All eyes now on SMOC Sunday, August 7, 2005
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Now that Town Meeting almost unanimously backed changes to the zoning bylaw that require Dover Amendment projects to come before the Planning Board, all eyes in town are likely to turn toward SMOC.

The South Middlesex Opportunity Council hopes to get a building permit so it can turn a former nursing home at 517 Winter St. into housing for recovering addicts, but now faces another level of scrutiny before securing town backing.

"We have 15 families who could use a place like this so we'd like to open it as soon as we possibly can," said Gerard Desilets, planning director for SMOC.

SMOC's lawyer is still reviewing the bylaw approved by Town Meeting on Wednesday, said Desilets, so he wasn't able to give any more details on how the process of securing the building permit might change.

In the past, Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian made the decision on the permits without consultation with the Planning Board.

Even with the bylaw changes, which require Dover Amendment projects to go through site plan review, the Planning Board's role remains advisory.

The state law that includes the Dover Amendment prevents communities from prohibiting or placing unreasonable restrictions on religious or educational projects.

The changes allow the board to impose "reasonable regulations" such as frontage, landscaping, buffering and placement of a building on a property and call for a public hearing.

"We'll look at it like we would any other project," said Planning Board Chairman Tom Mahoney.  "I don't think our scrutiny will be any different."

The Planning Board had a site review public meeting before the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a senior housing project to be built by Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly.

That session was not considered an official public hearing, said Mahoney, but the board did take public comment and forward it to the ZBA.

The town's original 1997 bylaw came about through a directive from the attorney general's office, said Planning Board Administrator Jay Grande, who said the new version "eliminates conflicting language."

Mahoney expects SMOC officials, and any other groups that submit plans for Dover Amendment projects, to pay attention to the comments at the Planning Board's hearings as well as those hosted by other boards.

"We're trying to minimize the impact to the neighborhoods," he said.  If the applicant wants to be a good neighbor, I would hope he would listen to us and what people say to us."

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