Trial focuses on details

  • Attorney Tom Lesser confers with Al Norman during a break in the big box trial in Franklin County Superior Court on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mayoral candidate Roxanne Wedegartner and Planning Board Chairwoman Linda Smith attend the big box trial in Franklin County Superior Court on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Franklin County Superior Court Judge Richard Carey listens to witness Robert Chamberlin, an expert on traffic studies, during the big box trial. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lawyers Michael Aleo and Tom Lesser listen as lawyer Marshall Senterfitt makes a point. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Al Norman makes a point during a break in the trial outside the courtroom. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ.

Staff Writer
Published: 3/26/2019 11:13:26 PM

GREENFIELD — After the second day of the big box trial, Franklin County Superior Court Judge Richard Carey said four to five elements continue to leave him “scratching my head about.”

Carey requested the lawyers in the long-awaited case to prepare post-trial remarks on these main points that mostly dive into the minutia of a nearly decade-long debate.

While the trial is now expected to end Thursday, the judge will not rule on the matter until after the lengthy remarks are submitted, which could push a decision to later this summer. The decision can be appealed by either side and remain in the court system.

The case pits the developers and the city of Greenfield against neighbors along the French King Highway corridor. The neighbors are appealing a 2011 Greenfield Planning Board decision to grant a special permit to a 135,000-square-foot retail store, which in this case has been described to be modeled after a “prototype Walmart.” It’s up to the judge to determine whether the board properly awarded a permit.

The minutia, like blinking yellow traffic lights and the calculated projected gaps between cars on High Street, took up the bulk of courtroom conversation Tuesday for the all-day affair.

The judge wants more commentary from the attorneys on such technical issues as: whether the city’s major development review were designed as goals or requirements; whether the Greenfield Planning Board was supposed to consider indirect costs to the city for a proposed project; whether the project was going to degrade some levels of service despite the promises of the developers; and whether the mitigation plans were not sufficient, and if that even matters.

In the audience for the second day were the current and former Planning Board Chairwoman, Linda Smith and Roxann Wedegartner, respectively. Wedegartner is running for mayor. On the other side of the aisle sat one neighbor and Al Norman, the sprawlbuster who has acted as the spokesman for abutters.

In the morning, as Alana Rusin, an attorney for Goulston & Storrs, which is representing Greenfield Investors Property LLC, asked her traffic expert witness to read evidence in support of the developer’s case from the several reference binders prepared for the case.

But Carey cut her off. He called listening to the proceedings “brutal.”

“All of this is in evidence. I don’t need a witness to tell me what’s in a page,” Carey said. “All of you deserve great credit for these binders, but they’re in evidence.”

Instead Carey pushed for both sides to debate the facts during cross examination and with more unique dialogue.

Rusin and her partner at the firm, Marshall Senterfitt, finished rolling out their three main witnesses for the case, all of whom were point people on the project. They may bring in an assessor to testify Thursday in response to the assessor who is expected to testify for the neighbors on the same day.

Tuesday wrapped up the questioning for the developer’straffic expert, which began Monday, and completed the whole testimony of the third witness, a financial expert.

Both the traffic expert, Patrick Dunford, and the economist, Craig Seymour received heavy scrutiny from the attorneys for the neighbors on how they conducted their studies.

Dunford, who was the lead on traffic on the project, was questioned by Tom Lesser and Michael Aleo, who represent the neighbors. Dunford admitted he did not follow the recommendations by his colleagues to reduce the size of the building to 75,000 to 90,000 square feet to comply with major development review guidelines. He said there were other ways to meet traffic guidelines but he did not elaborate on whether his team used those means.

Seymour explained from his fiscal impact analysis for the project in 2010 that the property could have been assessed at $15.6 million and could have resulted in a net gain of about $117,000 for the community, when considering the cost to municipalities. He was extensively questioned why he didn’t include indirect costs in his study.

“Your report did not analyze businesses that possibly could go out of business because of this 135,000-square-foot store,” Lesser said.

Lesser tried to bring home the point that by developing a store like Walmart in another location in town, it could lead to the closure of stores and a loss of jobs downtown. He asked Seymour why he didn’t consider this potential cost.

“No,” Seymour said. “It wasn’t in our purview.”

Lesser and Aleo brought their first witness to the stand, an independent traffic expert, Robert Chamberlin, who has worked on this issue for a number of years as well.

Chamberlin attempted to poke holes at the credibility of the traffic study commissioned by the developers. Rusin later critiqued whether Chamberlin had the credibility to speak on the issues at hand, especially since he wasn’t the one who created the data and on another note, made a technical error in an affidavit he submitted for this case in 2017.

Certain additions that were proposed to improve the level of service and mitigate potential traffic issues would likely not help, Chamberlin said.

In one example, Aleo asked: “Your testimony is that the flashing yellow light will not have any measurable effect on the level of service?”

“That is correct,” Chamberlin said.

Regarding the developer’s plan to improve traffic concerns at Beacon and Sanderson streets by committing $90,000 for a blinking light, Chamberlin said the potential solution would not work on several merits.

“First of all, the amount of the funding probably wouldn’t even fund the study,” Chamberlin said. “That’s just one minor point.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264

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