Bus trip to Boston to hear big box arguments Thursday still has seats

Last modified: 1/7/2016 11:24:36 AM
GREENFIELD — At-large Town Councilor Isaac Mass, the local lawyer who has rented a coach bus to Boston on Thursday to listen to high court arguments about where an appeal to stop a planned discount department store on French King Highway should be heard, if anywhere, says there’s still room for a few more passengers.

Mass, who submitted a supportive brief to the court late last fall to argue that the appeal shouldn’t be heard at this point, because abutters had their chance and chose the wrong court, said they should now step aside to allow development to begin.

He said anyone who goes to Boston, including himself, will not testify; they will just hear the arguments.

Mass said the 40-seat bus will leave Home Depot parking lot on the Mohawk Trail at 5:30 Thursday morning and will arrive at the courthouse at about 8 a.m. They will then rally on its steps from 8:15 to 9 a.m.

“There’s just a few more open seats, so if people want to go, they should contact me soon,” he said.

Mass said he is paying for the bus out of his pocket, but will accept donations from people who want either to go to Boston, or from people who can’t go Thursday but want to help with the cost of travel.

“I don’t want anyone who wants to be there, but can’t afford it, to feel like they can’t go,” said Mass.

“This is Citizens for Growth members and members of the public who want to hear the arguments and show support for a big box store,” said Mass. “No one else is involved. Just us.”

Mass founded Citizens for Growth years ago and has fought for a big box store for more than a decade, saying Greenfield needs a discount store to accommodate the needs of all residents.

The state Supreme Judicial Court hearing will determine which state court, if any, should hear the appeal of the development’s neighbors, not whether the project should be built.

Mass did spend time in his supportive brief discussing the reasons why Greenfield should have a big box store.

Albert Norman, the Greenfield man known nationally as a “sprawlbuster” consultant against Wal-Mart and other big box developments, said the trip is a waste of time. He said the court is simply going to argue the legalities of where the appeal should be heard, not whether someone does or does not want a big box store in Greenfield. He said a rally on the steps of the courthouse turns it into something bigger than it is.

Mass, who is calling his bus trip the “Economic Development Express,” said he called it that because he hopes for a quick resolution to the case and beginning of construction, now that it is in the high court’s hands.

Mass said Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn. does not know about the trip, unless the developer of the French King Highway project has read about it in The Recorder.

“Ceruzzi has nothing to do with this,” said Mass. “This is for all of the people who want a big box store.”

The question before the court is whether the Housing Court has jurisdiction over the case, instead of Land or Superior courts, which many, including the developer, have argued would be the appropriate venues. The appeal was removed from Housing Court by the Appeals Court.

Norman, who has been representing the abutters since as far back as 2007, when the developer filed plans with the town, said the town’s Planning Board sent abutters to Massachusetts law Chapter 40A Section 17, telling them they had the right to appeal if they didn’t like the decision to permit the project on May 5, 2011, and that’s why abutters chose Housing Court.

Roxann Wedegartner, chairwoman of that board, said it always sends abutters to that section of the law, and leaves it up to them to decide which court — land, housing or superior — they will file in. She said it’s up to abutters to do their homework, and if they choose the wrong court, it’s not the town’s fault.

Mass argues in his supportive brief, that the appeal should not have been filed in Housing Court, so the SJC should not only uphold the Appeals Court decision to remove the case from Housing Court, but deny the request by abutters for transfer to the Land Court.

“I’m confident the justices will read every word of the amicus brief,” said Mass. “It may even be the basis for questions during oral arguments. This should put an end to litigation.”

Norman said it is only fair that the seven abutters — Ralph and Susan Gordon, Shirley Lowe, Joanna J. and Joanna W. Mann and Melanie and Michael Skawski — have their day in court, because they will be most affected by the project.

He said if the high court does not send the case back to a lower court, abutters will appeal, but didn’t say to whom.

Greenfield has been without a discount department store since Ames closed in 2002.

Ceruzzi originally proposed a 165,000-square-foot store, but reduced the size in 2010, when it bought 19 acres of Mackin-owned land on French King Highway for $3.75 million. The project will take between nine and 12 months to complete.

Mass said if anyone would like to fill the few remaining seats, they should contact his office at 413-774-0123. Those who cannot travel to Boston on Thursday can watch oral arguments live online at www.suffolk.edu/sjc.


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