Concord orders sex offender counseling center to leave Beacon Street building
42-year-old David Mandigo of Concord was arrested May 10, 2013, on charges that he broke into a Concord home overnight and touched an 11-year-old girl while she was sleeping.
The city of Concord has ordered a counseling center that treats sex offenders to leave its Beacon Street building. An 11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in her nearby home last month, allegedly by a man who received counseling at RTT Associates.
Concord Zoning Administrator Craig Walker sent a letter to the owner of 2½ Beacon St. this week, citing RTT’s connection to the alleged assault and discontinuing the center’s zoning approval.
RTT’s presence in the residential neighborhood “is a hazard to the health safety and general welfare of the public and is detrimental and out of character with the adjacent neighborhood and is not appropriate for the location,” Walker wrote in the letter, dated Monday.
Property owner David Ossoff now has 14 days to evict RTT Associates or respond to Walker’s letter with an appeal or request for additional time. Ossoff said he received the letter yesterday and sent copies to his attorney and RTT. He said he hasn’t determined how he’ll respond.
But RTT hopes to challenge Walker’s letter, said Roger Chadwick, the company’s attorney. He said the city’s letter doesn’t draw a strong connection between any criminal behavior and RTT’s actions. The alleged assault occurred in the middle of the night, outside of RTT’s business hours.
The city “wants to shut down a business that’s been operating there for approximately eight years without any incidents whatsoever,” Chadwick said. “And the link to RTT at this point – and we’ll challenge that with the city – is really no different than if someone were to come out of a bar and get into an accident on the way home. Are you then going to tell the bar to shut down?”
City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton, whose ward includes Beacon Street, has heard concerns from residents since last month and had asked City Manager Tom Aspell to review the issue.
“I am pleased that the city acted promptly to address the concerns of the neighborhood,” Grady Sexton said. “Hopefully this action helps restore a feeling of safety for people living in this area.”
On May 10, a mother found a man in her daughter’s bedroom on North State Street kneeling by the bed with his hands on her buttocks under the sheets.
David Mandigo, a 42-year-old Concord man, was arrested later that day and charged with sexual assault and burglary. Mandigo attended sex offender counseling at 2½ Beacon St., a prosecutor said at his arraignment.
Mandigo, who has a long history of sexually related crimes, is being held at the Merrimack County jail while a grand jury determines whether to file indictments on the felony-level charges.
The 11-year-old girl’s mother said last week that her family hasn’t felt safe since the assault, especially because there’s still a sex offender counseling center nearby. (The Monitor is withholding the mother’s name to protect her daughter’s identity.)
The police did not believe that Mandigo had targeted the family’s home at random. He is also being investigated for a similar incident in March, when a mother found someone standing outside her 15-year-old daughter’s bedroom window at 5:45 a.m. That incident is still under investigation, the police said.
Chadwick said RTT must protect client privacy, and can’t confirm whether any individual is a client at its center on Beacon Street.
“We’re not trying to downplay what is alleged to have happened,” he said.
But, Chadwick added, it’s a stretch to shut down a business based on one alleged crime that happened outside of business hours. Counseling centers need to exist, he said, and RTT offers other services in addition to sex offender treatment.
“There are people going in and out of that building (who) are not by any means exclusively there for some sort of sexual counseling,” he said. “So I think people need to keep that in mind.”
Grady Sexton, who also lives on Beacon Street and works for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said she doesn’t think the center belongs in a residential area.
“It is important that sexual offenders have access to treatment, but a residential setting is never an appropriate location for these services,” she said.
The counseling center has been at 2½ Beacon St. since 2005. Though the property is in a downtown residential zoning district, offices are legally permitted at the address under a zoning variance. But RTT’s presence in the building violated the city’s zoning ordinance until two years ago, when Walker learned that it was there. As a social service center, RTT needed a special zoning exception. The zoning board approved the exception in July 2011 on a 4-1 vote.
But that approval was revoked this week, after the city concluded that RTT had violated a set of criteria necessary to keep the zoning exception. Under a special exception, a business must not create a hazard to the public or be out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.
Walker said the property owner’s response could include a request of additional time before RTT must leave the building. Or Ossoff – who purchased the building after RTT received zoning board approval in 2011 – could appeal Walker’s letter. An appeal would go before the city’s zoning board for a vote.
If the city does not receive a response within two weeks, the letter states that it can charge the property owner for each day of additional zoning violations.
“The key portion here is to make sure . . . that the offending party doesn’t just ignore the order and not do anything about it,” Walker said yesterday.