Norwich seeking dismissal of pending soup kitchen lawsuits

Norwich - Attorneys for the city are asking the U.S. District Court to dismiss the three lawsuits filed by St. Vincent de Paul Place that challenge the city's denial of permits to operate the soup kitchen and related services at the former St. Joseph School on Cliff Street.

St. Vincent on Thursday received court approval to extend the deadline to respond to the city's lengthy dismissal motion and to file amended court documents. Amendments to the main complaints are now due by Sept. 5, and a response to the city's dismissal claims is due Sept. 29.

The controversy over the soup kitchen's relocation to the former school has been going on for more than two years. The facility first moved to the Cliff Street school on a temporary six-month permit in July 2012. The facility sought permanent permits, which were denied, in December 2012 after numerous complaints by neighbors that the operation disrupted the residential neighborhood.

From the start, the city agreed to postpone enforcement while court cases ensued, allowing the facility to remain at the school amid continued complaints from neighbors.

In the 66 pages of dismissal motion documents, attorneys Michael Zizka and Joseph Schwartz, representing the Norwich Commission on the City Plan, the Zoning Board of Appeals and individual city officials involved in the cases, argued that St. Vincent failed to exhaust its permit options with city officials and that the entire case should have gone to state court instead.

St. Vincent filed the appeals directly to federal court, the first filed in January 2013 after the Commission on the City Plan denied a special permit to relocate the soup kitchen, food pantry, laundry and shower facility and information services to the former school. St. Vincent filed a second appeal after the city Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance for the move, and a third appeal challenged the U.S. District Court's initial dismissal of the first case.

The city's attorneys argued in the special permit dismissal motion that St. Vincent failed to propose alternative less extensive uses for the property to the Commission on the City Plan. St. Vincent's application for a special permit was the "only" application, and the commission's denial was the only denial on the range of services proposed.

"Even today, more than 18 months after the denial of their lone application," the dismissal motion stated, "the plaintiffs have failed to submit an application to the commission for a less intensive array of uses, nor did they seek a variance of any applicable provisions of the zoning ordinance prior to filing the complaint."

The attorneys also argued that several other counts in the soup kitchen's appeal - including complaints against the ZBA and the zoning enforcement officer's notice of violation - cited provisions in state statutes that should have been appealed first to Connecticut Superior Court. The time to file an appeal to state court "has long since expired," the dismissal motion said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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