SMOC officials argue for relocation in Framingham Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Call it an education in education.

Representatives of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council spent two hours last night before the Zoning Board of Appeals arguing the educational facets and merits of the social service agency.

The educational distinction is the lynchpin in a proposed move of SMOC'S headquarters.

SMOC wants to move its headquarters from 300 Howard St. to a 5-acre industrial site on 15 Blandin Ave., where it wants to build a three-story, 50,000-square-foot building.

The nonprofit organization bought that property from NStar in 2005 for about $2.2 million.

The catch? The proposed project would move SMOC - a nonprofit social service organization - into a manufacturing zone.

Despite the zoning restrictions, SMOC lobbied for the move citing the Dover Amendment, a Massachusetts bylaw thats allow some organizations that meet its criteria to circumvent zoning requirements.

Certain requirements - such as an educational use of a facility - have to be proved for the Dover Amendment to kick in.

SMOC claims the primary purpose of the site would provide education in the form of nutrition, rent assistance, energy conservation, and domestic violence programming.

Building Commissioner Mike Foley disagreed, saying that the primary or predominant use of the facility was not educational and therefore did not qualify for the Dover distinction.

Last night he reiterated that stance and had plenty of support from neighbors and Town Meeting members inside basement floor conference room in Memorial Building.

"My house must qualify (under the Dover Amendment). I educated three kids there," said Precinct 18 Town Meeting member Norman Snow.

Charles Gagnon, SMOC's chief operating officer, encouraged the board throughout the meeting to expand the scope of what traditionally is considered to be educational.

"It's about teaching folks to be self-sufficient," said Gagnon of SMOC's programming.

As of press time, the ZBA hearing regarding the project had yet to conclude.

Town Meeting member Bob Snider was not buying SMOC's definition of educational use, suggesting it was an open-ended definition.

Snider said, "Any definition has to have some boundaries, and what we've discovered here today is that as far as SMOC is concerned" there are no boundaries.

Town Meeting member Kathy McCarthy also questioned SMOC's Dover argument .

"It's using the disabled for the benefit of the organization itself," she said.

ZBA Chairman Phil Ottaviani Jr. recused himself from the case.

His brother-in-law, William Depietri, owns Capital Group Properties, the company that drew up the floor plans for the proposed move.

That company has been considered by SMOC for the project, which SMOC Executive Director James Cuddy has estimated may cost between $10 million-$13 million.

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