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Court issues ruling in City of Danbury vs Dorothy Day homeless shelter permit case

A Connecticut court has ruled in favor of the City of Danbury and Dorothy Day Hospitality House must cease operations as a homeless shelter.  A judge ruled that the cease and desist order issued by the City's Zoning Enforcement Officer was properly made.  Dorothy Day appealed the August 2016 decision and the judge issued a ruling on Friday. 

The issue dates back to 1984 when Dorothy Day applied for renewal of emergency accessory use to their soup kitchen.  The one year renewal was granted, but no further applications were filed over the course of the next 30 years.  Before the cease and desist order was issued in 2016, the Zoning Enforcement Officer sent a notice in 2015 reminding Dorothy Day of its failure to obtain the required approvals, asking that it apply.  No application was filed. 

The original 1983 approval was given for temporary emergency interior alterations.  Dorothy Day argued that the condition of approval was illegal and asked the court not to consider the failure to renew an application after 1984.  The court though does not examine or determine legality of the permit, because the plaintiff failed to challenge the approval back in the 80s. 

In 1989 when amended zoning regulations permitted a homeless shelter as a right in that zone, Dorothy Day did nothing.   In 2014 when the regulation was changed to instead allow the use as a special exception, Dorothy Day did nothing. 

The court found that Dorothy Day muddied the waters by arguing at a 2016 public hearing that a 1984 letter from Planning was unavailable, meaning renewal for the homeless shelter use was not required.  Minutes from a 1984 meeting show that the emergency housing shelter will be allowed for another year as a 'one year renewable accessory use' to the soup kitchen. 

Dorothy Day also argued that they could operate as a homeless shelter forever at 11 Spring Street under the doctrine of a nonconforming preexisting use.  The court determined that argument is flawed because Dorothy Day allowed the use with an approval to lapse in 1985 and the use became illegal at that point. 

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