Settlement proposed in St. Vincent de Paul Place appeals
Norwich — A proposed settlement between the city and St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen would allow the facility to remain at the former St. Joseph School at 120 Cliff St., resolving a three-year legal battle that has been the subject of three federal lawsuits filed against the city.
The Commission on the City Plan discussed the proposed settlement for 45 minutes behind closed doors Tuesday.
The commission took no votes, but attorney Michael Zizka representing the city said afterward the commission will schedule a public meeting to receive comments on the proposed settlement.
Representatives from the Diocese of Norwich, which operates the soup kitchen, also would attend the meeting.
The proposed settlement will be released to the public when the meeting is scheduled, Zizka said.
Zizka said the settlement was reached with input from the federal magistrate, Judge Joan G. Margolis, who brokered the settlement talks.
The proposal calls for the soup kitchen and food pantry to remain at the former St. Joseph School with some restrictions. The facility would have to comply with required building code upgrades that have been put off during the appeal process, Zizka said.
Diocese of Norwich spokesman Michael Strammiello said diocese officials would “anxiously await” the scheduling of the meeting and are eager to participate.
“It sounds encouraging,” Strammiello said. “It's such a good thing for the community, and its so rooted in that exact same neighborhood.”
The two parties have held nine settlement sessions either in person or via teleconference calls with a U.S. District Court judge from November 2013 through this past July 9, according to court records for the three federal lawsuits St. Vincent filed against the city challenging planning and zoning permit denials.
In May of 2014, the settlement talks broke down, and the parties informed Margolis at the time that they would go ahead with the federal lawsuit. Talks resumed several months later.
The controversy started in the summer of 2012, when St. Vincent at first received a six-month temporary permit to move from the former city train station behind Main Street to the former St. Joseph's School as the train station underwent major structural repairs.
But in November, St. Vincent applied for a special permit from the Commission on the City Plan for a permanent move. The commission denied the permit in December 2012, citing evidence that the facility was harming the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
Residents had described repeated trespassing, littering, defecating on a lawn and rude, insulting comments from soup kitchen patrons.
St. Vincent first appealed the planning commission denial to federal court in January 2013 and later appealed Zoning Enforcement Officer Tianne Curtis' notice of violation issued when the soup kitchen's six-month temporary permit expired.
The third appeal challenged the city Zoning Board of Appeals denial of a variance to allow the diocese to continue operating in the school building.
All three cases were consolidated in the New Haven court. Zizka said the settlement would resolve the suit against the Commission on the City Plan, and the other two lawsuits would be dropped.
The soup kitchen has operated continuously since its move in July 2012, because at the start of the court appeal process, city officials agreed to delay enforcement of the zoning denial until the appeals are completed.
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