Dracut Selectmen work through potential legal issues

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DRACUT — With the town still in the midst of fighting two federal lawsuits filed by town employees, the Board of Selectmen confronted further potential legal issues Tuesday.

The first came as the board considered Tuesday night whether to accept a special permit submittal from Colonial Organics, a retail cannabis store hoping to open on Broadway Road. Though special permit submittals are typically a routine agenda item,  Chairman Jesse Forcier questioned whether the board could proceed because of recent legal action brought against it by marijuana retailer BKPN LLC.

In April, the board deadlocked on a vote to grant the company a special permit, and the owners have since filed suit in Middlesex Superior Court appealing the denial and seeking to prevent the town from awarding its fourth and final special permit for retail marijuana sales. Town Counsel James Hall said a judge denied the company’s request for a preliminary injunction, but the case is ongoing, according to the Massachusetts online trial court docket.

Hall said accepting the special permit request could open the town up to further legal action from BKPN LLC, while not accepting it could open the town up to legal action from Colonial Organics.

“We’re going to look down the barrel of two lawsuits possibly,” Hall said.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to accept the special permit request.

Later in the meeting, the subject of litigation against the town again surfaced as the board prepared to vote on a beer and wine license for Hannaford Supermarket on Pleasant Street. A public hearing on the license was continued from a previous meeting after the board asked representatives from Hannaford whether they’d be willing to agree to return the license to the town in the event that the store no longer plans to use it.

The issue was raised because the store previously held an all-alcohol license that was not used for more than a year. The license was then transferred to another entity at a profit to the company rather than surrendered to the town, according to town officials.

An attorney for the company, Gene Richard, said he researched statute and previous case law suggesting that the town could not legally place such a restriction on the license. He noted that the town would be requiring this exclusively of Hannaford and not any other organization requesting a beer and wine license.

“We hope that the process in that last transfer does not overshadow the rest of the long history of Hannaford’s as a licensee and a business in Dracut,” Richard said. “So that said, I submit that Hannaford is a qualified applicant, that the premises are appropriate, and I also reiterate that Hannaford has no intent to not use this license.”

Several board members indicated they would have preferred to add the stipulation, but ultimately the board voted unanimously to grant the beer and wine license.

“I’m not happy about it that we can’t put a condition on it, but as we talked about at the last special permit submittal, the lawsuits are stacking up. I hate to say it, it’s clear as day,” Forcier said. “We deny this, we’re going back to court.”

Other actions the board took Tuesday include:

  • Voted to reduce the quorum for Tuesday’s Town Meeting to 100 residents
  • Voted to grant a common victualler’s license to ECUA Brothers Restaurant LLC, which is slated to open at 22 Pleasant St.
  • Approved a conservation restriction from Fox Run II to the Dracut Land Trust
  • Voted to renew a special permit for SBA Communications on Silva Lane
  • Accepted a donation made to the Dracut Police Department
  • Reviewed and voted on the warrant articles for Town Meeting