|Wayside charges Framingham with gross abuse of power||Saturday, May 13, 2006|
|David McLaughlin 508-626-4338||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM -- Social service agency Wayside has ratcheted up its battle to
build a campus facility for kids, filing a lawsuit that accuses the town of
discrimination and violating the nonprofit's constitutional rights.
The lawsuit, which will be filed in Middlesex Superior Court Monday, follows a selectmen vote last month denying a key permit the agency needs for its proposed Lockland Avenue building.
Wayside Youth and Family Support Network is not merely looking to overturn that decision. The lawsuit goes much further, asking the court to award the agency and its clients compensatory and punitive damages.
Wayside attorney Ken Margolin called the board's vote "so lawless" that overturning it would not be enough. Selectmen, he wrote, based their decision on "raw politics," ignoring a host of federal and state laws.
"When municipal officials act lawlessly, I think there has to be a cost so that they don't act lawlessly the next time....This war on human service agencies has just got to stop," he said.
Town Counsel Chris Petrini, contacted yesterday a few hours after receiving the complaint, said the hearing on the public way access permit was fair. The hearing lasted about seven hours over three nights.
"I saw no evidence of discrimination. (Margolin) is entitled to his view. Everyone is entitled to their views, and that’s why we have courts," Petrini said.
Wayside wants to build a residential facility for 72 adolescents that would consolidate its group homes under one roof. The Lockland Avenue building would include a special education school, a day treatment center, and administrative offices.
Based on the town's bylaws, the project needs a permit to access the street. In their decision, selectmen argued the project would result in "a substantial increase in traffic" and thereby create unsafe conditions in the surrounding residential neighborhood.
The town's Department of Public Works director recommended a number of road and pedestrian improvements as a condition of the permit, but Wayside balked at the list, arguing the demands were unlawful.
Lockland Avenue resident Tom O'Neil charged Wayside was going "beyond the normal process" by including claims of constitutional violations in its appeal. He called the lawsuit "frivolous" and urged selectmen to stand up for their decision and "resident taxpayers."
"What they filed is a harassment type of lawsuit, and that maybe is more indicative of their resentment as anything else," he said.
According to its lawsuit, Wayside has been the only developer required to appear before selectmen for a public way access permit in the 10-year history of the bylaw. The town has also never before denied a permit until Wayside's was voted down.
Margolin wrote selectmen were driven by a desire to please residents who wanted Wayside out of their neighborhood.
"The decision was thus no mere legal error or excess of authority, but a gross abuse of power disregard for settled rights, and acquiescence to and participation in discriminatory animus," the complaint states.
Selectmen's decision, according to the lawsuit, violated Wayside's equal protection and due process rights under the state and U.S. constitutions. The denial, the suit claims, also violates the state Dover Amendment, which provides broad protections to religious and education institutions, and the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
"I don't expect a Board of Selectmen to deny a permit that it is absolutely clear they have no authority to deny, and there has to be consequences for that kind of conduct," Margolin said.
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