Big box developer appeals judge’s decision
Seeks to move case out of Housing Court
GREENFIELD — Less than a month ago, it appeared a state Housing Court judge would soon begin review of a 135,000-square-foot discount department store planned for French King Highway, but an appeal by the developer to move the case to different court has caused another delay.
Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., doing business as Greenfield Investors, has filed an appeal with both Housing Court and the state Appeals Court, asking that Housing Court Judge Dina E. Fein’s recent decision to keep the case in her court be reversed.
Ceruzzi’s lawyer, Marshall Senterfitt of Goulston & Storrs law firm in Boston, said Friday that he has no comment at this time.
The appeal was filed with the courts on Thursday and asks that the Appeals Court hear the case, because the developer believes the Housing Court does not have jurisdiction over the case.
Lawyers for the developer argue that Housing Court is not the place to decide a special permit for a large-scale project of the type that was permitted by the town.
Attorney Thomas Lesser of Lesser, Newman & Nasser in Northampton, the law firm representing the seven abutters of the project who filed an appeal of the Planning Board’s decision to approve the project two years ago, said he and his clients disagree.
Lesser said it does make sense, though, for the developer to appeal now, instead of appealing after Fein makes her decision on the big box project.
If the case ends up staying in Housing Court, Fein could decide that the store can be built as approved by the board, or she could overturn the board’s decision and send it back to be reviewed from scratch. She could also decide that certain aspects of the project need to be reviewed and changed.
The town decided this time not to pursue the appeal with Ceruzzi. The town has been fighting the abutters’ appeal with Ceruzzi.
“This one is Greenfield Investors’ appeal,” said Mayor William Martin. “The town isn’t going to get involved. The developer has a right to contest the venue if it feels the case should be heard somewhere else.”
Martin said he didn’t want the town to be listed in the appeal, because he wants to save Greenfield some money in legal fees.
According to Marjorie Lane Kelly, the town’s finance director, since the Planning Board approved the project two years ago, the town has spent about $15,000 in legal fees fighting or making appeals with the developer.
Martin said the town will testify, if asked for information about Ceruzzi’s latest request, but will not spend money that it doesn’t have to.
Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner said she is disappointed that there is another delay.
“The project has been delayed enough already,” she said. “The board has no intention of delaying it any further, though I understand why the developer has decided to do what it is doing.”
The board issued Ceruzzi a special permit on May 5, 2011, but that decision was almost immediately appealed in state court by anti-Walmart activist Albert Norman of Greenfield on behalf of the seven abutters, who said they hoped to slow the project, or even stop it.
Norman said Ceruzzi’s three appeals of the abutters’ appeal is what has slowed the project.
“First Ceruzzi appealed the abutters’ right to appeal and was denied,” said Norman. “Then it asked that the case be taken out of Housing Court and was denied. And now, Ceruzzi is asking a second time for it to be taken out of Housing Court. That’s a lot of delays. Ceruzzi is standing in its own way.”
David Martel of Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy law firm in Springfield has been representing the town and its board.
Greenfield has been without a discount department store since Ames closed in 2002.
Plans that began almost a decade ago for a community-run department store in the downtown to serve the discount shopping needs of the town never materialized.