SHEFFIELD -- An overflow crowd of voters Monday night rejected a citizens petition to spend up to $30,000 to fight an appeal in state Land Court over the planned construction of a Dollar General store.
By a vote of 284-222, a special town meeting turned down a request for using surplus funds to continue a legal battle, which has already cost the town $11,215 in legal funds.
Nearly 25 percent of the town's 2,268 registered voters packed the auditorium at Mount Everett Regional High, some of whom had to listen to the meeting in the adjacent school gymnasium.
Opponents of the funding who spoke felt the town, to date, has put up a futile defense.
"I find it very hard to accept the very poor handling of the situation," David West said.
However, Catherine Miller, a leading advocate for the additional legal funds, said the money to be spent at the discretion of the Board of Selectmen was about protecting the democratic process.
"We, as citizens, have the right to govern ourselves to the best of our ability," said Miller.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Primax Properties has filed an appeal in state Land Court over Sheffield's decision to block a project to build a Dollar General store on 660-680 North Main St. The Zoning Board of Appeals has identified zoning violations concerning parking, landscaping and future sales that would prevent construction.
Primax Properties has asserted it is in compliance with town zoning bylaws, and the ZBA violated proper procedures and overstepped its jurisdiction by blocking construction.
The town has been divided over the proposed construction of a Dollar General, which has even resulted in the police intervening.
Proponents of funding the appeal have framed the decision as a support of town boards. They have said the boards act in the best interest of the town, and they should be supported. They also have said only one of the ZBA's bylaw infractions would need to stand to win the appeal. There would be nothing preventing Primax from returning before the ZBA to resume construction after it meets the conditions.
Opponents of the funding have said the ZBA is inappropriately using the town bylaws to prevent construction. And the funds are better used elsewhere.
Last week, Kathleen McCormick, of Great Barrington-based McCormick, Murtagh & Marcus, which represents Primax, said in an emailed statement that Primax should be allowed to build by-right because it meets dimension requirements. Construction was approved by the town when Building Inspector Thomas Carmody granted the project a building permit; the ZBA later rescinded the permit, citing bylaw violations.
McCormick said Primax is willing to meet for mediation, but first it's asking for additional information in discovery, or the evidence-gathering process.
Voters did approve a special town meeting article, which would provide a tax subsidy for Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Inc. The Tax Increment Financing Plan calls for the Sheffield brewery to pay no property taxes for the first year of the 10-year deal after the new facility is built. The company would pay 10 percent of its tax bill the second year, with subsequent increases annually until it reaches 100 percent after year 10.