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New York federal appeals court rejects dismissal of St. Vincent soup kitchen appeal

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published October 16. 2013 5:00PM   Updated October 17. 2013 12:32AM

Norwich — A three-judge panel at a federal appeals court in New York City Wednesday rejected a Bridgeport federal court's dismissal of the lawsuit in which St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen had appealed the city's initial denial of permits for the soup kitchen to move to the former St. Joseph's School.

In February, U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton agreed with the city's motion to dismiss St. Vincent's appeal of the city's Dec. 14, 2012, special permit denial on the grounds that the lawsuit was not ready for a court appeals. The Bridgeport judge agreed that St. Vincent had not yet exhausted its local permit avenues and hadn't filed for a zoning variance through the city Zoning Board of Appeals.

The New York Second District Court of Appeals judicial panel disagreed, however, and remanded the case back to the Bridgeport court for reconsideration. The panel said the court could have considered the appeal even with the ZBA ruling pending. But that issue became moot in March, when the ZBA denied the variance and affirmed the city zoning enforcement officer's notice of violation issued to the soup kitchen.

Attorney Brian Smith, representing the Diocese of Norwich in the appeal, said he was pleased with Wednesday's decision, although surprised that it came during the federal government shutdown.

"We look forward to moving ahead with the case in the district court," Smith said.

Attorney Joseph Schwartz, representing the city in the case, declined to comment Wednesday.

St. Vincent's initially moved to the former St. Joseph School on Cliff St. in July 2012 on a six-month temporary permit, but in November asked for permanent permits to remain in the building. Residents in the area objected, citing disruptions to the neighborhood, trespassing, foul language by patrons and litter on their properties. The Commission on the City Plan agreed with the neighbors and denied the special permit. The ZBA concurred in March.

At the end of the two-page ruling issued Wednesday, the three judges also recommended that the lower court consider consolidating the special permit denial appeal with two other pending federal court cases in which St. Vincent challenged the ZBA's variance denial and that agency's vote to affirm the notice of violation Zoning Enforcement Officer Tianne Curtis sent to St. Vincent in January following the planning commission's special permit denial.

"It would certainly appear that the district court should consider whether consolidation of this action with the two pending, consolidated actions is appropriate," the ruling said.

The other two pending appeals already have been consolidated and transferred to the U.S. District Court in New Haven before Judge Karen B. Arterton.

c.bessette@theday.com

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