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City says St. Vincent's lawsuit should be dismissed

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published February 11. 2013 6:00PM   Updated February 11. 2013 6:16PM

Norwich – Lawyers representing the city filed four briefs in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport today asking the court to dismiss the St. Vincent de Paul Place’s appeal of the city’s permit denial to operate the soup kitchen at the former St. Joseph School on Cliff Street.

The city also objected to St. Vincent’s requests to postpone an injunction hearing and extend a court-ordered restraining order to March 25.

The city argued that St. Vincent’s federal court challenge to the permit denial was premature because the soup kitchen and St. Joseph’s Church hadn’t exhausted administrative appeals. Attorneys Michael Zizka and Joseph Schwartz representing the city said St. Vincent didn’t even file appeals to the city Zoning Board of Appeals until Feb. 1, more than a month after the Commission on the City Plan denied special permits for the soup kitchen.

Zizka and Schwartz said the facility could not show undo hardship in requesting the injunction and also argued that St. Vincent was not likely to win its appeal on the overall merits of the case.

The attorneys also summarily rejected St. Vincent’s claims that the city violated federal law that protects religious institutions, saying the federal law was not intended to “relieve religious institutions from variances, special permits and exceptions.”

St. Vincent filed appeal to U.S. District Court Jan. 4 challenging the planning commission’s unanimous denial of a special permit to allow St. Vincent to remain permanently at the former school. With the denial, St. Vincent’s six-month temporary permits expired Jan. 12.

As part of that appeal, U.S. District Court Judge Warren W. Eginton ordered that the city could not to enforce violation orders to close the soup kitchen until a Feb. 25 injunction hearing in the Bridgeport court.

But St. Vincent last week asked the court to postpone that hearing to March 25 to allow time for the city Zoning Board of Appeals to hear an administrative appeal challenging Zoning Enforcement Officer Tianne Curtis’ violation notice and a request for a variance to allow the soup kitchen to operate in the former school.

c.bessette@theday.com

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