DERRY — People recovering from drug and alcohol addiction approached town officials last week to tell of the hell they experienced and why a "sober house" is needed.
Little did they know that members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment had lived through a hell of their own.
"My mother died of alcoholism," Chairman Allan Virr said. "I wish there was a facility for her ..."
Board member David Thompson said he wished there was a sober house for his brother. He died of alcoholism as well.
"I highly support this," he said.
So did most of the board, voting 4-1 to grant a variance to the Granite House sober living facility at 35 W. Broadway.
If also approved by the Planning Board, the facility would accommodate up to 31 people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse in a supervised, residential setting. It is not a treatment facility.
Fourteen people went before the board to express their support, including some who said they or family members battled substance abuse.
Michael Moore of Fairways Drive told of how he used to walk down the street drunk and high on drugs, throwing used hypodermic needles into the bushes.
He has recovered from his addictions and wants others to as well.
"I am definitely in favor and support it greatly," Moore said.
Ed Nolan of Londonderry told of how his son battled heroin addiction for 10 years — until he entered Granite House four months ago.
"That's the longest he has been clean and sober in that 10-year period of time," Nolan said. "It's a program that works. It's a program that has given my wife and I a ray of hope."
Several local residents among the crowd of about 40 spoke in favor of the facility, as did representatives of social service organizations, including the Derry Friendship House and Avery House in Londonderry.
There were only a few opponents, including Fred Oven of 94 W. Broadway and Steve Trefethen of Summerview Real Estate at 40 W. Broadway.
"I'm just asking that you don't allow it to expand if you allow it to be there," Oven said.
Oven said he neither supported nor opposed a sober house. He just didn't think there was enough parking for a 31-person facility.
Trefethen, who has strongly opposed Granite House's efforts, said granting the variance would allow for expansion of a nonconforming use. He also said such a facility is not allowed in the central business district.
"I personally don't think they meet the majority of these (criteria)," Trefethen said.
Trefethen and a few board members chastised Granite House owner Eric Spofford for moving the facility from its former Union Street location to West Broadway without receiving approval first.
The newly renovated building was formerly Mariniers Inn, a longtime boarding house.
"I'm just a little concerned about how you just moved in and left the other building," board member James Webb said.
He was the only board member to vote against the variance.
Spofford said they moved to West Broadway on Aug. 1, believing they had the approval needed.
"I admit we jumped the gun," he said.
Granite House later requested that the 16-bed facility be allowed to accommodate 31 people and be converted from a boarding house to a sober house.
Trefethen said Granite House would endanger public safety because it would be too close to the Marion Gerrish Community Center at 39 W. Broadway.
But center board member Janet Conroy said they supported the request.
The meeting became heated as Trefethen and board members argued over the proposal, prompting Town Councilor Janet Fairbanks to rush to the businessman's aid.
"The way I see him being treated is deplorable," she said.
Virr said Fairbanks wasn't allowed to speak unless she was commenting on the zoning request.
In the end, board members agreed the criteria for a variance had been met, which include no decrease in property values.
"It's a good victory," Spofford said.
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