SMOC appeals permit denial Tuesday, September 13, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Social service agency SMOC has appealed the town's denial of a building permit for a controversial plan to turn a Winter Street building into housing for recovering drug addicts.

The agency filed the appeal Friday with the Zoning Board of Appeals, arguing the denial violates the Dover Amendment, a state law that gives broad protection to projects with religious and educational uses.

The town denied the permit based in part on a Town Meeting vote requiring Dover Amendment projects to undergo Planning Board review.  But South Middlesex Opportunity Council attorney Jim Hanrahan said the bylaw change "goes beyond the scope of what a town can regulate in a Dover Amendment-protected property."

Hanrahan said the new bylaw, which is being reviewed by the Attorney's General's office, did not come after an examination by the town into how all Dover Amendment projects are reviewed.  Instead, it was intended specifically for the 517 Winter St. proposal.

"It was a targeted effort to stop one project and that concerns us," he said.

SMOC's plan to move its Sage House there from Clinton Street downtown has drawn bitter protests from neighbors and is at the center of the controversy surrounding social service agencies in Framingham.

Peter Adams, a member of Stop Tax Exempt Private Property Sprawl, questioned why the agency was fighting the bylaw change when it could easily win approval for the project after a "cursory review" by the Planning Board.  Site plan review, he said, will not stop any project.

Adams also criticized SMOC for asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to rule on whether whether site plan review is legal, which he said is a job for the attorney general.

"We will take the position with the board that this should be allowed to play out legally rather than the zoning board stepping in and stepping on the town's toes," he said.

In an interview last week with the Daily News, SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy said Framingham was discriminating against the agency, which he said was prepared to go to court.

Hanrahan said SMOC is exhausting "administrative remedies" by appealing to the zoning board before it considers taking the town to court.  The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25.

Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian said yesterday that requiring site plan review by the Planning Board is "pretty clear" based on Town Meeting's vote in August.  The Attorney General's office has until Nov. 17 to rule whether the change is legal.

"Town Meeting voted it.  I have no authority to say otherwise that it isn't legal," Mikielian said.

Town Counsel Chris Petrini declined comment about SMOC's appeal, but said the site plan review requirement is legal.

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