Homeless coalition’s apartments get green light with more to go

Monitor staff
Published: 7/11/2019 6:35:07 PM

Land use boards often hear plenty of testimony that has little to do with the clinical nature of whether a proposed use or variance fits with city building codes.

The discussion Wednesday night surrounding a proposal for housing the homeless in downtown Concord was no exception.

The Concord Coalition to End Homelessness was granted several zoning variances from the Concord Zoning Board of Adjustment that put them a step closer to converting a building at 10 Green St., into four one-bedroom units for homeless individuals.

While many who spoke at the meeting were in support of the project, others expressed concern.

Jonathan Halle of Warrenstreet Architects – whose firm will be renovating the building and works a block away from the project – touched on a common theme: who would be living at the apartments. While an interesting topic, that has nothing to do with the zoning variances before the board.

“This is not about choosing who your neighbor is,” he said. “In my opinion, the conversation has been a lot tonight about who is going to occupy this. And that’s not the issue on the table.”

If the project succeeds, the apartments will allow the coalition to house people who otherwise might wait eight years or more to get a subsidized apartment, said Ellen Groh, the coalition’s executive director.

“This is a huge, huge opportunity to house four people,” she said. “It’s a small dent in the overall issue, but it’s a dent.”

The board’s approval is just one step in the process for the project. Nonetheless, it was greeted by applause from supporters in the audience after an hour of testimony.

Project details

The apartments will be subsidized for low-income tenants. Additionally, residents cannot be lifetime sex offenders or be engaged in any criminal or drug-related activity, Groh said.

Tenants will be supported by caseworkers during and after their stay, should they find other housing. They will not be expected to contribute more than one-third of their total income to rent.

The project will be supported by a loan from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, Groh said, that requires the Coalition to operate the space as Section 8 housing for 40 years. After that, the loan will be forgiven.

The project needed a medley of variances, including permission to convert a non-conforming structure into a multi-family housing building; to have apartments that are less than 600 square feet; and several parking variances, including having no handicapped parking spaces and enough spots for four cars where eight is required.

Groh said a property management company will be hired to handle the maintenance and other day-to-day aspects of the building.

Public comment

Some in the audience were supportive because of the cause.

“I think what they’re doing is great,” said Connor Spern. “And the variance of parking spots I think is slightly negligible in the greater cause.”

Tracy Strombom, who owns 33 Warren St., said he had weighed whether the apartments would affect his building’s property values and his tenants, which includes the therapists at Warren Street Family Counseling.

But ultimately, he and other property owners support the project, he said.

“We have concerns and expect to have many more conversations with the coalition,” he said. “But we think they’re doing a good job.”

Some asked if the site was appropriate given the closeness of the daycare at the YMCA and Christa McAuliffe Elementary School.

“It raises obvious concerns, given the clientele,” said Daniel Luker, director of the law firm Preti Flaherty in Concord. “We mean the best for everybody but there are some mental health and substance abuse issues that run with the population. … Those are valid concerns that the neighbors have that haven’t been adequately addressed.”

Luker was representing clients located near 10 Green St., including the owners of 7 Green St., which houses Fraser Insurance Services and Triplet Computers, and Rick Allen, who owns apartments at 9-11 Green St.

Luker also asked how the coalition would be able to monitor activity at the property and how many people would be living there. He questioned whether the coalition had effectively established the burden it would endure if the variances were not granted.

“I know it’s a good cause, but the legal standards shouldn’t be waived or lowered because of a good cause,” he said.

Others expressed doubt on whether the variance to allow four cars on the site would be followed and how traffic on Green Street – where the city’s police department, city hall and library are located – would be affected.

“Frankly, it’s a little naive to assume there might not be additional cars,” said Caitlin Brennan, owner of 12 Blake St. “... I had the unfortunate situation to try and help people who have been homeless looking for help. And the thing that they do have is a car. I’m not an expert but cars provide shelter and they provide mobility.

“Not everybody’s going to have a car, you’re absolutely right,” she continued. “It’s just too many cars on a very, very, narrow street.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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