Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"We Come In Peace ... We Also ... Come With Determination"

Courant Coverage Of Rally & Council Meeting
Re- Survival Of Enfield Montessori School

Trying To Resolve Dispute With School
Council Considers Assistance Of Third Party Over Parking Lot Problem

Courant Staff Writer

October 17 2006

ENFIELD -- Members of the town council on Monday said they could support the assistance of a third party in resolving a dispute over the Enfield Montessori School's parking lot.

In council chambers packed with school supporters, school representatives suggested that an intermediary be brought in to help resolve the dispute with the town's planning commission over the parking lot.

"We come in peace," Sister Anastasia Holak said. "We also like you to know we come with determination."

Sister Carol Marie said the school wants to work with the town to address the need to improve its parking lot. "We would be happy to work with an individual or individuals to better facilitate this," she said.

Mayor Patrick Tallarita asked the town attorney and town manager to research whether the council can bring in a third party to help resolve the situation.

"I don't think there is a person up here who is happy about what happened to the Montessori," Tallarita said.

Council Minority Leader Scott Kaupin said he believes the problem may have started in how the school's operators, the Felician Sisters of the Order of St. Francis of Connecticut, were treated when they first approached town staff about improving their parking lot.

Kaupin said the sisters felt the town advance review team let them down. He said Town Manager Matthew Coppler should review what happened and how it can be fixed.

More than 200 supporters of the school held a rally on the town green before the council meeting. Sister Francine Sousa, the school's principal, said the rally was held to draw attention to the issue.

The planning and zoning commission and zoning enforcement officer argued that the school illegally constructed a gravel parking lot in 1992. The Felician Sisters argued that it had used the area as a parking lot for nearly 50 years. Putting down gravel was a matter of maintenance, which they said does not require a permit.

The zoning board of appeals sided with the Felician Sisters. In December 2004, the planning and zoning commission issued a cease-and-desist order on the gravel parking lot, giving the school 10 days to get the necessary zoning approval or remove the lot.

The sisters and school appealed the decision, and the zoning board of appeals found in their favor, supporting the school's right to have the parking lot.

The commission appealed that decision in Superior Court, but its appeal was dismissed Sept. 26. School officials learned last week that the planning and zoning commission is not appealing the decision.

Sousa said Monday that officials don't understand why the school is being held to different standard than other properties on Enfield Street.

Town council member Kenneth Nelson said he supports the school's effort. He said he understands the safety needs of the parking lot because a drunken driver killed his father on the driveway of the school.

Contact Larry Smith at lsmith@courant.com.

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