Legion post sues Hadley in bid to block senior center construction

  • The Hadley Senior Community Center and Goodwin Memorial Library.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2018 9:59:19 PM

HADLEY — The American Legion Post 271 filed suit this week to prevent Hadley from building a new senior center on town land long used by the Legion as overflow parking.

Michael Pill, an attorney with Green, Miles, Lipton LP of Northampton, filed the lawsuit in Land Court in Boston. He said Wednesday that Hadley officials have so far been unwilling to have the proposed $7.1 million building built away from the parking area.

“The Legion will be in great difficulty due to inadequate parking if they can’t provide this parking lot,” Pill said.

Senior center plans show a 12,050-square-foot building that would be built on town-owned land east of the Hooker School building. When it’s complete, Hooker will be demolished and replaced with a new town library.

In its suit, the Legion seeks a declaratory judgment and equitable relief that would establish ownership of the land by the Legion through what is called “adverse possession” or “a prescriptive easement.”

Pill said this means that the burden is placed on the town, which holds title to the land, to prove that the Legion was formally allowed to use the lot, based on laws in effect until Dec. 9, 1987, when a statutory amendment was adopted barring claims against a municipality based on adverse use of land held for a public purpose.

As the law stands, Pill said, he only has to show that the Legion used the town-owned land for more than 20 years between 1950, when the town conveyed land on which the Legion building sits, and 1987.

“The Legion has used that land for a parking lot for more than the 20 years required to establish a presumption of adverse use and occupation,” the lawsuit states.

Town Administrator David Nixon said the Select Board would be meeting in executive session Wednesday evening, both to discuss the lawsuit and to go over the terms of a memorandum of understanding he is drafting. That memorandum would include language allowing the Legion to use the new senior center’s parking lot and a lighted walkway that would connect to the Legion’s main parking lot.

But members of the Legion have objected to an agreement, noting that the parking would be farther from their building and wouldn’t allow them to use the lot when needed for special events, including some that can’t be scheduled far in advance, such as funerals.

Two petition articles submitted by the Legion also remain on the May 3 annual Town Meeting warrant. The first petition seeks to relocate the new senior center from the 2.6-acre Hooker School parcel to a 9-acre North Hadley location on River Drive the town acquired last year. The second petition asks voters to rescind the entire $7.1 million in funding.

Nixon told the Finance Committee this week that the town has already spent around $300,000 on the senior center project, and received $732,000 from the state Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for the library project.

Members of the Finance Committee said the issues need to be resolved before taxpayer money is wasted.

Pill said he feels the lawsuit can be easily ended by having the senior center constructed closer to the new library.

“This is a lawsuit that really needs to be settled,” Pill said. “I hope the Senior Center Building Committee will see the need to move its building.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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