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Greenfield battle over big-box retailer headed to SJC

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A long-running battle over bringing a big-box store to Greenfield is headed to the state's Supreme Judicial Court, which on Thursday will hold arguments about where the case should be heard.

In 2011, a group of neighbors in Greenfield filed a lawsuit in the town's housing court against several developers, claiming that building a major retail store nearby would hurt their property values and cause traffic backups.

The 135,000-square foot project does not have a confirmed tenant yet, according to the developers' lawyer, but a longtime activist doing pro-bono work for the neighbors has identified it as Walmart.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

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At issue is the question of what court has jurisdiction over the case. The lawyer for the neighbors argues that housing court is the most appropriate venue. But the developers say that court does not have authority, based on a 2006 legislative statute that created a special session in land court to decide large-scale development disputes, said Marshall Senterfitt, one of the developers' lawyers.

"That statute does in fact create a new process," Senterfitt said. "It eliminates the jurisdiction of the housing court."

The Massachusetts Appeals Court had previously ruled in favor of the developers, prompting the plaintiffs to appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court.

Tom Lesser, the lawyer for the neighbors abutting the proposed development, said the fact that the Supreme Judicial Court took the case is significant.

"They take a very small percentage of cases," he said. "I think they took it because they had serious questions about whether or not the land court has jurisdiction."

The controversy over Walmart coming to Greenfield has been brewing since 1993, when residents narrowly voted down a proposed Walmart across the street from the current potential location. In 2006, the neighbors appealed to the state Department of Environmental Protection about the project, arguing that it should not be allowed to go forward in a wetlands area, and the development was moved.

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The store is still being hotly contested, and a Greenfield town councilor rented a bus to take residents to Boston on Thursday to hear the high court's arguments.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.