Published January 07. 2013 2:00PM Updated January 07. 2013 10:13PM
Norwich — A federal judge in Bridgeport on Thursday will consider the Diocese of Norwich’s request for an emergency injunction to stop the city from closing the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen at the former St. Joseph School on Cliff Street.
St. Vincent and St. Joseph Polish Roman Catholic Congregation filed an appeal Friday in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport challenging the city planning commission’s ruling Dec. 18 denying a special permit for the soup kitchen to remain permanently at the former Catholic school. St. Vincent’s six-month temporary permit expires Saturday.
Along with the appeal, St. Vincent asked the court for emergency relief to remain at the school during the appeal process. Judge Warren W. Eginton has scheduled a hearing on the injunction request for 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bridgeport federal courthouse.
“It’s obviously important for St. Vincent de Paul that we get some stay if we can on the building permit,” attorney Timothy Bates, representing St. Vincent, said Monday.
Attorney Michael Zizka, a land-use specialist at the firm Murtha Cullina, will represent the city in the appeal.
Without court approval of an injunction, city officials are prepared to issue a notice of violation Monday to the soup kitchen, ordering the facility to vacate the former school, city Director of Inspections James Troeger said Friday.
After two lengthy public hearings this fall, the Commission on the City Plan voted unanimously Dec. 18 to deny a special permit to allow the religious and charitable facility to remain permanently at the school, located in a residential zone. Neighbors told the commission that patrons had trespassed, littered and used foul language in response to homeowners’ requests that they leave their properties.
In the lawsuit, diocese attorneys said the commission bowed to “anecdotal evidence” rather than the expert testimony of other witnesses.
They also argued that the diocese has a First Amendment right to carry on its religious ministries on church-owned properties that always have been used for similar purposes.
The soup kitchen had been located at the former train station behind Main Street, but the need for structural repairs forced the facility to move last summer.