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Hopedale - Local Town Pages

Residents file lawsuit against town claiming selectmen did not follow special town meeting mandate Eleven residents say selectmen agreed to items that are beyond its discretion

Mar 26, 2021 08:33AM ● By Chuck Tashjian
By Theresa Knapp 
On March 3, 2021, a group of residents filed suit against the Town of Hopedale, two selectmen, and the Grafton and Upton Railroad (including its owner, president, and an associated realty trust) related to the recent settlement agreement between the town and GURR for the purchase of land at and near 364 West Street. 
The 24-page complaint was filed in Worcester Superior Court by Attorney David Lurie, of Lurie Friedman LLP in Boston, who represents the 11 taxpayers. 
“The Board of Selectmen gave away parkland that properly belongs to the Town, and got into bed with the Railroad once again,” Lurie told Hopedale Town News on March 3. “The Town voted unanimously to preserve the forest as parkland, and the Board had no business striking a deal behind closed doors for anything less than that.”
The lawsuit asserts, in part, that the:
Town effectively and fully exercised its c. 61 first refusal option and can purchase the forestland subject to the July 9, 2020 notice of intent. 
Selectmen agreed to items in the settlement agreement that are far beyond its discretion. 
Selectmen illegally agreed to payment of more than $587,500 (the purchase price set at Special Town Meeting) for less land than Special Town Meeting agreed to buy.
Selectmen illegally waived and released the town’s c. 61 rights without Town Meeting authorization. 
Selectmen’s failure to obtain Finance Committee review of the new and substantially different expenditures is in violation of the town’s general bylaw. 
Selectmen illegally agreed to payments of rollback taxes, survey costs, and hydrogeological analysis.
Use of c. 61 forestland for railroad and non-parkland purposes is illegal harm to the environment. 
According to court documents, the plaintiffs are asking the court, in part, to: 
Prohibit Selectmen from obtaining any bonds, making any expenditures, paying any costs, or transferring any property interests pursuant to the settlement agreement reached between the town and GURR in January 2021. 
Order that the town’s right of first refusal regarding the c. 61 forestland was effectively exercised. 
Enter an order to transfer title of the forestland to the town, free and clear of any restrictions set by the January settlement agreement. 
Enter an order that the town’s eminent domain taking of the wetlands is effective and is free and clear of any restrictions set by the January settlement agreement. 
Prohibit GURR from taking any action or conducting any activities on or concerning the c. 61 forestland which would result in any alienation of the c. 61 forestland or any conversion of its current use as forest land. 
Enter an order that the property, including the forestland and wetlands, is parkland protected under Article 97 by public dedication and acceptance and prior public use, and cannot be converted to non-parkland use without a town meeting vote and two-thirds votes of the state legislature. 
A hearing in Worcester Superior Court was scheduled for March 8 but was pushed to March 10. As of press time, no judgement has been made public. 
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