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Lebanon Board Won’t Rehear Rehab’s Move

Lebanon — An effort to prevent a substance abuse recovery center from moving to a residential neighborhood was stymied Monday night when a city board denied residents’ request for rehearing.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 2-1 to reject a request to reconsider its April decision to allow Headrest, a residence for adults undergoing counseling for substance abuse, to relocate from Church Street to the former Hannah House, a home for pregnant teenagers and their children on Abbott Street.

Comments during the public hearing ahead of the board’s April approval, a 3-1 decision, centered around the suitability of the location for Headrest’s treatment center and 24-hour crisis hotline.

In contrast, Monday night’s discussion centered primarily around the number of board members present and voting.

“It’s unfair to have three members vote,” said Keene-based attorney Tom Hanna, representing the 10 neighbors of the former Hannah House who oppose Headrest’s relocation.

Due to a conflict of interest, board member Dan Nash recused himself from voting on the Headrest matter and Vice Chairman William Koppenheffer and board member Jennifer Mercer were absent Monday, leaving just Chairman Jeff Halpin, board member Al Patterson and board alternate Larry LeClair to vote.

At the board’s previous meeting on June 2, Mercer and Nash had recused themselves from voting on the request for rehearing and Patterson was absent. At that time, Hanna requested to have more than three voting members present when issuing its decision on the motion for rehearing and the board agreed to delay.

On Monday, when there were again just three voting members to take up the issue, Hanna maintained his position that he would prefer to have a larger board. He said that because Lebanon is a “pretty vibrant city” there should not be three vacancies on the Zoning Board, one regular member and two alternates.

“The people that I represent and other people appearing before you really deserve a five-member board,” he said.

Interim Zoning Administrator David Brooks told the board that the city’s attorney, Bernie Waugh, advised it to act within 30 days of receiving the motion for rehearing. If the board were to further delay action on the item to its next meeting on July 21, the “original beneficiary could argue it has become final through inaction,” Brooks told the board. “The city attorney’s feeling is that 2-1 is sufficient to take action.”

To rehear Headrest’s request, board members would have had to find that the petitioner provided new, relevant evidence or legal issues that were not considered at the original hearing or that the board may have made an error in its original decision, according to the city’s zoning ordinance.

Al Patterson, a board member and a patrol officer with the Hanover Police Department, who was not present for the April vote, said the board should rehear the request because Headrest’s impact on the community was not represented correctly during the original hearing.

“I have to say that most people would find it concerning if you had 17 arrests right next door to your house,” he said. “The community needs to have all the facts and understand what has happened and what hasn’t happened.”

After considering Patterson’s statements, LeClair said he agreed “that we probably should have a rehearing” in order to invite the police department to describe the nature of the calls regarding Headrest.

At that point, Anne Hill, an attorney and a member of Hannah House’s board, stood up to say that Patterson’s concerns were factual and not legal.

After reviewing the relevant portion of the city’s zoning ordinance, LeClair changed his position and said he would vote not to rehear the case, but Patterson held firm.

Halpin, the dissenting vote in the board’s April approval, said that while he disagreed with the board’s original decision, he felt the board process was correct. He said he would agree to postpone the board’s vote to its next meeting on July 21, if Hanna again asked for a delay.

But when LeClair said he would be absent for that meeting and therefore the board would again have just three members to vote on the rehearing request, Halpin moved for a vote.

Halpin and LeClair voted not to rehear the issue, while Patterson voted yes.

The opponents of Headrest’s planned move to Abbott Street now have 30 days to appeal the board’s decision to the New Hampshire Superior Court.

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