Published June 19. 2013 4:00AM
Norwich - St. Vincent de Paul Place has filed its third appeal to U.S. District Court, this one challenging the May 14 Zoning Board of Appeals denial of a variance permit to operate the soup kitchen and food pantry at the former St. Joseph School on Cliff Street.
The soup kitchen and St. Joseph's parish filed the initial appeal May 30 in U.S. District Court in New Haven, but the case has been transferred to Bridgeport court to be heard by Judge Warren W. Eginton, who presided in the soup kitchen's first appeal in January of the Norwich Commission on the City Plan permit denial for the soup kitchen's move to the former school.
Eginton dismissed that appeal, in part because St. Vincent had not yet appealed to the ZBA. The soup kitchen appealed his denial, and that case is pending in the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
Another appeal has been filed in federal court in New Haven challenging the ZBA's decision to uphold Zoning Enforcement Officer Tianne Curtis' notice of violation against the soup kitchen.
In the latest case, St. Vincent attorney Timothy Bates argued that the ZBA's variance denial was discriminatory against the soup kitchen and denied the soup kitchen and parish's "free exercise of their religion."
The 42-page appeal said the denial prevented St. Vincent from operating in its only "ready and feasible location available to it." The complaint said the soup kitchen's former location at a former city train station at 10 Railroad Ave. was undergoing extensive structural repairs and was unavailable. That location also had become too costly. The case summarized a three-year fruitless search for a new location within downtown Norwich, leaving the former school as the only alternative.
The complaint also listed several other local religious and social services facilities that offer regular meals and food pantry services without encountering zoning enforcement action, calling the St. Vincent action "unequal treatment."
The complaint also alleged that ZBA members Paul Kramarewicz and Raymond Dussault were prejudiced in their opinions about the case before the lengthy two-session hearing concluded and had made public comments against the variance. Kramarewicz recused himself from voting, but Dussault voted against the variance.
St. Vincent has asked the court to reverse the variance denial and award compensatory damages, legal fees and court costs to St. Vincent.
Unlike in the first appeal, St. Vincent did not need to seek an injunction from the judge to prevent the city from closing the soup kitchen, because in St. Vincent's first appeal of the planning commission's permit denial, the city agreed to delay enforcement until the case was heard.
Eginton dismissed that case, but when St. Vincent appealed that dismissal, the enforcement delay continued, both Bates and city zoning attorney Michael Zizka said. Bates said the New York appeals court could issue a decision by late summer in the appeal.