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Norwich planners recommend against St. Vincent move to St. Joseph School

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published March 19. 2013 7:00PM   Updated March 19. 2013 11:45PM

Norwich — The Commission on the City Plan Tuesday repeated its objection to the plan by St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen to relocate permanently to the former St. Joseph School on Cliff Street.

The commission, which in December denied a special permit for the soup kitchen based on detrimental effects on the neighborhood, Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend against a use variance to allow the move.

St. Vincent last week appealed the planning commission's denial to the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a use variance to allow the soup kitchen and food pantry to operate in the school. The application required an advisory opinion from the planning commission.

"I think we covered this territory previously," planning commission member Frank Manfredi said.

City inspectors allowed St. Vincent a six-month temporary permit to relocate to the former school. But the Commission on the City Plan in December denied a special permit for the soup kitchen and food pantry after hearing lengthy testimony from neighbors describing problems including trespassing, litter and foul language directed at residents.

Director of Planning and Development Peter Davis issued a written report citing the 2003 Plan of Conservation and Development that states a goal of reducing the number of social services entities in downtown Norwich.

Also, Davis said St. Vincent failed to show a hardship required to receive a use variance from the ZBA. He said the Diocese of Norwich, which operates St. Vincent, has other options for the building, including a religious school or other religious use.

"The fact that the applicant cannot do exactly what it presently wants to do on the property is not a legal hardship," Davis wrote.

Hobart Avenue resident Brian Kobylarz and Park Street resident Mark Gagne attended Tuesday's meeting, but there was no public comment. Both were pleased with the votes.

Kobylarz said he was glad the city agency's deliberations show that this is not an appropriate use in the neighborhood.

"Generally, we're pleased at seeing how the process is working here in the city," Kobylarz said.

St. Vincent officials did not attend the meeting.

The advisory opinion does not affect the ZBA's pending vote on the use variance application. The ZBA will continue its public hearing on the controversial application at 7 p.m. on April 9.

c.bessette@theday.com

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