Aldermen approve ordinance change affecting future sober home requests

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Joseph Kelly Levasseur on Feb. 6, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Feb. 6 the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) ordained an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance creating a new definition for disabilities and handicaps that could affect future variances for congregate housing.

In the change, the definitions of “handicap” and “disability” in the zoning ordinance reflect physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual, including recovery from chemical dependency, aligning with definitions in the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additionally, the ordinance officially adopts NH RSA 674:33 V, which exempts disabled people from having to show unnecessary hardship to gain a variance, one of the five normal criteria needed to gain a variance from a zoning board in the State of New Hampshire.

Manchester Department of Planning and Community Development Director Jeffrey Belanger told the BMA that while the city already follows these policies, codifying the polices within the city’s zoning ordinance would provide the city protection from potential lawsuits in certain situations.

During a special public hearing on the ordinance, only one member of the public provided their viewpoint: former Alderman and Board of School Committee Member Richard Girard.

Girard noted congregate housing variance requests, usually asked by companies seeking to begin operation of a substance abuse recovery center or “sober home,” are already allowed by right in over half of the types of zones in the city and thus it doesn’t need to be any easier for applicants to pursue variances for areas where they are not allowed by right.

He echoed his opposition during public comment of the BMA’s regularly scheduled meeting, also noting a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit which upheld a lawsuit against sober home regulations in Fitchburg, Mass.

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Jeffrey Belanger on Feb. 6, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Members of the BMA were primarily seeking clarification from Belanger, with some exceptions such as Chairman Joseph Kelly Levasseur, who felt that the move would be disadvantageous for the city and required more deliberation.

“We’re already the dumping ground where everybody has to come with every single issue,” he said during the special meeting.

The vote to ordain the ordinance passed 9-5, with Levasseur being joined by Ward 6 Alderman Crissy Kantor, Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio, Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza and Ward 11 Alderman Norm Vincent.

Initially ordainment was approved by a voice vote, but Alderman At-Large Dan O’Neil requested a roll call, leading to a verbal back-and-forth between O’Neil and Levasseur that had to be quashed by Mayor Jay Ruais.


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About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.