DANBURY — A convoluted plan to try to resolve the years-long zoning dispute over whether the Dorothy Day Hospitality House can continue to operate its downtown homeless shelter ground to a halt late Thursday night.

The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals agreed to deny the shelter’s request for a set of proposed “variances” that, if approved, effectively would allow the 120-year-old Dorothy Day building not to conform to modern zoning rules.

Without them, the shelter cannot apply for a special exception to re-permit the Spring Street shelter and likely tanks any plan to settle the issue out of court.

“Our decision up here has nothing to do with being ethical or not, our decision is doing what the city calls us to do and that is to make a decision for the entire people (based on the law),” Board of Appeals Chairman Dick Jowdy said. “I don’t think there’s a person on our board who would not donate to the homeless or the shelter, but we have to make a decision.”

The consensus from the five-member board not to grant those variances was the latest episode in the ongoing court battle over the city’s 2016 attempt to shut down the shelter on Spring Street downtown.

Dorothy Day and its attorney, Neil Marcus, appealed that decision and the two sides have been locked in litigation before a Hartford judge ever since.

The issue has often become heated and tempers flared again during Thursday’s meeting among the two dozen ardent supporters of the shelter and fervent opponents in the neighborhood, who each booed the other side and applauded their own during parts of the hearing.

The highly technical variances would have essentially said the building meets zoning regulations on paper, even though it predates the rules and does not meet modern regulations for issues such as parking or setbacks from other properties, Marcus has argued. That approval, in turn, would allow Dorothy Day to make the case to the Planning Commission for a special exception to allow the 35-year-old shelter to continue to operate — the real underlying question at the heart of the dispute, he said.

But the board of appeals members are wary of granting variances to modern regulations if a court might rule that Dorothy Day cannot stay in its current location anyway, they agreed.

“I am in favor of Dorothy Day, but what we’re being asked to do is give the property, not Dorothy Day, 11 variances that stay with the property forever and ever,” board member Tony Rebeiro said. “If Dorothy Day in court is told they cannot go there, that property now has open range.”

The board asked city staff and counsel to draft a resolution denying the variances and are expected to formally vote on it next month, said Sharon Dornfeld, assistant city corporation counsel for conflicts.

After the meeting, Marcus held out hope that the board might still consider a “creative” resolution that simply kicks the issue to the Planning Commission for a final decision on the shelter’s operation itself.

“The end of the day is, if we’re not going to go to the Planning Commission, we’ll file our briefs and Judge Berger will decide the fate of the shelter,” he said.

zach.murdock@hearstmediact.com