Francestown sober home gets the OK to operate 

  • Francestown select board OKs operation of Lakehouse Recovery LLC after months of discussion, controversy, and hearings regarding zoning issues.  Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, May 25, 2017 7:10AM
July 25, 2016: Lakehouse Recovery opens on 345 Scoby Road in FrancestownSept. 16, 2016: Select board issues a letter to owner Mark Hatfield, stating it doesn’t appear to be in compliance with its zoning ordinance.May 11: ZBA holds public hearing regarding

After eight months of hearings, discussions and application denials, the Francestown select board gave up its fight against a recovery home.

On May 15, the select board emailed a letter to zoning board members, the town’s building inspector and six residents, explaining their decision to grant Lakehouse Recovery LLC owner Mark Hatfield’s request for “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Act.

“We know this is not the outcome you had hoped for but hope you will understand the reasons for our decision,” the letter said.

The Fair Housing Act says that communities may not discriminate against people based on characteristics such as race, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin. Individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction are considered to be disabled and are covered under the act.

“Our attorney reviewed it and thought that it wasn’t in the best interest of the town to continue fighting this,” select board member Henry Kunhardt said.

Lakehouse Recovery is considered a family-dwelling unit, Kunhardt said. Francestown’s ordinance considers a family-dwelling unit as one or more people who are living together. Kunhardt said there is no limit on how many family members can live in one house.

Lakehouse Recovery opened its doors nearly a year ago without prior knowledge from the town. Since then, the select board and the zoning board have issued a handful of denials and even threatened to fine Hatfield $250 per day for violating the town’s zoning ordinances.

“Until last week the board of selectmen believed that Lakehouse Recovery should, and would, participate in our normal zoning process and we have worked hard to achieve that result,” said the select board in the letter. “We had expected Mr. Hatfield to make his case for a ‘reasonable accommodation’ to the board of adjustment when he appealed the selectmen’s ruling that Lakehouse did not conform to the town’s ordinance.”

But that didn’t happen. Instead Hatfield appealed the decision, and later filed for a special exception. The ZBA denied both, partly because Hatfield didn’t show up for either hearing regarding the matter.

After the ZBA denied Hatfield’s request earlier this month, he sent a letter, requesting “reasonable accommodation.” Select board members addressed the request, and on May 15, the board voted to approve it after consultation with town counsel and its building inspector.

Hatfield did not respond to an email sent by the Ledger-Transcript on Tuesday afternoon.

Any aggrieved person, which could be a direct abutter to the property, may appeal the decision, according to RSA 676:5. An appeal would bounce the topic back to the ZBA. Town Administrator Jamie Pike said as of Tuesday afternoon, no one has appealed the decision.

Cindy St. Jean, who lives on Scoby Road but is not a direct abutter to the property, said she wasn’t surprised by the decision that was handed down by select board members, but she was shocked by how quickly the request was granted.

“I’m in support of following the law,” St. Jean said, adding that she believes that’s what the selectmen did, and she supports their decision. “... I do think they could have taken more time to explore what could have been the correct course of action.”

St. Jean said she is most concerned that the sober home, and others popping up across the state and throughout the country, are not state regulated.

“I’m not clear that’s in the best interest of the people staying there,” she said.

Because she is not a direct land abutter she doesn’t have standing to appeal the selectmen’s decision. Right now, she said, she is watching to see where things fall, while paying close attention to state oversight of these homes moving forward.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.