Nashua soup kitchen vote leaves a bad taste

When the Nashua Planning Board next meets Nov. 1, we suspect there will be no shortage of items on the agenda, especially since its meeting originally scheduled for Oct. 18 has been canceled.

We wish we could suggest one more: a reconsideration of last week’s disheartening vote that denied the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter the opportunity to move and expand into larger quarters to better serve the growing number of residents who rely on its critical services.

Unfortunately, it appears neither state law nor the board’s bylaws provide an avenue for appeal or reconsideration in these cases, which means the soup kitchen’s only recourse might be to lodge an appeal in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

All of which makes the board’s decision – and the insensitive remarks of Ward 4 Alderman Arthur Craffey Jr. that followed it – all the more disconcerting.

Last week, the Planning Board voted, 4-2, to block the soup kitchen’s plans to move out of its cramped quarters on Chestnut Street into a larger industrial building a few blocks away near the intersection of West Otterson and Vine streets.

Specifically, the board rejected the soup kitchen’s application for a conditional use permit for the 2 W. Otterson St. property, which was required to change the use of the building from warehouse to community food services.

If approved, the soup kitchen hoped to raise $2.8 million to purchase and renovate the 8,400-square-foot building – now in use as a machine shop – and build a 3,200-square-foot addition, thereby tripling the size of its existing operation.

That would have yielded a number of benefits, not the least of which was providing enough space for its clients to wait indoors during meal times, rather than stand in long lines outside as they do now on Chestnut Street.

So, count us, like Executive Director Lisa Christie, among those “disappointed” and “disturbed” that:

A majority of Planning Board members came to the conclusion that denying the soup kitchen’s bid for a much-needed move and expansion was the proper decision.

That more than 40 people from the neighborhood signed a petition opposing the move, citing fears over traffic, safety of children who attend the nearby Elm Street Middle School, declining property values and other factors.

And that Craffey, who represents the neighborhood on the Board of Aldermen, would not only argue against the project, but would proceed to denigrate the thousands of people – including families and children – who find themselves in need of the soup kitchen’s vital services.

“They don’t want their kids exposed to this kind of people,” Craffey told The Telegraph after the vote. “They don’t want their kids having to intermingle with them. All it would take is for one child to be hurt and there would be an uproar.”

“This kind of people”? “Intermingle with them”? When did being hungry or temporarily out of work become synonymous with criminals or sex offenders? And is this really what one of our elected officials thinks about the thousands of people who venture into his ward each year in search of a hot meal or temporary shelter?

We don’t know what the future holds for the soup kitchen’s plans here, but we do know this: Craffey owes the entire city an apology for his offensive remarks.

And the sooner the better.