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In The Arena

End in sight? Not quite

Another setback for discount store plan

I’ve always said that I will believe it when I’m shopping in it, but it would appear that Greenfield’s chances of ever seeing a discount retail store on the French King Highway were dealt a severe blow with last week’s court ruling that effectively sends the matter to trial in Housing Court.

The judgment denied the developer’s request for a summary judgment, which would have declared that a group of abutters led by Albert Norman did not have legal standing to challenge the Greenfield Planning Board’s issuance of a special permit for construction to begin. That means the case will be argued again, not in front of the Planning Board, but in front of that same Housing Court judge, who will, at least in theory, make a final ruling that will finally end Greenfield’s now-20-year big-box odyssey.

I say in theory because I fully expect another appeal if the ruling doesn’t go the abutters’ way, and if that appeal doesn’t go their way, they’ll probably appeal the appeal and on and on, because I don’t believe Norman and the abutters will ever stop until this project is either defeated or is altered to the point that the square-footage is reduced to the point that it is financially impossible for the developers to recoup their money and they walk away. Either way, Al wins and the town loses — again.

Except that, at this point, I’m not sure anyone really cares. This is no longer the hot-button issue it used to be, and it becomes even less so as the demographics of Greenfield become more liberal and the locals get more and more used to driving to Hadley or Brattleboro to buy the stuff they need, and a cash-strapped town government continues to adapt to working without the $5 million in revenue it would receive from that store and the downtown continues to sport the same empty storefronts and struggling businesses it has for years.

Last week’s ruling was greeted with the usual cynical shrugs, combined with a desire by some to slam the town for somehow dropping the big-box ball again. That’s ironic when you consider that the judge’s ruling basically affirmed the Planning Board’s handling of the project by rejecting the abutter’s contention that the board was somehow in cahoots with the developer.

“I was certainly happy to see that,” Greenfield Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner said. “We did everything we could to ensure that everyone had their say and every detail on that project was thoroughly examined, and it was nice to get that validation.”

Wedegartner also seemed to be perplexed by the anti-town sentiment that accompanied the ruling.

“I don’t know why people immediately go to that,” Wedegartner said. “If by that they mean ‘why are we blessed with having Albert Norman in this town,’ there’s still not anything the town could do about that, and it’s not (the town’s) fault that there are people that continually oppose this project and others of its type.”

Wedegartner also does not seem to share my view that this upcoming trial represents a clear and present danger to the prospects of any store coming to the French King Highway, although she admitted that the possibility of Ceruzzi walking away has “always been a possibility,” even before the ruling was issued.

The one saving grace is that it at least appears that we are finally close to the end of this story, although now that it is in the courts, anything is possible. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this case one day wind up in front of the state Supreme Judicial Court. And for those of you who believe that is an absurd prospect, I hear there’s a nice piece of land for sale off Plumtree Lane in Sunderland ...

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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