A Danbury Board is trying to make a decision based on speculation about approvals made more than 30 years ago. The Zoning Board of Appeals closed the public hearing last night about a cease and desist order issued to Dorothy Day Hospitality House, to bring the emergency shelter into compliance with zoning regulations.
The Board did not make an immediate decision on whether to uphold the order issued by the Zoning Enforcement Officer. Members accepted briefs from Attorney Neil Marcus, and the attorney representing the Zoning Enforcement Officer. All parties agreed to stop the clock so that the briefs could be analyzed.
In response to neighbor complaints about quality of life issues raised this winter, Dorothy Day submitted a request to the Planning Commission to renew the permit from 1984.
Marcus made several arguments about why the Danbury Planning Commission issued one-year renewable permits back in 1983 and 1984. He said one reason Dorothy Day stopped applying was because there were several retirements in the Planning Department at that time and no one gave them notice in subsequent years that they had to apply. Marcus also said in the years that followed, the City Fire Marshals and the City Health Department visited every year for inspections, which led them to believe that there was a valid permit. Marcus believes the one-year renewable conditions were put on the permit back in 1983 because there were concerns about the emergency shelter being co-ed. There was no precedent at that time to know what Dorothy Day was talking about when they said they wanted to open an emergency shelter for the homeless.
Part of the ambiguity, since the issue dates back more than three decades, is that there are vague and sparse records.
Marcus has filed a mandamus brief with the Superior Court which would in essence make the Danbury Planning Commission hear Dorothy Day’s arguments, because the present day Planning Commission has said on-year renewable permits are not within their jurisdiction.
Attorney Dan Casagrande told the Zoning Board of Appeals in his brief that the Zoning Enforcement Officer has been trying to work with Dorothy Day and doesn’t want to see them suddenly closed. The Zoning Enforcement Officer has asked, several times, that Dorothy Day apply to the Planning Commission for a Special Exception Use to allow the emergency shelter to remain open under a valid permit. Casagrande also said that the reason the City Shelter on New Street received a permit that didn’t have a time restriction was because zoning laws had been changed before it opened in 1991. Had Dorothy Day applied for a new permit each year as required, he says they could have been grandfathered in.
Zoning Board of Appeals member Herb Krate said that there can only be speculation about what the Boards and Commissions of 1983 were thinking. But he said they could assume there was a one-year renewable restriction put on the permit because there was some apprehension about the impact a shelter would have on the community.
Spring Street residents are asking Danbury officials to relocate Dorothy Day to a non-residential area. They, along with CityCenter advocates, are calling for Dorothy Day to work with the Continuum of Care and have police or private security monitor and control client behavior. They say Dorothy Day has severely out-grown the location, as well as creating an out of control situation.