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Big box store in Greenfield still on hold more than a year after approval

— As the town heads into 2013, proponents of a large discount department store planned for French King Highway patiently wait to hear whether construction will begin and people will be shopping there a year from now.

It has been a year and a half since the town’s Planning Board approved a 135,000-square-foot store and seven abutters immediately appealed to slow or stop the project.

According to eager proponents, abutters have at most slowed the process.

Peter Montori, clerk magistrate for the state’s Western Housing Court, the court handling the case, would only say on Friday that the matter is “under advisement.” In November, Montori said the judge had not made a decision but was working on one, and was “closer than not” to making it.

Before that, the Housing Court had told town officials the judge would probably make a decision by summer 2012.

“We’ve been very patient,” said Roxann Wedegartner, chairwoman of the Planning Board, which voted 4-1 in favor of the project. “I guess it isn’t the only case on the dockets, and I don’t know how one case takes precedent over the other.” Wedegartner’s board began its review of the project with a public hearing in September 2010. The public hearing portion of the board’s process took five months and it made its decision four months after the public hearing was closed.

Shortly after the board took its vote, abutters appealed, and earlier this year, the developer, Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., asked the court for a summary judgment, meaning the court, if it ruled in favor of Ceruzzi, would rule that abutters had no more grounds to fight the project.

That is currently the decision the town and opponents of the project are waiting to hear about.

If the Housing Court denies the developer’s request, abutters will have their day in court and both they and the developer will have to present their cases for and against the project, just like they did before the town board. The court would then decide whether the project should move forward.

If the judge rules for the developer, granting it a summary judgment, the project will move ahead as it would have if abutters hadn’t appealed.

Albert Norman, the Greenfield man who is known nationally as a “sprawlbuster” consultant against Walmart and other big box developments and who has been a staunch opponent of this particular project, said he believes the judge should be taking her time with the decision.

“The developer forced the court to do a lot of research by filing a summary judgment,” said Norman, who has been representing the seven abutters, for no pay, he has maintained, since the Planning Board’s review of the project began. “The developer challenged the right for abutters to appeal the project. The developer believes abutters, who will have to live every day with this project, have no standing. Of course the judge is going to take her time.” Norman said if the judge rules for the developer, abutters will decide what their next legal move will be.

He said he and abutters would like the opportunity to show the court that companies like Walmart can build smaller stores than the 135,000-square-foot project Ceruzzi has proposed and still make money.

Norman, abutters and other opponents of the project have fought the size of the store from the beginning.

Ceruzzi originally wanted to build a 160,000-square-foot store, but said it would compromise and reduce it to 135,000 square feet.

Norman and others have said they would like to see a store under 100,000 square feet on the French King Highway property.

“The Planning Board didn’t ask the tough questions,” said Norman. “This whole project needs to be looked at again.

“This case could have been over by now,” said Norman, who said he believes the 20th anniversary of the town voting down a big box store on French King Highway will come and go on Oct. 19, 2013, and there will still be no store there.

“Even if the developer is given the go-ahead, construction couldn’t be completed by the end of the year,” said Norman.

On Oct. 19, 1993, town voters narrowly rejected a Walmart being built on French King Highway on land across the street from where it would be built this time.

But, in 2004, voters went back to the polls asking Town Council to create a new shopping district so that a big box could be built on the highway, one of what Mayor William Martin calls the “gateways to Greenfield.” That nonbinding vote passed 3,037-1,500.

Ceruzzi filed its proposal to build a large discount department store to the town in 2006. The permitting process started in 2007, when the matter went before the Conservation Commission.

The commission, after forcing the developer to save and expand an area on the property known as Wetland 4 and clean up all of the contamination on the then Mackinowned property, gave its approval.

In 2010, Ceruzzi bought the 19 acres for $3.75 million.

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