Hadley nearing settlement over campers dispute along Connecticut River

Hadley Town Hall

Hadley Town Hall FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-24-2024 2:15 PM

HADLEY — A Land Court lawsuit in which a Holyoke resident is seeking to overturn a Zoning Board of Appeals decision preventing him from parking five campers at a long-used campsite along the Connecticut River appears to be nearing a resolution that would lead to dismissal of the litigation.

In a mid-February filing, attorney Mark Justin Esposito of Schatz, Schwartz and Fentin PC in Northampton wrote that the town and his client, Mark Britton, have come to a settlement agreement allowing for the litigation to be stayed until May 15, with unspecified action at the municipal level to take place by that time.

“The parties are jointly requesting that this matter be stayed for at least 90 days to allow that further action to occur,” Esposito wrote. “It is our hope and expectation that the final step will then be to stipulate to the dismissal of this litigation.”

The Select Board and Zoning Board of Appeals met in executive session in late January.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Britton on Sept. 10, 2021, following a July 12, 2021 decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals that denied him a variance from the front and side setback requirements for recreational vehicles, preventing him from placing the five campers at the 93 Cemetery Road location he has been using for 20 or more years.

The vote was 2-1 in favor of the variance, with the campers to be just 10 feet from the road and 12.5 feet from a neighboring cornfield. But the vote by the ZBA members had to be unanimous for approval because the application was for a special permit.

According to the complaint, the written decision, filed in August 2021, “fails to include adequate findings, is arbitrary and capricious and not based on acceptable findings.”

In addition to demanding that the variance be granted, the lawsuit contends that Britton’s property should not be subject to bylaw revisions made at an annual Town Meeting. Those changes included assessing each campsite $100 every three years, and requiring 2,500 square feet for each site and 25 feet of space between each recreational vehicle, though more than one camper could still be parked on a property.

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The lawsuit also states that the revised bylaw infringes on state Department of Environmental Protection’s statutory authority over wetlands and waterways regulations, that recreational vehicles aren’t subject to town building regulations, and that the revised bylaw was not properly adopted by the town voters, since what was approved at Town Meeting differed from what was presented at a Planning Board public hearing.

The issues with campers along the river stem from the town forming the River Bylaw Committee to bring the town’s 1987 flood overlay district bylaw into conformance with updated Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations. That led to the recommended bylaw changes from the Planning Board.

Meanwhile, in August 2021, Britton won a favorable decision from the regional office of the Department of Environmental Protection, after the Conservation Commission, in response to his filing a notice of intent and request for determination, ruled that only two campers could be parked on the site. The state agency overruled that local decision with a superseding order of conditions, determining that the campers were not altering the land and could be moved should there be flooding. In this, the state found that lawn and landscaped areas existed before Britton’s purchase of the site in 2013 and likely before the promulgation of the Wetlands Protection Act.