SMOC says veterans shelter meets criteria

SMOC says veterans shelter meets criteria Wednesday, December 12, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals last night pressed SMOC attorney Marisa Pizzi to show them why they should overturn a rejected application for a sober house for disabled homeless veterans.

Building Commissioner Michael Foley rejected SMOC's application for Larry's Place, saying it did not qualify for Dover Amendment protection because it is not primarily an educational facility.

"They've showed what they plan to offer, but it hasn't been proven to me that it will be a primarily educational use," said Foley at last night's hearing, the first night of the appeal.  The hearing will resume Jan. 22.

"The primary purpose is for sleeping," said Foley, pointing to the plan calling for one kitchen for the 19 residents and no group dining area.

Pizzi noted that education can come in many forms, including teaching the residents how to cook meals for themselves.  She also pointed out that the Dover Amendment does not require projects to designate an area for education.

She also questioned Foley's rejection criteria, saying the plan does not need site plan review by the Planning Board or a special permit from the zoning board as a Dover project, which are subject to limited local review.

Pizzi said the Planning Board went well beyond its authority in reviewing another SMOC project, Sage House at 517 Winter St., despite warnings from Town Counsel Chris Petrini.

Both projects are part of a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by SMOC against a dozen town officials and two private citizens in October.  No zoning board members were named as defendants, but SMOC's suit names five John and Jane Does as defendants, meaning other people could be added to the list.

"I'm not sure it's our job to say site plan review isn't needed," said board member Stephen Meltzer.

Associate member David Norton, who will not vote on the proposal, asked Pizzi to explain how the education would happen, saying the proposal is "pretty vague" and doesn't show what the residents will be learning.

Each resident, said Pizzi, will have a self-sufficiency plan developed for them focused on housing, mental and physical health, addiction, family, legal issues, domestic violence and other areas aimed at returning them to a productive life.

Residents at a similar SMOC home, Viking's Landing in Easthampton, are in the program for six to 12 months, but the time can vary, said Pizzi.  People in the home undergo random drug tests and are required to attend group meetings.

All residents must have been sober for at least 30 days before coming to Larry's Place and pay monthly fees.  Each resident also undergoes background checks to keep sex offenders, arsonists and violent criminals out, said Pizzi.

"SMOC is not in the business of kicking people out into the street," said Pizzi, saying violators of house rules would likely be referred to a homeless shelter.

The quick turnover, said Pizzi, proves that Larry's Place is not a lodging house and does not require selectmen to issue a permit to allow it.

Town Meeting member Lloyd Kaye sees plenty of education potential in the program, he said, pointing to his brother's struggles to accomplish basic tasks after being hit by a car several years ago.

"Learning how to eat again with a fork is very educational," he said.  "I think there's a lot of obstructionism going on here."

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