Saturday, December 17, 2016

Do Framingham Government Departments operate like a hot dog stand?

“We run this Town like a HOT DOG STAND!” declared Zoning Board of Appeals Chair, Philip Ottaviani, at the December 13th meeting during which they heard Landscape Depot’s request to grant Special Permits for four businesses located on the 350 Irving Street toxic property which is owned by Eversource. He made this comment in response to the following facts which I presented:

   1. According the Assessor’s office the four businesses applying for permits were unknown to his office and have never paid any Personal Property (PP) taxes on their equipment. Landscape Depot, which has conducted business for 15 years in our Town, has front-end loaders, fork lifts, a trailer, office machine, equipment to grind yard waste into mulch etc.

   2. All the Permit Application packets were incomplete or had false information. Three of the applicants did not submit the Treasurer/Collector Form or left it blank. The Treasurer's forms were incomplete in previous years as well.

   3. The September 16, 2016 Landscape Depot Treasurer/Collector form was falsely checked as current for PP taxes paid while the application found on the ZBA on-line site is blank.

Puzzling questions not fully answered

Judith Grove: "Show accountability to
Framingham’s taxpayers and concern for the
health of its residents by denying permits"
I asked the ZBA members if they had noticed that the Treasurer forms were incomplete, blank or had false information. They replied they are not responsible for what the Treasurer puts on the forms and that it is not their fault if it is blank. I replied “This is not the point. Shouldn’t you expect complete and accurate information from an applicant before deciding whether-or-not to grant a permit to him?”

The ZBA members spent considerable time arguing with me about the forms instead of addressing whether the applicant had paid his PP taxes. Finally, the applicant‘s lawyer admitted he, personally, pays PP taxes but his client had not paid them because he did not know he owed any taxes. I reminded the lawyer a PP Tax payment question was asked on the form submitted to the ZBA by his
client. I told the ZBA they should be concerned that the LD Treasurer’s form filed with them, has false information while the form on-line has no information. I asked that they investigate to see who altered this form and why.

Surprising comments from the Chair

Click on photo to watch video snippet
The ZBA Chair responded to this request by saying “Nobody knows anything” and “WE RUN THIS TOWN LIKE A HOT DOG STAND and I’ll say it to my friends who don’t like hearing it. We run it like a hot dog stand. There is no accountability. We have assistants to assistants to assistants to assistants but no one is watching the watchers. It’s unbelievable. Whoever yells the loudest get the attention. Mike Tusino and the Assessor should have more people in their departments. We have departments that are top-heavy. It’s a joke. We need the nuts and bolts in this town and we don’t have it.”

When I told the ZBA Board that the Chief Assessor has replaced a staff member with someone who is now knocking on doors and increasing the collection of PP taxes, the Chair replied “Those businesses don’t have permits, licenses or understand the language.”

Concerned public speaks

The meeting continued for over 2 hours with residents and abutters giving reasons that the permits should be denied. We reminded the ZBA members that the purpose of the Zoning By-Laws is “to protect and promote, life, health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the residents of Framingham.”

We were not surprised but still deeply disturbed that the ZBA voted 3-0 to give these 4 businesses another 1-year Special Permit despite our many arguments against this including:

   1. All the permit applications were incomplete or had false information.

   2. They applicants had allowed their permits to expire for 6 years and paid no back fees or fines.

   3. They have paid no Personal Property taxes for 15 years.

   4. LD allowed 10 businesses to squat on the property and not pay taxes.

Michael Blanchard, Director of Public Health 
and Carol Bois, Environmental Site Assessment Officer
   5. Although being monitored by the Fire Department and the Board of Health’s Licensed Site Professional, LD had 2 more fires in the last 5 months. In Landscape Depot’s opening statement their Attorney said, as an argument to grant the permit, that LD by following “Best Practices” had only one fire (on July 4, 2016) since the last 1-year permit was granted. Later, when questioned in detail, the applicant admitted to another fire on November 28th. A ZBA member said “So the F,D. was not called?”. They responded “Yes, they were. Since we were not there, the Police reported it to the F.D. and they put it out.” The ZBA made no comment on this important information or the fact that LD’s lawyer had made a false statement earlier.

   6. While they pay nothing to the town, we taxpayers foot the bill for the myriad Town services they consume from Town Manager to the Police, DPW, Inspectional Services, Board of Health, Legal Department and most expensive of all, the Fire Department (16 fires on this toxic property in 5 years).

Landscape Depot has not followed Best Practices

I told the ZBA this is an issue of fairness and of trust. How can we give permits to businesses who do not do the right thing? This property will have Activity and Use Limitations. How can be trust them to observe the extensive rules and regulations required by the Conservation Commission, the BOH, The F.D. and DEP? Will the Town accept the liability if a worker, customer or trespasser is harmed on this property?

The ZBA had the perfect opportunity to show accountability to Framingham’s taxpayers and concern for the health of its residents by denying permits to these parasitic companies. Instead, the ZBA is the Poster Child for how to RUN A BOARD LIKE A HOT DOG STAND!

If you care about fairness to the taxpayers of our community or about the health of our residents, please watch the December 13, 2016 Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting on the Government Channel. It also addresses the serious pollution on this site which to fully clean-up would cost $93 million.

by Judith Grove
TMM, Chair Precinct 15
Member of STOP (Stop Toxic Operations and Polluters)

Click on photo to watch the ZBA meeting video