Framingham neighbors question Sage House's mission Wednesday, January 23, 2008
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - SMOC officials say they haven't heard any complaints about increased traffic or trash in the neighborhood since Sage House moved from Clinton Street to Winter Street a few months ago.

But Jason Talerman, the lawyer representing a group of residents appealing the occupancy permit for the program, said he has heard concerns about criminal activities by Sage House residents and complaints about more resident use of cars than SMOC officials promised.

Sage House is a home for 15 recovering addicts and their families. Neighbors appealing Building Commissioner Michael Foley's decision to issue an occupancy permit say the program shouldn't be covered by the Dover Amendment. The amendment limits the amount of local review on religious and educational building projects.

"This is an agency trying to do the right thing," said Talerman. "Whether they fit into the confines of the Dover Amendment is what's at issue. They are clearly providing shelter. I see that as the primary use."

Talerman pointed to a schedule that included about 2 1/2hours a day for education, but SMOC officials said that schedule has been updated since Sage House moved from Clinton Street.

Precinct 10 Town Meeting member Kathie McCarthy questioned the inclusion of smoking breaks in Sage House residents' schedule.

"That should be a life skill right there," she said.

Most of the services offered to residents is done at the Winter Street property, said SMOC Chief Operating Officer Charles Gagnon. They include child care, therapy and clinical work for adults and children, both in groups and one-on-one.

SMOC attorney Marisa Pizzi questioned whether the appeal is valid, saying too much time has passed since town officials declared Sage House worthy of Dover protection for Ardmore Road resident Lawrence Hendry and others to appeal the occupancy permit.

Former Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian first declared the program was Dover-protected in 2006.

Talerman said appeals can come at any stage. Zoning board members asked him to provide backup for his opinion at the next hearing, set for Feb. 12. "SMOC says they want to be good neighbors, but their residents should be good neighbors, too," she said.

Fellow Ardmore Road resident Barry Altschul said he prefers the new tenant to the former ones, Framingham Nursing Home.

"I don't understand the opposition to this facility," he said. "It's cleaner than it ever was and there's less traffic. They're wonderful neighbors. I think there's a lot of noise without any facts."

Precinct 16 Chairman William LaBarge said he wondered why there was so much opposition to the program.

"Everyone has problems with their neighbors," he said. "I'd gladly take Sage House in my neighborhood. We just need to live and let live."

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