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Decision on Norwich soup kitchen delayed

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published November 21. 2012 4:00AM
Officials table action until Dec. 18 meeting

Norwich - The Commission on the City Plan on Tuesday delayed action on an application by the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen to remain permanently at the former St. Joseph School at 1 Clairmont Ave., at the corner of Cliff Street.

Commission members said they needed more time to review two new legal opinions presented to the commission Tuesday as well as detailed documents from the Diocese of Norwich and neighbors who oppose the soup kitchen relocation.

The commission tabled action on St. Vincent's application until the Dec. 18 regular meeting.

For the second time in a month, residents and officials from the Diocese of Norwich packed the City Council Chambers for the continuation of a public hearing on the St. Vincent's special permit application.

Prior to reopening the hearing, city Director of Planning and Development Peter Davis addressed the diocese's claim that the Commission on the City Plan had no legal jurisdiction over a religious function in a religious building.

Attorney Michael Zizka, a land-use specialist, told the commission it does have the authority to review the application under its special permit regulations.

The commission has to review the application with respect to its impact on the character of the neighborhood and traffic considerations.

During rebuttal of numerous neighbors' complaints voiced during the first public hearing on Oct. 16, attorney Timothy Bates, representing St. Vincent, said he would work with neighbors to mitigate any impacts the facility has on its residential surroundings.

Jillian Corbin, executive director of St. Vincent, said the soup kitchen is "very sensitive" to allegations that soup kitchen clients have trespassed on neighbors' yards, sworn at neighbors and thrown garbage on their properties. Corbin invited residents to contact her directly if incidents occur and said she would talk to the individuals involved to resolve the issues.

She said St. Vincent patrons volunteer downtown to clean garbage and maintain the grounds of the former YMCA building on Main Street. She said patrons already have worked with one new Cliff Street resident to clean the property he was renovating.

Corbin also said St. Vincent has met with members of the adjacent St. Joseph Church parish, who complained that the soup kitchen had taken over the former school cafeteria, which had been used for parish functions and fundraisers.

Hobart Avenue resident Brian Kobylarz countered Bates' claim that traffic would be reduced, saying much of the traffic is pedestrian, as patrons have walked through people's yards and the city cemetery, along with the streets.

Kobylarz said he never gets names of patrons, only "coarse language" in response to the question, making it difficult to report any specific individual. He said no one in the neighborhood questions the mission of the soup kitchen, but he objected to the diocese officials' claims that the operation is a religious function.

Kobylarz also said comments by Police Chief Louis Fusaro having no objections to the site should be dismissed by the commission because Fusaro is a member of the St. Vincent board of directors.

The soup kitchen had been hunting for a new home when it was earlier this year forced to find a new location immediately when faced with structural repairs at the former train station.

Diocese financial officer William Russell said St. Joseph was "the most logical place, the only place in Norwich. There was no other choice."

c.bessette@theday.com

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