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Superior Court likely to decide Greenfield’s big box case

— It looks like the decision about whether to allow a big box department store on French King Highway will be made in Superior Court, rather than Housing Court.

Housing Court Judge Dina Fein has asked for an administrative transfer so that she can hear the case all the way through, but in a different court.

The developer Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., doing business as Greenfield Investors, along with the town’s Planning Board, recently asked that the case be dismissed from Housing Court.

The town’s lawyer, David Martel of Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy in Springfield, said the developer and town asked for the change of venue because recently the state Appeals Court decided that cases like this one should be heard in Superior Court or the permit division of Land Court, not Housing Court.

Martel said the developer and town are afraid that the entire case could be heard in Housing Court, and then someone could file an appeal citing the recent decision and say that Housing Court does not have jurisdiction.

“Then, it might have to be heard all over again,” he said.

Fein has already decided that the developer will have to present its entire case for the project before her and she will decide one of several options, which could include sending the developer back to the Planning Board, denying the project the special permit already granted it by the board, or backing the board and approving it as is.

The judge will also give opponents of the project the opportunity to present their case against it again.

Fein first received the case in 2011, after seven abutters of the project, with the help of Albert Norman, the Greenfield man nationally known as a “sprawlbuster” consultant against Walmart and other big box developments, filed an appeal.

The town’s Planning Board approved the project and granted it a special permit on May 5, 2011.

In a recent letter, Fein told all parties that she has asked Superior Court for a transfer, but if she doesn’t receive it, everyone will have to gather for a pretrial conference on June 14 in Springfield to determine how the case will go forward. The pretrial conference would be held in Housing Court.

Martel said the way either court would hear the case would be similar. He said there aren’t any glaring differences, and believes it is simply of case of “unquestionable jurisdiction.” Michael Aleo, a lawyer with Lesser, Newman and Nasser, who is representing the abutters, said he believes Fein wants to transfer to Superior Court for this case, so that it doesn’t have to start from scratch.

“I think since she’s been with the case, she wants to stay with it,” said Aleo.

Norman said he is pleased the case is moving forward.

“The abutters are looking forward to presenting their case,” he said. “We’ll finally get a chance for an impartial hearing. We don’t care which court.” Norman said, based on other trials concerning big box development which he has participated in, he thinks it will be at least six months before the case goes to trial. “I know people are anxious for their Chinese goods, but they’re going to have to wait a little longer,” Norman said.

Mayor William Martin said he too is happy to see things moving along, and hopes that at the pretrial conference in June the judge will have some sort of time line so that people know how the case will progress and when the town will know how long it will be before a store comes to Greenfield.

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