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Greenfield still waiting for big box decision

GREENFIELD — It has been a year and a half since the town’s Planning Board gave the “go-ahead” for a 135,000-square-foot discount department store to be built on French King Highway, but construction has not begun, because a Housing Court judge has not yet made a decision about an appeal filed by seven abutters shortly after the board’s decision.

Peter Montori, clerk magistrate for the state’s Western Housing Court, which is the court handling the case, said the judge has not made a decision, but is working on one and is “closer than not” to making it.

“I have no sympathy for the town or developer and any distress this delay might be causing them,” said Albert Norman,the Greenfield man who is known nationally as a “sprawlbuster” consultant against Walmart and other big box developments.

Norman filed an appeal on behalf of seven abutters of the project in Massachusetts Housing Court Western Division in May 2011 to stop, or at least slow down the project.

“The developer and town made no attempt to reconcile and come to an agreement with neighbors concerning the size of the project,” said Norman. “The neighbors were not listened to and they should have been and that is why there has been such a long delay.”

The planning board held a series of hearings over about five months, at which Norman and other opponents routinely commented on a range of issues.

Greenfield Investors Property Development LLC, a company owned by Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., plans to build the discount store, but because the board’s decision was almost immediately appealed by Norman and the abutters, it is unclear when that will happen.

The only activity that has happened on the property is some grading that is allowed under the permit the board issued last year.

According to Eric Twarog, the town’s director of planning, even that work was done at the developer’s own risk because of the pending appeal.

Twarog said in an earlier interview that Ceruzzi has moved some soil from one spot on the property to another — the developer plans to raise the property 8 to 9 feet — but said the developer has no plans to bring materials from off the site until after the judge makes a decision.

Abutters are hoping the judge sends the project back through the town permitting process, said Norman, while the town and developer hope construction can begin soon.

Controversy

From the beginning, the project stirred a lot of controversy.

First, opponents fought to save a wetland now known as Wetland 4. Opponents were successful in that fight and Wetland 4 has since been restored and expanded, but the project has been built around the restored wetland in the site that is a former gravel pit.

Opponents also fought the size of the building, which started at 160,000 square feet, and argued that the store will create way too much traffic for Greenfield streets to handle.

“We said from the beginning that 80,000 square feet would be enough,” said Norman.

In the end, the board placed conditions on the project to mitigate traffic problems and other issues.

Most recently, Ceruzzi asked the court for a summary judgment of the abutters’ appeal, which would have meant the appeal would have been thrown out, but the court denied that request.

Greenfield Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, said in an earlier interview that, “We did our job and we did it well. It’s now in the court’s hands.”

The seven abutters who filed the appeal with Norman are: Michael and Melanie Skawski of 7 Wunsch Road, Ralph (Jr.) and Susan Gordon of 14 Wunsch Road, Joanna W. and Joanna J. Mann, both of 196 Gill Road, and Shirley Lowe of 11 Wunsch Road.

Project background

A 135,000-square-foot store was proposed by Ceruzzi, who in December 2010 bought 19 acres of Mackin-owned land on French King Highway for $3.75 million.

Ceruzzi began the town’s permitting process by going before its Conservation Commission in 2007. The commission approved the project late in 2008, after more than a year of discussions about Wetland 4. The project will be built around the wetland.

The Planning Board began its review of the project early September 2010 by opening a public hearing, which it didn’t close until early in February 2011, when it began its deliberations.

The board and the public talked about numerous issues, including traffic the project will create, the size of the store and its parking lot, the fiscal impact the project will have on town services and the design of the building.

The board eventually asked the developer to design a more “New England-friendly” building and most seemed happy with what the developer resubmitted.

The developer gave the town $1.2 million for traffic mitigation, which the town will not have to return if it doesn’t use that much, and another $41,000 requested by the board, which will have to be returned if not used.

The developer has said it will take between nine and 12 months to build the store and there is no date set for the beginning of construction and no building permits have been pulled.

The town has been without a discount department store for almost a decade.

The project was approved 4-1 by the five-member board, with Linda Smith being the only member to reject the project.

Some of the conditions the board put on it include no free-standing grocery store built there, limiting the hours the store is open for business to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and prohibiting deliveries during the hours between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and reducing lighting in the parking lot to security lighting levels overnight.

Other conditions deal with landscaping, storm water management, recycling, safety measures, including access to the property and overnight monitoring of the property, were placed on the project.

The developer will have to go before the board before beginning construction so that the board may judge whether construction plans comply with the plans the board approved last year.

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