Long-awaited big box trial begins

  • Former Mackin property, now owned by Ceruzzi Properties, off the French King Highway in Greenfield. FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2019 10:44:42 PM

GREENFIELD — On the first day of trial Monday, attorneys laid the groundwork for reviewing an eight-year bout between neighbors and developers over a previously approved big box store on French King Highway.

The case hinges on whether the Greenfield Planning Board rightfully provided a special permit to a 135,000-square-foot retail store in 2011. The case, which has bounced around the courts over the past decade, has landed in Franklin County Superior Court, where neighbors are appealing the board’s decision.

In their opening remarks, lawyers for the neighbors presented an email that revealed the project manager was aware that the store was designed to model a Walmart but should have been significantly reduced in size to meet city regulations regarding traffic flow.

The recommendation in the email, which was sent to the project manager by his traffic engineers at the time, was not followed.

Less than a year later, the project manager, Richard Dupuis, signed off on draft plans submitted by the developer’s lawyers. The Planning Board then approved those plans for a 135,000-square-foot store — which is the heart of the appeal, which Judge Richard Carey intends to complete this week.

The attorneys representing Greenfield Property Investors LLC and the city of Greenfield debated the relevance of these emails. They said the emails were sent in 2010, before the Greenfield Planning Board was presented this project. Dupuis said he began working on it in 2005.

The land, owned by Ceruzzi Properties and formerly by Mackin Construction, has been the centerpiece of citywide debate about retail development in the city for three decades. If the judge rules in favor of the appeal, it can threaten potential development plans for not only that specific site but for the whole French King corridor — which was rezoned this past week by the City Council to allow gas stations and fast food.

When called to the stand, Dupuis answered questions from the developers about the services the project would have provided: extended sewer line for retail development and for the neighbors who use septic tanks, improved water system and increased sidewalk access.

Boston-based Goulston & Storrs attorneys Marshall Senterfitt and Alana Rusin presented Dupuis and the process he followed to give information to the Planning Board. Alternatively, the lawyers for the neighbors, Thomas Lesser and Michael Aleo, a partner at his Northampton-based firm, offered evidence attempting to show the Planning Board failed in its oversight of the developer in granting a special permit.

Dupuis, who said he has never had to testify for a case in his two decades of practice, said the proposed building was intended for one tenant and was designed to fit a potential Walmart; he said Target was also likely interested in opening a store at this location.

Lesser asked Dupuis to define the neighborhood and its character, which caused a momentary spark between the two as they debated nuance.

Early on during cross-examination, Lesser questioned Dupuis about what laws for permitting he followed. He called into question a city charter rule that had not been previously discussed in the eight years of the case and may require complying with additional regulations for granting a permit. Senterfitt objected to introducing this last-minute evidence, saying it seems “unnecessary and unhelpful to suddenly expand the issues.” The judge said he will take it all into consideration.

A second witness was brought to the stand by the lawyers for the developers. Patrick Dunford, the traffic study expert for the developers, took an initial round of questioning by Rusin, mostly centered around how long a turn lane needs to be and how to develop a suitable traffic light.

Opening remarks were submitted in writing prior to the trial and not heard by the judge. The initial conversation Monday morning focused around the case’s timeline, which remains set for the end of the week. The circuit judge will only be in Franklin County until the end of the month during this rotation.

Both sides plan on finishing their presentations by Thursday.

Senterfitt expressed a desire to keep the case that has been delayed several times to be completed by the end of the week.

“I’ve been on this case, one way or another, my entire legal career,” Senterfitt said.

“My condolences,” Carey said in jest.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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