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Rochester's city council denies petition asking for recovery center to move

Union Leader Correspondent

July 10. 2018 8:15PM
Rochester citizens who live near SOS Recovery Center want officials to force it to move but the city council has no authority to do so, according to Rochester's attorney. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)

ROCHESTER — Officials in Rochester denied a citizen petition asking that SOS Recovery Center be relocated during their meeting Tuesday night.

SOS Recovery Center is located in First Congregational Church at 63 South Main Street. It is next to the public library in an area of the city where people are known to congregate at night.

Karen Larsen, who lives on Congress Street, started the petition. She and other neighbors say drug activity is wreaking havoc on their neighborhood while SOS Recovery Center and the church are acting as a refuge for people with substance abuse disorders.

People who signed the petition approached members of the media with it last month as police worked to find the person responsible for killing 24-year-old Billy Jo Ahearn, who was shot June 6 in a nearby area between Friendly’s and The Emily Cross House.

On Tuesday morning, Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said no arrests have been made in Ahearn’s case and it is still under investigation.

Before the meeting, the director of SOS Recovery Center said the petition is defamatory.

“There’s no truth behind any of the petition,” John Burns said. “We certainly aren’t allowing drug use on the property. It’s not a drop-in center. It’s a recovery center.”

Burns said they had 400 visits at the center last month alone. People who are in need of support use the center for yoga, arts and music between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. After that, the center is closed and no clients are there.

Burns said he believes the petition was started because neighbors aren’t familiar with the work being done at accredited recovery centers.

“I think this is driven by fear and I have compassion for that,” Burns said.

Burns said they will be presenting to the city council and public Tuesday, July 17 at city hall in an attempt to educate concerned citizens. That meeting starts at 7 p.m., he said.

City Attorney Terence O’Rourke says the city council has no authority to ask SOS Recovery Center to move. The center is also in compliance with zoning regulations, O’Rourke said.

That lack of authority was echoed by Mayor Caroline McCarley at the city council meeting. She said that is why the petition should be denied.

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