Headrest Plan Faces Opposition

Neighbors Ask Board To Reject Relocation

Lebanon — The proposal to relocate Headrest in the former Hannah House on Abbott Street, three blocks south of Colburn Park, drew opposing statements from neighbors and recovering substance abusers at Monday night’s Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing.

Headrest proposes to convert the former home for pregnant teens and their children to a residence for adults undergoing counseling for substance abuse. If a special exemption similar to that approved for Hannah House in 1987 is granted, Headrest also would relocate the crisis hot line it operates to the 19th-century building.

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

Lebanon attorney Barry Schuster, who spoke on behalf of the organization, told the Zoning Board that the character of the neighborhood would not be “adversely affected” by Headrest’s relocation. He said there would not be an increase in car traffic, for example.

Headrest’s use of the home would be similar to its former use as a home for pregnant teens and children in that the people who would live there would need to qualify for treatment, said Schuster.

Hillary Bogan, a single mother of three, was an outpatient client at Headrest and has been substance-free for three years, she said. She now works full-time and has custody of her children.

“Without Headrest, I probably wouldn’t be here for my kids,” she said. “I still reach out to counselors at Headrest to keep my feet on the right side of the track.”

Kerrie Zarr said she lived at Headrest 18 months ago. She described it as the “first place that believed in me (and) had faith that I could get clean and stay clean.”

She said she now has a job, a car and her two children.

With twice the square-footage of Headrest’s current location on Church Street, the Abbott Street house, which is about a block west of Route 120, would give the nonprofit room it needs to improve confidentiality for hot line callers and residents, the group’s Interim Executive Director Ed Rajsteter said in an interview last week.

The group also plans to add a day care to its suite of services, to allow rehab clients to bring their children with them during outpatient counseling sessions or residential stays, Judyth Leavitt, Headrest’s clinical director said last week .

The larger space would also allow the organization to provide training in life skills such as cooking, she said.

Lebanon attorney Peter Decato spoke for a group of neighbors on Abbott and Chestnut streets.

He said that the purpose of the hearing was not to debate the merits Headrest’s work, but to determine whether the Abbott Street location is an appropriate site for substance abuse treatment.

He questioned whether Headrest is a group residence, and suggested that because of the treatment services the organization provides, it is in fact a hospital.

Decato pointed to the fact that Headrest residents are temporary.

“A home is a place where you intend to live for (the) indefinite future,” he said.

Abbott Street resident Flora Meyer agreed.

She told the board that Headrest belongs in a commercial setting, not in a residential area.

She stated that the nonprofit’s presence would erode property values.

“How will (the) city and Headrest compensate us?” she asked.

She said her back porch, which looks out on the former Hannah House building, “will not feel safe” if Headrest moves in.

As the clock ticked toward 10 p.m., the board opted to continue the hearing until its next meeting on Monday, April 21.

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