Administrator must offer recommendation on SMOC permit

Administrator must offer recommendation on SMOC permit Friday, November 9, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
The Planning Board last night voted to have Administrator Jay Grande decide whether to recommend to Building Commissioner Michael Foley that SMOC should get a permanent occupancy permit for 517 Winter St.

The permit would allow the social service agency to permanently relocate its Sage House program for former addicts and their families from 61 Clinton St.  SMOC moved nine families to the new location in August.

SMOC has said it plans to house as many as 15 families in the new location.  Foley issued a temporary occupancy permit in August.  Ardmore Road resident Larry Hendry appealed the decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals.  That hearing will start Tuesday night.  The temporary permit expires later this month.

SMOC was told to relocate its "left turn only" sign to the right side of the driveway, complete its street sweeping, submit an as-built plan and install a trash bin before being considered for full occupancy.

Grande and his staff also planned to check a neighbor's complaint about an extra exterior light on the property and ensure the generator is screened from view.  The zoning board hearing is not likely to affect the timing of Grande's review, he said last night.

"I'm just following my normal practices," he said.  "Whatever the outcome is of that process, that's the outcome."

Last night's vote came after Town Counsel Chris Petrini discussed the issue with the State Ethics Commission in light of the federal lawsuit filed last month by South Middlesex Opportunity Council against several town officials, including four Planning Board members.

Foley ultimately decides whether to issue occupancy permits, but Planning Board members typically make recommendations.  That decision is sometimes left in Grande's hands, said Chairwoman Ann Welles.

Grande's ability to make recommendations to Foley on occupancy permits means the rule of necessity does not apply in this case.  The rule allows officials with conflicts to be part of a vote when no one else can make the decision.

Welles and fellow board members Sue Bernstein, Andrea Carr-Evans, and Carol Spack were among the public officials SMOC named in the 99-page suit it filed in U.S. District Court in Boston last month.

Board member Tom Mahoney was not named in the lawsuit because he recused himself from the Sage House hearing.

In its lawsuit, SMOC alleges "a coordinated effort" by the defendants to rid the town of its disabled population.

The Planning Board members were "improperly influenced" by members of Stop Tax Exempt Private Property Sprawl, it alleges, adding the four members used their elected posts to "unlawfully and purposefully ... impose hurdles and requirements beyond the Planning Board's authority on SMOC."

Sage House is protected by the Dover Amendment, which limits the amount of local review boards can do on religious and educational projects.

Among others being sued are Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, Selectmen Dennis Giombetti, Jason Smith and Ginger Esty, Town Meeting members Peter Adams, Cynthia Laurora, Laurie Lee and Steven Orr, and private citizens Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe.

All but Siciliano and Wolfe will be covered by the town's legal budget.  A special Town Meeting on Nov. 27 will decide whether to augment the town's legal budget to cover the defense of the SMOC case.

Petrini estimated the case will cost well in excess of $500,000, although the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association will pick up some of the cost.  The town will likely have to hire a First Amendment lawyer, among others, said Petrini.

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