Neighbors not convinced of SMOC plan Wednesday, June 21, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- SMOC's plan to move one of its residential programs to Winter Street continues to face opposition even after officials at the social service agency tried to win over neighbors Monday night.

Three residents who attended the neighborhood meeting said yesterday they still oppose the agency's plan to take over a former nursing home at 517 Winter St.

They said they were unconvinced of SMOC's promise to be a good neighbor, arguing the agency did little to allay their concerns or lessen their opposition to moving the Sage House program.

"If they follow through on everything they said last night, it sounds like it could be a beneficial program for the residents, but I don't believe the location is appropriate there," Janice Skelley said yesterday.

Sage House, now located on Clinton Street, would house 10 to 14 families who would live there for about six months.  Parents are recovering from substance abuse and have committed to living in sobriety.

SMOC first revealed its plans for the home last year.  It heads to the Planning Board tomorrow night for site plan review, which it needs before it can obtain a change-of-use permit for the building.

Skelley said neighbors are worried about their safety and how the program would affect their property values.

"I don't think the residents who attended the meeting felt any less concerned when they left there than when they arrived," she said.

Sage House would be staffed 24 hours a day, according to SMOC officials, who promised Monday night to respond quickly to any neighborhood problems.  Residents, they said, are not allowed visitors and would be kicked out of the program if they are arrested.

Neighbor David Cerutti said yesterday he did not buy SMOC's promise to be responsive to complaints.

"Once they're in there, you'll never get either one of those guys on the phone," he said.

SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy said yesterday he wished neighbors were not so afraid of the program, which he said is successful at helping families return to independent living.  The agency, he said, is willing to show anyone the current Clinton Street location or the other family program known as Pathways.

"I don't want them to think they're going to be at risk because (Sage House is) in their neighborhood," Cuddy said.  "And I hope, I really do hope, that gets communicated -- that people really have nothing to fear from this program."

When asked why SMOC met with neighbors now, he said the agency waited until the town ruled Sage House fell under the Dover Amendment, a state zoning law that protects projects with religious and educational uses.

He also said the agency may have made a mistake by not hosting a meeting earlier in the process.

"I'm sorry there wasn't a way to communicate with people back then.  Maybe we should have gone ahead and met," he said.  "Maybe it was a mistake if it increased people's fears and made people think we're arrogant."

Neighbor Betty Sullivan, who also attended the Monday night meeting, said she still believes the facility will be too large for SMOC to control.  She is worried about her safety and that the program will affect the value of her home.

Agency officials were asked at the meeting if they were going to subdivide the land around the nursing home, but Cuddy insisted they had no plans to do so.  That was an answer Sullivan said she did not buy.

"I'm not happy about it," she said about the project.  "I'm all for people getting help.  I just think it's way too large a facility for SMOC to handle, and they're not completely honest all the time."

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