SMOC drops land appeal of Framingham ZBA decision

SMOC drops land appeal of Framingham ZBA decision Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The South Middlesex Opportunity Council has dropped its appeal of a Zoning Board of Appeals decision that blocked a proposed move of the agency's headquarters to a manufacturing zone.

In August, the ZBA blocked a proposed move of the social service agency's headquarters less than a third of a mile from its present location at 300 Howard St. to 15 Blandin Ave. That site is in a manufacturing zone.

SMOC had tried to move to that site under a state law commonly referred to as the Dover Amendment. That law allows for organizations that meet certain criteria to circumvent local zoning. SMOC said its social service programs constituted an educational use - one of the criterion that triggers the law - and that it could move into the manufacturing zone under Dover.

Building Commissioner Mike Foley disagreed, denying SMOC's building application and saying the primary use of the facility was not educational. In August, the ZBA unanimously upheld the decision.

SMOC then appealed the ZBA ruling in land court. On Tuesday, Town Counsel Chris Petrini received notification that the case was dropped.

SMOC spokeswoman Jane Lane said the decision to pull the appeal was financially motivated. "Given the economic downturn, it just doesn't make financial sense to follow through with those plans at this time," she said in an e-mail. "SMOC has received inquiries from third parties (interested) in acquiring the Blandin Avenue site, so it is exploring other options to relocate its headquarters prior to the expiration of the current lease."

SMOC bought the 5-acre property from NStar in 2005 for about $2.2 million. SMOC's lease at its present location expires in July 2010.

"All along I felt the building commissioner was correct," Petrini said. "This was not a primary education use. I believe that would have been affirmed in land court."

SMOC and the town are entangled in a federal lawsuit that alleges elected town officials blocked expansion of the council's programs and violated housing law in doing so.

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