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October 10. 2013 9:16PM

Ashland housing for vets gets OK from ZBA

ASHLAND — The zoning board has given conditional approval to requested variances for a proposed housing complex for homeless veterans in town.

The proposal comes from a group of area businesses and organizations that have partnered with Soldier On, a national homeless veterans advocacy group. The groups want to develop nine acres of flat woodlands on Riverside Drive into four buildings with at least 50 one-bedroom units.

It would be patterned on the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, Mass., Soldier On’s first facility, completed in 2010. Soldier On works closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to get funding for its work.

If permitted, it would be the first such facility in New Hampshire.

Soldier On housing projects are permanent cooperatives that provide formerly homeless veterans with safe, sustainable, affordable housing while transitioning them from homelessness to homeownership, as veterans are able to buy their dwellings with special payment arrangements.
 
The groups asked for some leeway in the town zoning laws in order to build the facility. The first request was for an appeal of a zoning law that requires unit sizes to be at least 750 feet, as the design for the complex has rooms of between 455 and 525 square feet.

On Wednesday night, the zoning board approved all required variances. The next step will occur in coming weeks, when the project will come before the planning board, said Taylor Caswell, president of the Soldier On Development Company.

“The ZBA’s action is a very important step in our process, and we were happy to see near unanimous support on the board for our requests,” Caswell said Thursday.

“The bottom line is that this project and its residents will be a tremendous addition to the already great town of Ashland.”

A group of residents, including Selectman Phillip Preston, have questioned whether Ashland is the proper place for such a development.

Willis and Deb Holland spoke at the previous zoning board meeting, questioning whether the town could offer homeless veterans the services they need.

“We have always supported veterans, and we want them to have the best possible housing. We just have some legitimate questions about putting this in Ashland,” Deb Holland said.

dseufert@newstote.com


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