SMOC lobbies to kill zoning bylaw Friday, October 14, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The town plans to counter an effort by social service agency SMOC, urging the state attorney general's office to shoot down a requirement that its controversial Winter Street residential program go through local review.

Town Counsel Chris Petrini said yesterday he will respond to SMOC's claims in a week to 10 days.  The bylaw changes, which require review of so-called Dover Amendment projects like SMOC's, was "fully proper," Petrini said, and modeled on existing laws.

"I feel this is a carefully crafted bylaw and fully consistent with law," he said.

The South Middlesex Opportunity Council is pushing the attorney general to reject the bylaw, approved by Town Meeting in August.  The agency has written two letters to the office, arguing the new zoning rules are illegal and violate the Dover Amendment.

"It is apparent that the proposed By-law amendments violate the Dover Amendment and, though purporting to be facially neutral, were tailored by the town to impede (SMOC's) progress," John Perten, a SMOC lawyer, wrote in an August letter.

The Dover Amendment is a state law that provides broad protections to projects with religious and educational uses, preventing communities from placing unreasonable restrictions on them.  The attorney general has until Nov. 17 to make a ruling.

SMOC has argued its plan to turn a former Winter Street nursing home into housing for recovering drug and alcohol addicts falls under the law.  Town Meeting voted in August to require all such projects to undergo site plan review by the Planning Board.

Petrini said other communities have the same requirements.  He added the review does not mean prohibiting projects, "but the impacts can be mitigated, and that's fully consistent with the Dover Amendment."

In his letter, Perten wrote that town officials proposed the zoning change because by approving it they "could severely curtail the perceived proliferation of non-profit educational uses in the Town."

Perten also complains that not all the amendments approved during the Town Meeting were included in the warrant and public hearing notice.  That action, he says, was "misleading" and "failed to sufficiently apprise voters of the subject matter of the vote."

But Petrini rejected that argument yesterday, saying a warrant could never conceivably anticipate every amendment that would be made on Town Meeting floor.  A warrant must only outline the subjects to be acted so that people are aware generally of the nature of the meeting.

"People were well aware of what was being considered," he said.

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