Headrest Relocation Approved

Rehab Facility Gets Lebanon Board’s OK

Lebanon — The Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a special exception to allow a residential substance abuse treatment facility to move into a former home for pregnant teenagers and their children on Abbott Street at its meeting Monday.

The decision, passed by a vote of 3 to 1 with one abstention, allows Headrest to relocate its group residence and 24-hour crisis hotline from Church Street to the former Hannah House.

The move will double the square-footage available to Headrest, its 13 employees and eight rotating residents. The additional space will allow the nonprofit to offer day care services to residential and outpatient clients and to teach them life skills such as cooking, staff said in advance of Monday’s hearing.

“I think it’s the wrong decision,” said Philip Clark, whose Chestnut Street home sits a few doors away from the property in question. “It’s definitely going to affect the neighborhood.”

During Monday’s public hearing, Abbott Street resident Frank Magilligan said Headrest’s move would alter the character of his quiet “gem of a street” where children learn to ride bikes.

Attorney Peter Decato, who is representing several Hannah House neighbors, said his clients had gotten “used to mothers; now if this is allowed they’ll have people that are addicted in their neighborhood. That’s quite a different population.”

Others questioned Headrest’s classification as a group residence.

Abbott Street resident Flora Meyer suggested that Headrest ought to be deemed a treatment center and as such it should be located in a commercial or business district.

Neighbor Sarah Thompson said that Headrest did not fit the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of a group residence and said that it should be described as an institutional living quarters.

Interim Zoning Administrator David Brooks told the board that the only definition they should adopt in making their decision is the one included in the city’s zoning regulations, which describes a group residence as “a shared home for seniors, an orphanage, children’s home or similar type of group living accommodations. All such facilities shall be licensed by the State of New Hampshire and shall serve a maximum of 12 residents.”

The board also heard testimony on Monday in support of Headrest’s relocation, including words from the Rev. Stephen Silver who leads the First Congregational Church, which sits across Church Street from Headrest’s current location.

Silver said he spends six days a week at his office within view of Headrest’s house and he’s never seen a police cruiser or ambulance parked there.

He described Headrest’s inhabitants as “polite and courteous” neighbors.

During the board’s deliberations, Vice Chairman William Koppenheffer said he had a hard time distinguishing Headrest from Hannah House, which had been granted a special exception as a group residence by the city in 1987.

“Public perception is that people with addiction problems are worse neighbors than unmarried mothers,” he said.

Chairman Jeffrey Halpin said that he felt the fact that Hannah House existed at the same location was irrelevant to the proposal at hand. He stated concerns that the substance abuse treatment facility and crisis hotline would alter the neighborhood’s character.

“I am baffled that you can ignore the fact that there was a group residence on Abbott Street for twenty years,” said Koppenheffer.

Halpin said, “we can respectfully disagree.”

Halpin voted ‘no,’ while Koppenheffer and board members Jennifer Mercer and Larry Leclair voted ‘yes.’

Board member Dan Nash abstained because he said he and Headrest were potentially in competition for another property that is on the market in Lebanon, 18 Bank Street.

“I don’t want to taint the work you do,” he said.

After the board’s vote, Clark indicated that he would likely appeal the board’s decision. Other Hannah House neighbors in attendance refused to comment following the ruling.

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