Loudon zoning board rejects proposal for transitional housing
Concord's Open Hands Resource Center is interested in purchasing Lovejoy Farm in Loudon and turning it into transitional housing for homeless men.
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
Lovejoy Farm in Loudon will not be converted into transitional housing for homeless men after the town’s zoning board unanimously denied a request for a zoning exception last night.
“There’s no way that I can see that this isn’t going to affect the neighborhood,” said George Saunderson, an alternate zoning board member who filled in for the vote.
Open Hands Resource Center planned to purchase the former bed and breakfast at 268 Lovejoy Road and turn it back into a farm where up to 12 homeless men would live as they worked to get back on their feet. John Moretto, the center’s director, planned to live on the farm with his family. Ultimately, the board said Moretto’s application failed to prove the transitional housing facility fit the definition of a “boarding house,” which was needed for an exception. Moretto also failed to prove the project wouldn’t have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood or require additional municipal services such as fire and police, the board said.
The board’s vote came after two hours of spirited public debate that centered as much on the project’s potential effect on the community as it did on the actual zoning application. Moretto met with about 50 concerned residents several weeks ago and anticipated some push back. At that meeting, he told residents he would not appeal the board’s decision if his application was rejected. Open Hands Resource Center, which runs the drop-in center for homeless on North Main Street in Concord, has no immediate backup plan to purchase another property, he said.
Nearly 20 people stood up to protest the project, while only a handful of people, including several non-Loudon residents, spoke in support of it. Jon LeBrun, a Lovejoy Road resident, said Moretto did not present sufficient evidence that the project wouldn’t negatively affect the neighborhood’s water flow, traffic patterns or need for municipal services. He also referred to a similar facility in Skowhegan, Maine, that Moretto said he would model the property after. That facility accepts anyone without completing background checks, he said.
“Loudon is no Skowhegan, nor do I want it to be,” he said to applause from the crowd.
Moretto told the crowd that the facility would not house sex offenders, violent criminals, those in need of consistent psychiatric care or people with a history of aggressive behavior. He planned to personally interview and complete background checks on all individuals. The men would live at Lovejoy Farm only until they got jobs and were on an upward path, he said.
“In its simplest form, this request asks that we let individuals known to us be able to stay with us and work with them through job searches to get back into self-sustaining roles on their own,” Moretto said.
Lorrie Dale, shelter director at the McKenna House in Concord, defended the plan, as well as the men who would be using the shelter. At one point, she asked anyone who was homeless in the crowd to stand up and about 15 people rose. Rebecca Curley, a McKenna House resident, stood up and said she became homeless after getting addicted to heroin. The McKenna House saved her life, and Moretto’s facility could save many others, she said.
“I’m hearing a lot of fear tonight, a whole lot of fear,” she said, as several people protested the right of a non-Loudon resident to speak. “He’s offering them an opportunity to deal with their issues that they have. They’re people that all they want to do is contribute to society.”
Lovejoy Road resident Stacy McNeil and many others, however, said it would not be fair for the neighbors to have unknown men only screened by Moretto living in the area, she said.
“I am talking about the backyard, which is 1,000 feet of my property line, where my horses graze, where my kids sleep at night – a property line that is wooded and secluded,” she said. “My job as a parent, as a mother, is to protect the safety of my children, does that make me prejudiced?”
Only one Lovejoy Road resident, Robert Berger, spoke in favor of the project. As long as the facility was well planned and managed, which he believed it would be, the community should support it, he said.
“I feel that we need to do this for those that are less fortunate than us, particularly (because) a lot are veterans and have a difficult time when they back from war adjusting to the demands of life,” he said. “I think what we can do, we should do as long as it is reasonable.”
As for the future of Lovejoy Farm, a man named Scott Sesan and his girlfriend had put in an offer for the property around the time Moretto made his offer. The couple hoped to open an animal rescue and told the Monitor they may move ahead if Moretto’s request was denied.
Correction: This article misstated Rebecca Curley’s place of residence. She currently lives at the McKenna House in Concord.