Hundred Nights Inc. is proceeding with plans to move its homeless shelter and housing resource center to Water Street in Keene, after a superior court judge rejected a challenge to that proposal last month.
The nonprofit is developing a site plan for the 122-124 Water St. property, which it will submit to city officials, according to Hundred Nights Executive Director Mindy Cambiar.
Hundred Nights has hired Portsmouth-based architect Christina O’Brien and Jim Phippard of the Keene-based firm Brickstone Land Use Consultants to develop that plan, Cambiar said. It will require approval from Keene’s Historic District Commission and Planning Board.
Cambiar said she was surprised by the March 26 order from Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff, who affirmed the zoning board’s decision last year to grant a land-use variance for the Water Street site, because she hadn’t expected a ruling until this month.
Three Keene residents who own property nearby had challenged the zoning board’s decision, claiming it was “unlawful and unreasonable” and arguing that Hundred Nights’ proposal did not meet the board’s standards for a variance.
Cambiar has said the organization needs more space to help a growing number of families experiencing homelessness and to keep its services, which include the housing resource center, in one place. (The resource center is currently at the former St. James Thrift Shop on Lamson Street, near Hundred Nights’ existing overnight shelter.) The organization plans to relocate the center to Water Street and also build a shelter there that would provide private rooms for families, better serve people with disabilities, offer public restrooms and showers and include outdoor space where clients could spend time during the day, Cambiar told the zoning board last September.
Hundred Nights has been trying to move from its 17 Lamson St. shelter to a larger facility for several years, but the zoning board denied its request for a variance on a different property in 2017. Another planned move in 2018 fell through when the building was sold before the zoning board could hear Hundred Nights’ application.
Cambiar celebrated Ruoff’s ruling, saying Thursday that it “feels like we’re finally getting someplace.”
“Now we can actively start working with the architect and the building design team,” she said. “... I think it’s going to be a beautiful design.”
Hundred Nights wants its shelter to resemble other buildings in the neighborhood, according to Cambiar, who said the organization is looking at the nearby CitySide apartments managed by Southwestern Community Services for design ideas. That three-story building at the corner of Water Street and Community Way includes 24 rental units offered at affordable rates, SCS’ website states.
O’Brien, an architect with the Portsmouth firm Market Square Architects, could not be reached Monday for additional information on the shelter’s design.
Cambiar said Hundred Nights officials plan to speak with nearby property owners who have opposed the organization’s move to Water Street, explaining that “we’re hoping to be good neighbors.”
“It’s important to understand ... how to address their concerns,” she said.
Having outdoor space on site may help assuage people’s fears that Hundred Nights clients could disrupt the neighborhood, according to Cambiar. She said, however, that she believes most disturbances near the Lamson Street shelter are not caused by guests at the facility.
The three residents who challenged the zoning board’s decision to grant a variance — John Pappas, Kevin Beal and Stephen B. Bragdon — have 30 days from the March 26 ruling to appeal that order. Bragdon, an attorney who represented the group in court, said last week they had not yet decided whether to appeal. (No appeal had been filed as of Monday morning, according to court records.)
Barring an appeal, Phippard said Hundred Nights hopes to finalize its site plan within the next few months.
The historic district commission would then review that plan, he said, since a portion of the 122-124 Water St. property is in Keene’s historic district. The site plan will also need approval from the planning board, according to Phippard.
Despite being excited by recent developments, Cambiar said she is waiting to see if there will be an appeal before celebrating.
“I don’t want to open that bottle of Champagne yet,” she said.