairs. But the soup kitchen in fall changed its application to a special permit request to operate in the residential zone.

The commission voted unanimously to deny the special permit after neighbors complained that the temporary operation already had proven to have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, with litter, trespassing and foul language directed at homeowners.

c.bessette@theday.com

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