Zoners should OK proposal for soup kitchen
Approval with conditions could give Loaves & Fishes a new home
The controversial, bruising application process involving a New Milford soup kitchen will likely to come to a conclusion -- at least temporarily -- on Tuesday night.
That's when the Zoning Commission is scheduled to conduct a vote on the proposal by Loaves & Fishes Hospitality House to move its quarters from the town-owned Richmond Citizen Center on Main Street to a new location at 25 Bridge St.
Based on comments by zoning Chairman Bill Taylor at the panel's June 10 meeting, it appears denial of the application is highly likely.
And that is a shame.
Loaves & Fishes is an all-volunteer organization that has filled a huge void in town for three decades by serving meals to New Milford's hungry, and it needs a new home in the face of efforts by Mayor Pat Murphy and the town to move the soup kitchen out of the Richmond Citizen Center.
Loaves & Fishes' leaders have been searching for some time for a new site, but none of them has panned out.
At least not until Sarah Straub offered to sell her property along Bridge Street to Loaves & Fishes for what would become the Danny Straub Community Outreach Center, in memory of Straub's late husband, and she agreed to hold the mortgage.
The Bridge Street site certainly appeared to be a good compromise between the wishes of town and business officials who wanted to shift some of the soup kitchen's clientele from the Village Green area and the desire of Loaves & Fishes to have a site near the center of town, close to where most of New Milford's needy folks live.
There is great appreciation in town for Loaves & Fishes, and the group's proposal received some strong support over the course of the four-month, seven-night public hearing on the application.
But the proposal also brought out a number of residents who opposed the plan -- some of them angrily and emotionally, some of them in mean-spirited fashion, some of them spreading unfair and unreasonable fears about Loaves & Fishes' clients.
Sadly, the hearing revealed a dark side of the community and a lamentable lack of compassion on the part of some residents for those down on their luck -- the poor, the hungry and the homeless.
Taylor and other zoners point to concerns about zoning regulations, most notably lot size, parking, driveway safety and multiplicity-of-use issues, and they have not publicly discussed the emotional opposition.
We wonder, however, if zoning officials could have done a better job of reaching out to the applicant and if the two sides could have worked more closely together to make this application work.
In fact, we wonder if it is not too late for such an effort to be made.
Taylor instructed Zoning Enforcement Officer Laura Regan to write a resolution of disapproval of the application, and that will be the starting point for Tuesday night's discussion.
We call on the Zoning Commission to reject that resolution and instead to approve the application with the conditions it deems necessary.
If that happens, Loaves & Fishes can make some adjustments in its plan, and it will have a new home.
If, as anticipated, zoners deny the application, it is likely Loaves & Fishes would appeal, and the soup kitchen will remain in the Richmond Citizen Center for some time to come, since it would be unconscionable for the town to evict such a humanitarian, valuable organization.
And a permanent solution will be put off.
Meanwhile, the harsh reality is that, regardless of the outcome of this matter, there will continue to be a few dozen New Milford residents who need to be fed.
Fortunately, wherever the soup kitchen's home might be -- 25 Bridge St., the Richmond Citizen Center or some other centrally located site -- those needy folks can count on Loaves & Fishes to be there to help them, day in and day out.