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Local News

July 16, 2009

Town sued on plaza denial

Seabrook defends decision against shopping developer

SEABROOK — An Ohio-based shopping center giant is suing the town over the Planning Board's denial of its proposal to build a 500,000-square-foot retail outlet in town.

The shopping center, which planned to have a Target store as its anchor, would have been the largest in Greater Newburyport, and more than twice as large as Newburyport's Port Plaza. It would have been located just to the northeast of the busy intersection of Routes 1 and 107.

The town was served notice of the lawsuit yesterday. The more than 60-page brief and its attachments were filed with Rockingham County Superior Court on June 17, according to the stamp on the document, within the 30-day appeal window of the Planning Board's May 19 denial.

In the brief, Developers Diversified Realty attorney Malcolm McNeill Jr. wrote: "The Planning Board in denying (DDR's) request for site review approval for its retail shopping center was unlawful and unreasonable and the product of bad faith by the Planning Board, and was arbitrary, capricious and confiscatory."

Along with requesting the court reverse the board's denial and grant approval of the project, the suit requests DDR be awarded its costs and attorney fees.

On May 19, after nearly three years of studies, testimony and public hearings, the Planning Board unanimously voted to deny DDR's proposal to build the shopping center on about 51 acres of land behind Provident Bank. The board rejected the project for safety reasons, saying DDR, by refusing to widen surrounding roads, had not adequately addressed the severe traffic impact the mall would bring to Seabrook.

Planning Board Chairwoman Susan Foote said Planning Board members did not act in bad faith but gave the project their extensive attention and consideration before acting.

"I believe we had more than sufficient testimony from both our own health and safety personnel — police Chief Patrick Manthorn and fire Chief Jeff Brown — and testimony from multiple traffic engineers and the state and the Rockingham County Planning Commission, and that we were justified in denying the project on the health and safety grounds and on a premature development basis because of the traffic the shopping center would create," Foote said yesterday. "By (DDR's) own count, that shopping center would have brought 2,000 cars per hour to the roads."

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