SMOC battle will continue Tuesday, June 13, 2006
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Selectmen may be facing a long, costly fight if they hope to shut down a downtown wet shelter -- or maybe they're not.

Town Counsel Chris Petrini last night warned the board it could be part of "groundbreaking legislation" in its fight to shutter the SMOC-run shelter at 105 Irving St., but talk continues that SMOC may close it on its own.

The board voted last night to ask Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian if the facility would be permitted if not for the Dover Amendment.  If the use is only protected by the Dover Amendment, a neighbor would likely be needed to file a request for enforcement, Petrini said.

The Dover Amendment is a state statute that gives broad protection to educational and religious facilities and limits the scope of local review they can undergo.

Having a neighbor file the request would make the case stronger, he said.

At that point, the shelter's status would come before the Zoning Board of Appeals and would likely eventually head to Superior or Land Court before it made it to the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

"We need to go into this with our eyes wide open," said Petrini, who will outline a possible budget for the potential legal fight ahead.  "We're talking about groundbreaking legislation."

Petrini sees it as "difficult or almost impossible" to get revised state legislation to remove wet shelters from Dover Amendment protection, because the facilities offer educational components to their clients.

In addition, the Irving Street shelter could be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act because alcoholics are protected as disabled, as are people recovering from drug addictions.  Active drug users are not protected.

SMOC would not have grandfathered protection of the facility, which opened in 2002, if it is proved the use was illegal from the start, said Petrini.  To that end, a court fight may help the town protect itself, he said.

"It would help Framingham's case if you got more of the details of this facility," he said.

Selectman Charles Sisitsky said talk continues around town that SMOC may be shutting the shelter before any court action is needed.  He wants to get all the information possible before voting to move forward.

"I'd rather put my foot in the water before we dive right in," he said.

But Selectman Jason Smith said it is important to move quickly.

"We need to finally take some action," he said.  "We need to put Framingham first."

Chairman Dennis Giombetti agreed, saying he hopes town officials can work with SMOC to broker the closing.

"It doesn't do any good for either of us to keep that facility open," he said.

Vice Chairman John Stasik wondered if pushing SMOC to move the shelter would be enough, but Selectman Ginger Esty was skeptical about the new landing spot.

"Maybe to another deserving community?" she asked, tongue in cheek.

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