SMOC shelter would be illegal without state protection Wednesday, June 28, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The homeless shelter downtown would be violating local zoning laws if not for protections under state law, according to the building commissioner, which could open the door to a legal fight aimed at closing the facility.

Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian wrote in a memo to selectmen that the the Irving Street shelter is a use prohibited in the zoning district where it is located and would require a special permit.

The memo prompted Selectman Ginger Esty last night to raise the possibility of fining SMOC, the local social service agency that runs the shelter.

"It would be my aim certainly to close that, and not on SMOC's terms but our terms," she said.

Later in the meeting, Selectman Jason Smith said his "absolute priority" would be to close the shelter. SMOC has announced plans to close the shelter by September by replacing it with new housing units.

The shelter falls under the state zoning law known as the Dover Amendment, which provides strong protections to religious and educational uses and limits the level of local review it must undergo.

Selectmen asked for Mikielian's opinion after Town Counsel Chris Petrini told them that if the shelter is not permitted under local zoning laws, a neighbor could file a request for enforcement with the town.

Doing that, he said, would be the start of what could be "groundbreaking litigation."

Board Chairman Dennis Giombetti said selectmen would talk about Mikielian's memo at a later meeting.

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