By Judith Grove
FRAMINGHAM – When is a Prohibited Use per the Framingham Zoning By-laws meaningless?
Answer – When the Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals says so.
Environmental Justice neighborhoods are now recognized in Framingham. In 2015, in order improve the health and welfare of its residents, our Zoning By-laws were changed by adding some new Prohibited Uses. In 2018 Framingham’s Building Inspector correctly denied a permit for a 100-vehicle storage yard at 138 Leland Street, an Environmental Justice neighborhood in District 9, on the basis that “Vehicle Storage” is one of those Prohibited Uses.
The proposed tow yard would be within 300 feet of single-family homes and the Harmony Grove Elementary School. Traffic is already horrendous since this street is a cut-through between Irving and Beaver Street. There are 42 schools bus stops per day on Leland Street and it is used by Adesa car carriers, so traffic is often backed up. In addition, there are already 6 tow businesses within half a mile of Leland Street.
The applicant then applied to the Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals which overturned the Building Inspector’s decision, by claiming that their Use was not “Vehicle Storage” but was instead, a “Service Business” which is allowed in all Zoning Districts. If the proposed tow yard were to be located in almost any other District, I am confident that the ZBA would not have made this decision.
“Zoning has enormous implications, in general for shaping our environment, and because changes to zoning are made through a political process, it has possibilities for abuse. The uneven spatial distribution of noxious uses and their potential adverse effect are a major focus of environmental justice research.” (Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 30 (2002): 572-593)
On May 14, 2019, on behalf of the Leland Street residents, I filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts Land Court against the decision made by Framingham’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
After nearly 3 years of Court Hearings, the applicant is now before the Framingham Planning Board for Site Plan Review for a “Vehicle Storage” Use.
The next Framingham Planning Board hearing in on February 3, 2022. My hope is that Justice will prevail not only for the sake of these residents but for the future of our new City.
Judith Grove is an environmental activist, a former Framingham City Councilor for District 8 and the vice chair Community Preservation Committee.