By John Toole firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — CHESTER — Eric Spofford, owner of a sober house in downtown Derry, has been here before.
When he proposed Granite House, a 30-bed facility on West Broadway, at least two neighbors were outspoken in their opposition.
Now, it’s happening again in Chester.
A representative of Spofford’s Granite House was scheduled to go before the Planning Board last week to speak informally about the former Chester College campus. But residents caught wind of the potential plan and raised concerns. The representative backed out of the meeting, according to a town official.
That happened after opposition surfaced to the potential development of a sober house.
An email circulating in town warned residents “100 inmates” could occupy the sober house.
“If you are concerned with the impact this could make on our town, please attend (the Planning Board) meeting,” the email said.
Town planning coordinator Cynthia Robinson said a Granite House representative had contacted the board to cancel the meeting, citing a conflict, but did not reschedule.
“They canceled it,” Robinson said.
Spofford didn’t want to say much about it.
“There is nothing happening yet,” he said last week.
Spofford attributed the meeting cancellation to a miscommunication with a contractor and would not even acknowledge any plans for the Chester property.
“We don’t own the property. We have no contract,” Spofford said. “I have no further comment.”
He did acknowledge Granite House’s interest in expanding.
“We do have plans of growth,” he said.
Robinson said she did not believe the Chester College property had been purchased. For sale signs were still displayed on the property last week.
Some residents said they had heard Granite House was abandoning the proposal because of opposition, but did not know for sure.
Granite House residents aren’t inmates. They are people recovering from addiction.
The project in Derry was resisted by businesses and neighbors who opposed the facility, but there has been no outcry since Granite House opened it.
“The community has embraced us,” Spofford said. “On a daily basis, we’ve been a resource for the community.”
He resented the characterization of clients in the email as inmates.
“We don’t have any business with the Department of Corrections whatsoever,” Spofford said. “We don’t deal with parolees.”
The clientele has included sons of doctors, lawyers and CEOs, he said.
“These guys need a place to go,” he said.
Spofford expressed frustration with what he described as “the broken mindset” about people in recovery at halfway houses.
“Guys in sobriety are not breaking laws,” he said.
For any future project Granite House would have an open house, a meet-and-greet, a question-and-answer session as a first step, Spofford said.
Web Anderson, one of about 50 Chester residents who received the email this week, said townspeople were concerned.
“People were kind of up in arms about it,” he said.
Anderson wonders whether the former college campus is appropriate for such a program.
“There would be nothing for them to do,” he said. “This seems like an inappropriate location to me.”
Chester College closed earlier this year due to financial problems.
Parcels, including more than 70 acres, went on the market over the summer for more than $2.65 million.
Anderson said he doesn’t have an answer for the best use of the former college campus.
“I’d hope it’s something creative and beneficial to the community, as well as the occupants,” Anderson said. “I don’t see a big commercial operation going in there at all.”
Herbert Rowell also received the email. He said he didn’t know enough about the proposal, but admitted it might be a concern to him.
“It may,” Rowell said.
He’s also unsure what he would like to see replace the college.
“I don’t think it’s zoned for business. That’s a residential area,” he said. “I don’t see how they can put a business in there.”
The Douglas Hall property on the campus has sold and a proposal is forthcoming soon for a zoning variance to allow a retail use, said Chris Norwood, who is marketing the property for NAI Norwood Group of Bedford.
Michelle Stein said she is relocating her Bittersweet Blessings shop, specializing in antiques and primative art, from Derry Road to Douglas Hall.
“We have done well in our little shop and I think it will be lovely in the heart of Chester,” Stein said.
The project will be before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Nov. 27, she said.
The campus property is still being actively marketed. In September, Norwood said there had been more than a dozen parties that had expressed interest in the campus property. Since then, there have been new inquires, he said.
Norwood has been unable to disclose the identities of would-be buyers because they have requested their interest remain confidential for now.