A recent lawsuit filed by Courtway Trust on behalf of Benjamin Hall Sr. aims to freeze the Edgartown Stop & Shop expansion project, which after lengthy delays — due to Hall’s previous suit — commenced earlier this month.
The project, which consists of numerous phases, involves the demolition — and later rebuilding — of the abutting Rockland Trust Bank, regrading of the site, subsurface utility installation, and the construction of a 17,432-square-foot addition to the existing supermarket’s 25,259 square feet.
The lawsuit, filed at Dukes County Superior Court on July 11, names Stop & Shop, the Edgartown building inspector, Stop & Shop’s local attorney Geoghan Coogan, William J. Cummings, WJG Realty Trust, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in the complaint.
Per the suit, abutter Benjamin Hall Sr., via his son Benjamin Hall Jr., argues that the expansion project is in violation of the agreed-upon conditions placed by the MVC when it was approved in 2018. Particularly, Hall argues that the onsite work surpasses the two-year limitation regarding commencement of construction.
“It appears to the plaintiff that the Stop & Shop defendants continue to behave in a manner that would suggest they intend to commence soon construction under the building permit from the building inspector, despite the fact that the decision no longer has any validity,” the lawsuit states. “Under the MVC Act, the Applicant must again be referred by a municipal development permit granting authority in order to seek MVC authority to, once again, proceed further with its proposed project.”
Included in the MVC’s conditional approval of the project is indeed a “length of validity” decision, citing that “if construction does not occur during [a two-year period], this decision shall become null and void and have no further effect.” However, the MVC also states “this time period may be extended upon written request from the applicant and written approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.”
According to MVC executive assistant and developments of regional impact (DRI) administrator Lucy Morrison, commissioners had relayed a vote in favor of extending the approval’s validity until 2023, although no written decision of the vote was made available when inquired about by The Times. Most recent court files cite a pending disposition. As of Monday, the supermarket expansion remains ongoing.
Benjamin Hall later explained in a call with The Times that the intent of the lawsuit is to hold the MVC accountable for changes made in the approved project without the reopening of a new public hearing, which is typically required in similar circumstances. Specifically, there “have been changes made to the [construction] plan after the MVC decision had been filed and finalized … sufficient, and major changes made to the construction plans,” he said, that impact not only his father, but other abutters as well.
Additionally, according to Hall, abutters were not notified of the changes. He said that the MVC failed in their charge of following any “fundamental notion of due process.”
The expiration date, Hall argues, was part of the expansion approval, deeming it unalterable without a new proposal and further public input. Hall says the decision to extend the validity of the project was made after the set time limit, making it null and void.
“A decision by an administrative tribunal, like the MVC, has a certain amount of finality,” he said. “If the decision itself has expired, then all the provisions that gave them leave to extend it — inside the decision — also expired.”
Updated to include comments from Ben Hall Jr. -Ed.