SMOC awaits zoning decision

SMOC awaits zoning decision Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Poised to move its headquarters less than one-third of a mile away into a manufacturing zone, the South Middlesex Opportunity Council awaits a decision from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

SMOC - a social service agency - wants to move its headquarters at the 300 Howard St. site to 15 Blandin Ave., located in a manufacturing district.

While the mission of SMOC does not directly mesh with the zoning intent of that district, the organization has claimed some of its programming constitutes an educational use, making the planned move feasible under the state's Dover Amendment.

However, SMOC has yet to get past that hurdle.

The matter is on tonight's meeting agenda for the Zoning Board of Appeals, which could accept or deny SMOC's plan, although the decision deadline is Aug. 15.

SMOC has requested a deadline extension to Aug. 29.

The nonprofit organization bought the 5-acre parcel on Blandin Avenue from NStar in 2005 for about $2.2 million.

Charles Gagnon, chief operating officer for SMOC, said his organization wished to build an "efficient and user-friendly" headquarters for the 21st century.

"This is a turn-of-the-century building. The floor plan is obsolete," said Gagnon of the 300 Howard St. facility.

The project came before the board after Building Commissioner Mike Foley rejected SMOC's proposal.

SMOC took the matter to the ZBA, citing the Dover Amendment, which allows some organizations to circumvent local zoning bylaws if certain criteria are met.

The nonprofit's administration maintains that SMOC - with its potpourri of services - meets the educational criterion in the Dover Amendment.

Foley, however, did not find that the primary use of the facility would be educational.

Gagnon said he was not in a position to speculate when the decision regarding the decision would be made.

It is not the first SMOC proposal to draw opposition.

Last fall SMOC sued the town, town officials, and town residents for delaying attempts to open Larry's Place, a veterans shelter, and plans to move a residential drug treatment program, commonly referred to as the Sage House program, to Winter Street.

That suit is still in federal court.

In additional ZBA business, the board will address another proposal that has drawn the ire of town residents: the proposed 100-foot cell-phone tower for St. George's Cemetery.

That plan has drawn protests from neighbors and people who have relatives buried in the cemetery, which predates 1860.

Opponents of T-Mobile claim the 100-foot monopole does not belong in a graveyard. Some also say it will be impossible for construction crews to get the heavy machinery needed to erect the tower into the wooded fringe of the cemetery without disturbing graves.

The cemetery is owned by the Archdiocese of Boston.

T-Mobile has maintained that the site will close a gap in cell phone coverage.

The decision deadline for that project is listed on the board's agenda as Aug. 11, although T-Mobile has requested an extension to Aug. 29.

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