Group blasts SMOC's growth Friday, June 3, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Neighbors of a Winter Street nursing home packed the selectmen's meeting room last night to continue their crusade against plans to turn the building into a shelter for recovering drug addicts.

About 60 residents attended the board's meeting last night to protest the South Middlesex Opportunity Council's purchase of the Framingham Nursing Home at 517 Winter St.  The agency's proposal, they say, will be disastrous for their neighborhood.

"I'm afraid for the safety of my neighborhood, and I want to know what kind of guarantee they can give me that we will be safe," Mary Westwater said.

Westwater and others have formed a group called Stop Tax Exempt Property Sprawl.  They argue in part that Framingham has taken on far more than its share of social service agencies compared to other communities.  And as nonprofits snatch up properties, they complained, homeowners are shouldering a heavier tax burden.

"You're breaking the middle class," Cynthia Laurora told the board.

Patti Coen told the board that Acton residents fighting a SMOC plan to buy a property there have adopted the slogan: "We don't want to be another Framingham."  Coen said that she was "embarrassed" and "hurt" when she heard that.

"We're hardworking people.  We're good people," she said.  "I feel the same.  Enough is enough.  It's time for other communities to step up as well."

SMOC officials have declined comment for weeks about whether they are buying the nursing home.  SMOC Planning Director Gerard Desilets could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Westwater told selectmen that Desilets said this week the agency was close to completing a deal to buy the building.

According to Westwater, Desilets said the nursing home will be the new location for Sage House, which provides an intensive, six- to nine-month residential drug treatment program for homeless families.

The neighbors asked selectmen for their support and submitted a three-page letter to the board outlining their concerns.  They also want to meet with SMOC officials and selectmen during a board meeting to talk about the agency's plans for the nursing home.

Selectmen Chairman Katie Murphy cautioned that the board could not force SMOC to attend a meeting.  But Selectman Dennis Giombetti said it could "put a strong burden on them to be here."  The board, he said, should also be "more rebellious" with social service agencies.

The neighborhood, residents argued, deserves the chance to weigh in on the agency's plans.  Town Meeting member Ted Cosgrove said SMOC is "subverting the whole public process."  He went on to complain that he first learned about its plans by reading an article in the Daily News.

"I'm reading about it in the newspaper, and that's what scared me the most," he said.

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