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Big box project is going to court

GREENFIELD — A Housing Court judge will decide whether a Connecticut developer can build a large discount department store on French King Highway.

“Abutters will have their day in court,” said Greenfield resident Albert Norman after hearing the news on Wednesday.

Norman, who is known nationally as a “sprawlbuster” consultant against Walmart and other big box developments, and who has represented and rallied for seven abutters of the proposed project for the past several years, said he was happy to hear the court will hear the case “de novo,” or “from scratch.”

According to the Housing Court judge’s decision, Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., will have the burden of showing the court that the project will not have a negative impact, especially concerning traffic, on the seven abutters who appealed the Planning Board’s decision to issue the developer a special permit for the project a year and a half ago.

Ceruzzi will have to show that the project deserves the special permit the board issued, said Roxann Wedegartner, chairwoman of the town’s Planning Board.

“I’m actually pleased about one aspect of the judge’s decision,” said Wedegartner. “She did decide that the board conducted itself appropriately and provided ample due process. I’ve always contended that.”

The abutters complained in their appeal that the board did not do so.

Thomas Lesser of Lesser, Newman and Nasser of Northampton, the law firm representing the abutters, said he was happy with the decision, because it will give a fair hearing and trial to all involved.

Lesser said Ceruzzi, doing business in Greenfield as Greenfield Investors, will present its case and abutters, their representatives, and their expert witnesses will be allowed to present their cases.

“An independent decision will be made about the project,” said Lesser, who said he wasn’t sure how long it would take for the case to get to court.

After abutters filed their appeal, following the Planning Board’s decision, it took a year and a half for the judge to decide to bring the case to court. It isn’t clear when the trial will begin, how long it will take, or how long it will take the judge to make a final decision.

Norman said he was still reviewing the decision on Wednesday night and would have more to say about it at a later date.

“Obviously the abutters are very pleased that the judge agreed with us,” said Norman, who is not an abutter. “The court took its time making a very careful decision, and we obviously think it’s the right one.”

Norman said abutters and their lawyers will now get their case ready.

“They are going to show that they will be severely impacted by the size of the project and the traffic it will produce,” said Norman. “Maybe the judge will make a decision that the store needs to be smaller than 135,000 square feet, like we’ve been asking all along. Maybe the judge will find the project incompatible with the town’s overlay district on French King Highway.”

Norman said abutters will also show the court that there will be a visual impact from the project, and that property values will be diminished.

“All of the things the Planning Board didn’t listen to them about,” he said.

Wedegartner said she’s not that disappointed that the case is going to court.

“I think it was important for the judge to allow it to go to court so that the developer could prove it’s an appropriate project,” she said. “I’m not too concerned about what the decision will be. I just wonder how speedy the trial will be.”

Wedegartner said the Planning Board has been in court before.

“We went to court over Walgreen’s, and there is now a Walgreen’s on Federal and Pierce,” she said.

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