Loaves may soon need to exit its home
Needs of the probate court could trump those of New Milford's soup kitchen
The Richmond Citizen Center in New Milford may soon feature an altered lineup of occupants.
And, per Mayor Pat Murphy's wishes, Loaves & Fishes Hospitality House won't be in the lineup.
The mayor wants to move the Housatonic Probate Court into the building at 40 Main St., sharing space with Social Services, the town's senior center and The Wheels program.
Loaves & Fishes, which has leased the basement kitchen and dining area for 20 years, would be asked to leave, Murphy said.
"They don't have a contract with the town. They're on a month by month basis in the building," Murphy said of the soup kitchen. "We have to provide appropriate space for the probate court now that it serves five towns."
Loaves & Fishes has been on tenuous terms with the mayor for the past two years.
Murphy has given them notice their space will eventually be needed, although no target date has been established for the soup kitchen to vacate.
"We've been very sensitive to their needs," Murphy said this week. "That's why they're still there. We've been encouraging them to find a different location. I'll have to give them a definite date soon."
Loaves president Lisa Martin said she is still reeling from the unsuccessful efforts of the past year trying to get Zoning Commission approval to build a facility at 25 Bridge St.
The application was denied June 24 and Martin and her board have been planning an appeal.
"We've done nothing but search diligently for the last year for a new place. I'm shocked the mayor could say that," Martin said. "I've heard nothing about the probate court coming into the building."
"We've been told Social Services would be moving into our space," she said. "Then that the senior center needed space. There's been so many changes as to why we have to leave."
Murphy said state statutes require an appropriate judicial space for a probate court. The present site of the court at town hall is small and cramped, she opined, with no space for private conversations between attorneys and clients.
Marty Landgrebe, the Housatonic Probate Court judge, said he has indicated concerns to the mayor about meeting court requirements in the present space.
He has a small private office, small space for staff and paperwork and uses the meeting room on the second floor for a hearing room.
"We're looking for more privacy for people and security enhancement," Landgrebe said. "Now it's just in the discussion phase."
Vincent Russo, communications manager with the Connecticut Probate Court Administration, outlined the requirement for court space by state statute.
"There's no specific template," Russo said. "But the statute clearly states what a municipality must provide: a private office for the judge; a hearing/conference room; and the staff must have a private space where sensitive documents are not visible to the public. Confidentiality is the key."
Russo said it is not unusual for a probate judge with cramped quarters to let an attorney and his or her client meet in his private office for discussions, as Landgrebe now does.
The New Milford/Bridgewater Probate Court became the Housatonic Probate Court in January 2011. It now serves Bridgewater, Brookfield, New Fairfield, New Milford and Sherman.
Landgrebe said there would have to be a discussion with the state probate administration before the court could be moved to the Richmond Citizen Center.
Moving documents would need to be addressed.
"I know courts that have been moved in the past," Landgrebe said, "and the state was always a good resource for them in making the transition."