Town facing big legal bills Friday, April 28, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Taxpayers will be paying some hefty legal bills in the coming years as development battles over the proposed health center downtown and Wayside’s campus facility head to court.

Wayside Youth and Family Support Network says it will not back down from its plan to build on Lockland Avenue -- even after selectmen Tuesday denied the agency a public way access permit for the project.

"We're not going to go away," said Wayside President Eric Masi.  "We're too close to the final finish line and too committed to the final vision of the project.  It makes too much sense for kids to walk away from this."

Wayside’s board of directors plans to meet in the coming weeks, and Masi expects the board will give the go-ahead for an appeal.  The agency already is defending a court case from neighbors over the project's building permit.

It is the town, however, that will foot the bill for defending the selectmen's vote.  Town Counsel Chris Petrini declined comment on the chances of winning the case, but in a memo to the board he sounded several cautionary notes.

Under common law, Petrini wrote, property owners have a right to access abutting public roads, and access to a public way "likely would be found to be an incident of ownership of land bordering on that public way."

Then there are the mighty legal protections afforded by the state law known as the Dover Amendment.

Petrini wrote to selectmen that a court reviewing the board's decision will consider whether the bylaw requiring the permit "was applied in a manner that could be defined as an attempt to defeat the protections" of the powerful zoning law.

These are exactly some of the arguments Wayside officials have made.

Neighbors, though, say the case is worth fighting.

Steve Whitkin said the board’s 4-1 vote Tuesday shows selectmen do not believe the town is "wasting its time or money" going to court.  Town officials, he argued, should not give up just because Wayside claims Dover Amendment protections.

"You don’t throw your hands up in the air, put your head in the ground and say, ’OK, let them do what they want to do,’" he said.

Meanwhile, the town will be juggling an appeal over the Planning Board's vote last month to deny a special permit for a Waverley Street health center.  Great Brook Valley Health Center filed its appeal in Middlesex Superior Court on Monday.

Petrini estimated the Wayside appeal could cost the town $50,000 and might take up to three years to resolve if it is not consolidated with the neighbors case.  The health center appeal, he said, could last "easily as long, if not longer" and cost about $75,000.

"In order to obtain a more pro-municipal and balanced reading of the Dover Amendment, it may take cases like these over the long haul to achieve a result," he said.  "But it won't be easy, and it's unlikely it will happen at the trial court level and likely would require a commitment to seeing this through all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court."

Masi declined comment about how much Wayside has spent on the project so far.  The agency held its first public meeting on the project in December 2001 with the Conservation Commission.  Its plans call for a 72-bed residential facility that would consolidate its group homes.

More important than the cost to the agency, he said, is that the delays are hurting children and families.

"Our focus is on the needs of vulnerable children.  We are resolute and will prevail," he said.

Send comments to: