SMOC may file lawsuit Wednesday, September 7, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The town and SMOC are squaring off over the proposed Winter Street residential program, with the nonprofit threatening to take the town to court for denying its building permit and discriminating against its clients.

South Middlesex Opportunity Council Executive Director Jim Cuddy said yesterday that Framingham has violated federal law by blocking the agency from turning a former nursing home into temporary housing for recovering drug addicts.

"I think it will most likely wind up in court," he said.  "The town is wrong.  They're being discriminating.  What options do we have?  To go to court.  It's not any more complicated than that."

Framingham Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian last month denied a building permit for the Winter Street property, requiring the agency in part to first go through Planning Board review.

Mikielian said he is still requiring that review despite SMOC's protests and denied he has violated the Fair Housing Act.

"They're playing hardball," he said.

Cuddy said SMOC will likely wage a legal battle if Mikielian's position does not change or if a compromise is not reached.

"I have disadvantaged people protected by federal fair housing laws who are not entitled to live in the place they're entitled to live because of the actions of the town," he said.

Town Manager George King backed Mikielian's decision yesterday and said anyone who needs a building permit in Framingham must go through a process that sometimes "requires patience."

"I have full confidence Joe is doing the job he is required to do under the law. I have full confidence he is not going to be bullied by anyone, and I hope that's not the intent here," he said.

SMOC hopes to move its Sage House program, which treats up to 15 families, into the former nursing home.  In response to Mikielian's denial of its building permit, the nonprofit has offered more information about why the program is protected under the state law known as the Dover Amendment.

In a letter to the town last month, SMOC attorney Jim Hanrahan also questions Mikielian's decision requiring site plan review.  He writes that the review gives the Planning Board discretion to require submissions and studies, most of which are beyond the scope of the Dover Amendment.

Hanrahan also raises the possibility that Town Meeting's decision earlier this summer requiring site plan review for all Dover Amendment projects may be illegal.

"I hope you are able to look beyond the political controversy which has engulfed this proposed program and apply the law, as you have in the past, fairly and reasonably," Hanrahan wrote.  "Remember we are talking about mothers and fathers looking only for the opportunity to remain in recovery and raise their children in a safe, clean home."

Peter Adams, a member of the neighborhood group fighting SMOC's proposal, said the town is not treating SMOC unfairly.  A developer, he said, who wanted to turn the nursing home site into a bed and breakfast, for example, would be subject to more review than SMOC's plan.

Federal law, he continued, also does not give the disabled additional  rights. It only confers on them equal rights.

"This is obviously a case where they want to intimidate and strong-arm the town.  I'm not a lawyer, but there doesn't seem to be any discrimination here," he said.

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