Chants of “shame, shame” rang out from the crowd gathered at City Hall after the Danbury Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the cease and desist order issued to Dorothy Day’s homeless shelter. The order was issued by Zoning Enforcement Officer Sean Hearty in an effort to bring the shelter into compliance. He urged the operators to apply to the Planning Commission for a special exception use. Asked if Dorothy Day is allowed to continue to operate until the issue is resolved, Hearty gave a simple answer: Yes.
Attorney Neil Marcus says Zoning Boards of Appeal never overturn the decision of their Zoning Enforcement Officers. But he said the Board didn’t do what their attorney advised them to do. Marcus acknowledged that the ZOE was charged with a job, and takes that job seriously. But he says this is a complicated issue and a lot of things need to be taken into account. Marcus said that in his experience in the region, Boards would rather have the courts say there was an error, which sometimes they do, than to rule against a City employee.
Marcus says the Planning Commission wants to subject Dorothy Day to criteria that is expensive and unnecessary. One item he mentioned was a traffic study. Marcus pointedly said that except for a few volunteers, the homeless are not adding to the car traffic on Spring Street. Part of the process would also include an analysis of real estate values of the neighborhood.
Marcus questioned why after 33 years is the permit question an issue.
He intends to appeal the decision made Thursday night based on what he says is a flaw in the analysis from the Commission’s attorney. A 1989 Zoning Regulation amendment made it so homeless shelters did not need a special exception permit. In 2014, it was changed back. Marcus argues that once the 1989 amendment took effect the Dorothy Day operation was legal, and grandfathered in.
Marcus noted that the building and the site haven’t changed in 33 years.
Attorney Dan Casagrande previously 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.
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.