August 17, 2015; Springfield Republican
Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor Mike Albano told the Springfield Republican that a legal interpretation of the law by the state attorney general’s office is “dangerous” and being used as a tool to help bring a new correctional institution to Springfield’s North End in spite of opposition from residents.
The Massachusetts Governor’s Council is an elected governmental body that provides advice and consent in certain judicial matters, and is separate from the state legislature. Albano is a former Springfield mayor and probation officer, working with neighborhood residents to stop the facility.
A lawsuit will be filed this week in Superior Court by ten local taxpayers seeking clarification of the law and its applicability in this case. The article on MassLive.com says that the law allows a developer to build a facility normally considered inappropriate or larger than what zoning permits, so long as education is the “primary or dominant purpose.” It has been applied to nonprofit educational institutions in the past.
That law was cited as the legal underpinning for locating the new Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center in Springfield’s North End. The center is to be operated by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, where Springfield is located.
The attorney general’s office considers the center an educational facility and therefore protected against Springfield’s zoning laws. In addition, the office also said that substance-abuse centers are exempted from local zoning and permitting requirements because the people they treat are considered handicapped and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The [law] was never intended for a correctional institution,” Albano told the website, “The consequences of such an interpretation essentially means the sheriff and state can place a jail virtually anywhere they want.”
The program is seeking a new home after being moved to accommodate a new development in the city, and is now operating from a temporary location. The site chosen by the sheriff was considerably cheaper than the only other alternative. A number of North End residents have met with the sheriff to express their opposition to the facility, whose development has now been placed on hold for two months.—Larry Kaplan