Norwich meeting tonight on neighborhood soup kitchen problems

Norwich - Residents and business owners in the Cliff Street neighborhood are invited to a meeting tonight hosted by the Norwich community policing unit to discuss concerns about their neighborhood, home to the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen since July 2012.

Police circulated fliers throughout the neighborhood on Saturday announcing the meeting.

"The forum will focus on maintaining a working relationship among the neighborhood residents as well as the officers serving the neighborhood," Sgt. Peter Camp, supervisor of the Norwich Community Policing Program, wrote in the announcement.

But Brian Kobylarz said residents should have been given more advance notice to make plans to attend.

The meeting had been scheduled for earlier this winter - with only a few days' notice at that time as well - but was postponed by snow. Kobylarz said police should have used that cancellation to give residents more advance notice of the rescheduled meeting.

Neighbors have complained about the presence of the soup kitchen in the residential neighborhood - trespassing by patrons, disruptions to their privacy and quality of life - and have said neither police nor the diocese has addressed their concerns.

St. Vincent de Paul Place received a temporary permit in July 2012 to relocate to the former St. Joseph School at 120 Cliff St. In November of that year, the Diocese of Norwich applied for permanent permits to remain there. But the Commission on the City Plan and Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the application, citing complaints that the facility had disrupted the neighborhood.

The diocese has appealed the denials and Zoning Enforcement Officer Tianne Curtis' notice of zoning violation to federal court. The city and diocese are in settlement talks with federal Judge Joan G. Margolis at the U.S. District Court in New Haven.

The City Council met for more than an hour on Monday to discuss the soup kitchen. The city's zoning attorney, Michael Zizka, all members of the Commission on the City Plan and Planning and Development Director Peter Davis, along with City Manager Alan Bergren attended. The council took no action.

Kobylarz and resident Mark Gagne, owner of the Cummings-Gagne Funeral Home at 82 Cliff St., said residents have not been informed about the court discussions and are not formal parties in the case.

Kobylarz said he had hoped to discuss alternative uses for the former St. Joseph School with diocese officials, such as developing assisted living elderly housing there in compliance with the multi-family zone, but has not been given the chance.

Gagne said residents want to keep bringing their issues to city officials as well.

"It's much the same stuff we've been dealing with for the past 1½ years," he said of the issues he planned to raise tonight. "All you can do is keep bringing it up. This is a new opportunity to get involved with the police department. We've kind of been lost in the shuffle."

c.bessette@theday.com

If you go

What: Norwich community policing unit meets with residents and business owners in the Cliff Street neighborhood

When: 6 tonight

Where: community room at Otis Library

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