MANCHESTER, NH JUNE 24, 2021–Following the Manchester Zoning Board of Adjustment’s denial of a variance request that would have enabled the proprietors of an illegal sober living facility to continue operating at 296 Orange St. , mayoral candidate Richard H. Girard (R-Ward-2), issued a statement thanking Mayor Joyce Craig. Girard, who is a neighbor to the property, has been a vocal opponent of these illegal facilities, which have proliferated throughout the city during Craig’s terms in office. He has made cracking down on these properties a major issue in the campaign.
My neighbors and I were pleasantly surprised when Mayor Craig’s email in opposition to the variance was read aloud. It marks a dramatic change in her position on these illegally operating properties which I hope is genuine and will continue.
According to published media reports, there are approximately 60 facilities operating in violation of city zoning, housing, building and or life safety codes in neighborhoods across the city. Residents of Girard’s Ward 2 neighborhood successfully opposed a variance for another property just a block away at 70 Russell St. in February 2020 without help from Craig. Prior to that hearing, Girard and several neighbors went to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to explain what was happening in their neighborhood, and in neighborhoods across the city, turning over a list of more than two dozen illegally operating sober living facilities they had identified. They urged the city to enforce the codes that the former Fire Chief Dan Goonan had refused to enforce and direct Goonan to provide the list of suspected homes to the Department of Planning and Community Development so it could conduct reviews of the facilities and take whatever steps were warranted by the codes.
The enforcement action taken against 296 Orange St., which led to the variance application, was only the second one taken since the list was turned over nearly 18 months ago. The other was against 273 Dubuque St., which had been operating illegally since 2017. It is also operated by the same company, Into Action Sober Living, that illegally operated the facilities on Russell and Orange streets. In that case, the Planning Board approved a Conditional Use Permit to allow the facility to operate as “congregate housing,” which is allowed in that zoning district with the permit.
Girard also published two stories in his blog that led to the shutdown and sale of an illegal sober facility at 151Parkview Street in Ward 9. Kevin Paul, who killed Epsom Police Officer Jeremy Charron, was a resident who went “AWOL” from that facility located in this tight single family neighborhood. It was later discovered that Paul worked for Blueprint Recovery Centers in Concord, which is affiliated with Into Action Sober Living.
Half of the city’s zoning districts allow for these facilities by right or with permission from the Planning Board. There are plenty of good places where they can operate legally without disrupting residential neighborhoods. I welcome Mayor Craig to my position on the issue and encourage her, and the departments that answer to her, for the safety and stability of the dozens of affected neighborhoods across the city, to pursue enforcement actions against those places they know don’t belong. Had they done their jobs all along, this problem wouldn’t be nearly as big as it is.