State OKs review of SMOC proposal Thursday, November 17, 2005
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
SMOC will take its proposed home for drug and alcohol addicts and their families to the Planning Board after a ruling yesterday that the board could conduct limited review on so-called Dover Amendment projects.

The Zoning Board of Appeals had been scheduled to vote Tuesday on SMOC's appeal of Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian's building permit for Sage House, which would move from Clinton Street to 517 Winter St.

"That's great news," said Planning Board Chairman Tom Mahoney.  "I'm excited to get this project in front of us."

In a five-page ruling released yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Kelli E. Gunagan said a special Town Meeting article approved in August that allows the Planning Board to review Dover Amendment projects is legal.

Before the state's ruling, SMOC had hoped to avoid going before the Planning Board with its Winter Street plan.  SMOC officials had questioned whether the Town Meeting article was legal.

The Dover Amendment limits the amount of local input allowed on religious and educational proposals, saying only reasonable restrictions -- such as the height of buildings, setbacks, open space and parking requirements -- can be considered during the process.

"We're going to go right by the book," said Mahoney.  "We can't disapprove it.  We're only going to look at what we can look at -- nothing more, nothing less."

James Hanrahan, general counsel for South Middlesex Opportunity Council, said he will work with town officials now to figure out the best way to move forward with the proposal.

"Assuming the town acts in good faith, we're happy to be working with the town," said Hanrahan, adding that SMOC will file parking plans for the 2-acre parcel in the next few days.

"I'm generally very pleased (with the ruling)," he said, adding the decision by Gunagan that an amendment to include frontage in Planning Board reviews can't be considered during its review.

Hanrahan also was happy to see Gunagan said another amendment that would change the triggers for site plan review isn't legal because it was not part of the original article.

That effort is likely to be part of the Planning Board's slate of proposed zoning changes at the annual Town Meeting, said Mahoney.

Those disapprovals "were no great surprise," said Town Counsel Chris Petrini, who said the ruling was "consistent with my expectations."

"My hope would be (SMOC will) follow the bylaw of this town and every town they're in," he said.

SMOC executive director Jim Cuddy said yesterday the organization has "a 40-year history of working together with the town," and expects nothing to change in the future.

"We're transferring a program that's existed for 15 years from one spot in Framingham to another spot in Framingham," he said.  "There should be nothing controversial about it.  Some of the attention on this has been unfortunate."

Mahoney wouldn't predict how long the review would take.

"We're not going to push it through, but I don't expect it to take too long," he said.  "I want something that's going to be compatible with the neighborhood."

While Hanrahan wondered whether site plan review, even in a limited scope, was the right way to deal with Dover Amendment plans, he is ready to move on.

"I can't imagine how they could string this along.  There is a very limited scope of review.  We would still have remedies in terms of legal avenues we could pursue, but we hope it doesn't get to that," said Hanrahan.

Send comments to: