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Big box development dilemma continues to unfold in Massachusetts

A recent case brought before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is highlighting some of the pitfalls developers can find themselves facing when trying to get a project plan approved and moving forward. While this case highlights the fact that not all cases can avoid litigation, and that sometimes residents in the area end up raising concerns, it also speaks volumes to the importance of careful and meticulous front-end planning.

The Boston Globe recently published an article going into depth on the history of this development case. The basic outline spans 23 years, starting with a developer wanting to put up a big-box store in Greenfield. Unfortunately, some residents of the area were not keen on the idea and disputes erupted. Pointing out fears over the potential for local business to be hurt by the competition, combined with concerns over traffic issues, led to the plan being voted down.

From here though, the story continues to develop, as 10 years later another developer started to pursue the location and again ran into opposition by residents. This time, several residents even decided to file a lawsuit against the developer and the Planning Board, claiming the proposed plan would hurt home values in the area, and again, brought up the traffic concerns.

As of now, the case is before the state's Supreme Judicial Court on appeal. At hand is whether the Greenfield Housing Court has the authority to even hear the case the residents have brought forth.

Proper planning should always be the first step in real estate development

Real estate development can be stressful due to the sheer number of permits that are often required and the due diligence that is necessary when attempting to plan any type of project. Even in this case, since the second developer's plan was originally going to be built on a wetland, after much debate, the developer ended up reconfiguring their site. After the reconfiguration, a special permit was obtained due to the sheer size of the project. This special permitting is typical for larger size projects.

For a developer in Massachusetts, while there is no way to guarantee the complete avoidance of issues, here are two main points to keep in mind:

  • You want to know all ordinances and zoning bylaws -- and how they affect your plan -- from the very beginning. An attorney with experience handling real estate development in the Eastern Massachusetts area will be able to provide understanding pertaining to the way the local boards and courts interpret and administer these ordinances and bylaws.
  • While the goal is to have issues resolved in a timely and cost-effective manner, some cases will require litigation. This is another area where having an attorney who understands the development goals and the planning process can go a long way.

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