Framingham zoning board rejects SMOC move Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The Zoning Board of Appeals blocked a proposed move of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council's headquarters last night.

SMOC - a social service agency - had hoped to move its administrative headquarters less than a third of a mile from its present location at 300 Howard St. to 15 Blandin Ave., which is in a manufacturing zone.

The organization argued the move was permissible under a Massachusetts state law commonly referred to as the Dover Amendment, which allows for organizations that meet certain criteria to circumvent local zoning law. SMOC said its programming constituted an educational use - one of the criterion that triggers the law.

The ZBA, however, upheld Building Commissioner Michael Foley's finding that the primary use of the facility was not educational.

SMOC bought the 5-acre property from NStar in 2005 for about $2.2 million.

In June, SMOC attorney Jim Hanrahan noted SMOC's lease "is coming to an end" at the current locale.

Now the future of the headquarters appears to be undetermined.

"Obviously we're disappointed and disagree with the decision of the board," said SMOC spokeswoman Jane Lane outside the Blumer Community Room in the Memorial Building. "SMOC's attorneys will be reviewing the decision and deciding a future course of action."

ZBA members Karl Thober, Stephen Meltzer, and Susan Craighead upheld Foley's findings - effectively denying the project - by a 3-0 vote.

"Providing a conduit to social services is not the same as educational," said Craighead.

ZBA Chairman Phil Ottaviani Jr. recused himself from the case. Capital Group Properties - a company owned by his brother-in-law, William Depietri - had drawn up the plans for the project. SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy had also acknowledged that Depietri had been one of the developers SMOC had been considering.

SMOC is already at legal loggerheads with the town. Last fall, it sued the town, town officials, and town residents for what it claims was a conspiracy to block the expansion of SMOC's drug treatment and veterans programs. The case is pending in federal court.

"I think it's positive that people's speech was not shilled because of the federal case," said Rob Meltzer, a local attorney, after last night's matter concluded.

In other ZBA business, a controversial cell phone tower plan that would erect a 100-foot monopole on the fringes of St. George's Cemetery was not resolved last night.

After some site suggestions of an independent consultant, the matter has been continued until Sept. 23.

The T-Mobile project has drawn the ire of neighbors and town residents who say the cemetery, which predates 1860, is not an appropriate place for the structure.

Compounding matters, construction crews dug up areas near several graves this past spring. At least one headstone was found in a pile of refuse. The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston chalked up the maintenance to springtime cleaning. However some skeptical town residents have suggested the construction work is directly correlated to the proposed cell phone tower.

T-Mobile hopes to close a coverage gap in the Cherry Street neighborhood as well as the nearby Mass. Pike.

Independent consultant David Maxson of Broadcast Signal Lab said a 14-acre area located in the rear of the cemetery should be explored as a possible location for the tower. If the tower were erected in that area, said Maxson, it would likely be less visible to the neighbors. He noted a tower could be built as far as 500 feet away from the closest residence.

He also suggested that area because an access road to the structure could begin at the Juniper Hill School parking lot instead of the entrance of the graveyard.

That would reduce the likelihood of disturbing graves.

"Anything that's different than digging near graves I want to listen to," said ZBA associate member David Norton.

However, Maxson indicated some further engineering work would have to happen for T-Mobile to determine whether such a change would make sense.

A memo from Town Manager Julian Suso also suggests the town would be receptive to "exploring municipal locations for such facilities."

In his memo Suso notes three locations in Framingham - Indian Head Heights Water Tank, Juniper Hill School, and Framingham High School - that could provide coverage needed to close the gap.

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