Sheffield residents can't be faulted for concern about the potential costs of a legal battle with Primax Properties, which wants to put a Dollar General store on North Main Street. Unfortunately, business interests almost invariably have far deeper pockets than the municipalities they sometimes bump heads with and are not reluctant to drag them through the legal system until they bleed them into submission.
The Zoning Board of Appeals rescinded a building permit for the store and cited 10 bylaw violations to buttress its decision. Primax Properties claims it is not in violation of bylaws and the ZBA overstepped its jurisdiction. Primax went to Massachusetts Land Court and has threatened to sue individual ZBA members, which is certainly intimidating.
More than 200 Sheffield voters have apparently signed a petition that would add a special town meeting article capping spending on legal costs associated with Primax Properties (Eagle, August 30). Whether or not the article is approved or even passed, Primax can be confident that a legal case will shake the town and the longer it continues the more likely it will become that it will get its building permit.
Spectrum Health Care bypassed the city's approval process when it met resistance to bringing a methadone clinic to Pittsfield and went straight to court instead, winning a settlement without having to make its case before a judge. Joining Primax in Land Court is Cafua Management, which is seeking recourse following the Pittsfield City Council's decision to deny a special permit for a drive-thru at a Dunkin' Donuts proposed for the intersection of First and Fenn streets. Unlike outside businesses, town and city officials must look at the big picture and do what is best for their community as a whole, but the legal system undermines boards that are trying to do just that.
This is a litigious society, and major municipalities aside, communities cannot litigate indefinitely. Corporations can and they are more than willing to do so.