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Neighbors: No Headrest Near Us

The now-empty location of Hannah House, left, on Abbott Street in Lebanon, N.H., on April 3, 2014. 
Valley News - Sarah Priestap

The now-empty location of Hannah House, left, on Abbott Street in Lebanon, N.H., on April 3, 2014. Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Lebanon — A neighborhood group has appealed the Zoning Board’s approval to relocate a residential substance abuse recovery center and 24-hour crisis hotline to Abbott Street.

The nonprofit providing substance abuse treatment and crisis assistance services, Headrest, is now based out of a 2,000-square-foot building on Church Street. The move to the 5,500-square-foot Abbott Street house would afford Headrest staff and clients greater privacy for services such as the crisis hotline and counseling than is available at the organization’s present location.

But during public hearings on Headrest’s move held by the Zoning Board in the spring, area residents voiced concerns over safety for children along the street, a change in neighborhood character and a reduction in their property values, which they said Headrest’s relocation might initiate.

“Headrest is wonderful; they help a lot of people,” said Chestnut Street resident Susan Clark during a hearing in April. “I just don’t think our little street will get helped.”

Susan and Philip Clark, Flora Meyer, Thomas Brown, Mona Domosh, Frank Magilligan, Rick Sanderson and Tracy Wynkoop, filed the appeal in Grafton Superior Court on July 16. The group is represented by Keene, N.H., attorney Tom Hanna, who has 34 years of experience in the field of land-use law.

The appeal asks the court to reverse the Zoning Board’s approval of a special exception to allow Headrest, as a group residence, to move to the former Hannah House, a residential home for pregnant teenagers and their children which operated from 1987 to 2012. The city granted a special exception for a group residence to Hannah House in 1987.

Should the court decide not to reverse the Zoning Board’s decision, the appeal requests that the court send the case back to the board for a rehearing.

The appeal asserts that the city’s Zoning Board “unreasonably and unlawfully” approved the special exception for Headrest on April 21.

In buttressing their case, the group argues that the Headrest property will largely be used for other purposes than designated for a group residence. For example, much of the space will be used for treatment, meetings and administrative offices, not housing, according to the appeal. Therefore, Headrest would be better described as a “social service center,” which is prohibited on that site under current zoning.

The plaintiffs argue that outpatient services, such as counseling and hotline calls, are not supportive of a primary group residence use.

“Taken as a whole, the variety of non-residential activities represent the ‘tail wagging the dog,’ with the dog purportedly being the principal Group Residence use and the tail being all of the other activities,” the appeal states.

As neighbors said at the city’s public hearings in the spring, the appeal indicates the character of the area will be affected by increases in noise, traffic and parking.

The plaintiffs suggest that Headrest’s proposed relocation has already affected the character of the area. For example, opponents of Headrest’s move and former neighbors of the property in question, Sarah and Jessiah Thompson, sold their Abbott Street house in early July, according to the city’s property records.

In addition to statements against the board’s original April decision, the appeal also calls for a reversal of the Zoning Board’s June denial of the neighbors’ request for a rehearing. The request should have been heard by a “full board” of five, instead of the three board members who voted, 2-1, not to rehear the case.

Hanna, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said Friday he plans to serve the appeal to the city before Sept. 1. The city will then have 30 days to respond.

Hanna declined further comment, saying, “I don’t think I want to talk about this case in the newspapers.”

Zoning Board Vice Chairman Bill Koppenheffer, reached by phone Friday, said he “wasn’t aware that an appeal had been taken.”

Without having read the appeal, Koppenheffer said he found it “hard to say anything about it.”

Headrest Executive Director Ed Rajsteter said Headrest initially hoped to move into the Abbott Street property by Jan. 1.

He declined to comment on the appeal, saying it is “too premature for us to say anything at this point.

“We’re still figuring out what direction we’re going to go,” Rajsteter said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.