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C-Mart appeals Quincy denial of grocery store, criticizes mayor

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  June 25, 2013 11:56 AM

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C-Mart owner Maio Kun “Michael” Fang has asked a Land Court judge to again overturn a City Council decision barring an Asian grocery store from North Quincy, saying the mayor improperly used his political power to influence the process.

In a strongly worded appeal dated June 24, Fang’s ask the court to require the permitting process be peformed without the involvement of Mayor Thomas Koch and the City Council.

“We believe that Michael Fang and C-Mart cannot get a fair hearing in the City Council because of the Mayor's ongoing interference in the Council's decision making process and the Council's inability to abide by the process laid out in the Remand Order,” said Steve Crawford, PR spokesman for Fang, in an e-mail. “We asked the Land Court to annul the Council's unreasonable decision and hear C-Mart's permit application itself, rather than returning the matter to the Council yet again.”

Mayoral spokesman Christopher Walker did not return a call for comment, and City Solicitor Jim Timmins said he had not yet read the allegations in the complaint.

Timmins was still confident that the city's process, though not flawless, was fair.

"I feel quite strongly that when you peel away all the political layers Mr. fang would plead were in play and imposed upon the process, the bottom line is the traffic is a difficult situation," Timmins said. "That’s what has to be looked at an analyzed."

The appeal falls in line with concerns expressed by some councilors throughout the permitting process.

"The prospect of having a Judge approve the permit, without mitigation, is concerning to me. The City is better off if local boards grant or deny permits, because local residents know the issues better than some Judge in Dedham," said Councilor Brian Palmucci in an email. Palmucci and two others voted in the minority to approve the project.

Palmucci has since filed legislation that would give the Planning Board the permitting power, rather than the city council.

"Having the council vote on these matters in which we have to be impartial arbiters is inconsistent with our role as community advocates. The law requires one thing while our council duties require another - its an impossible task," Palmucci said.

The appeal is only the most recent development in a four-year saga to bring a 25,000- square-foot store to the shuttered Boston Gear Works building in North Quincy.

In 2009, the Quincy City Council denied a slightly larger project. Fang soon appealed the decision in Land Court.

City officials and Fang agreed to redo the process, absent one member, to eliminate any bias. A remand order sent by the Land Court judge mandated more stringent rules for councilors to follow in the revised process.

Yet in the appeal, attorneys for Fang said, those rules weren’t followed.

“Unfortunately, the City violated both the letter and the spirit of the remand order,” the appeal states.

Among the problems, attorneys said the rules mandating traffic-related comments weren’t followed, and that critiques were not provided in writing and often weren’t based in concrete evidence.

Attorneys pointed to the testimony of Frank Tramontozzi, an appointee of the mayor, on May 20.

“C-Mart ... was not given any advance notice and was deprived of any reasonable opportunity to address Mr. Tramontozzi’s comments. To make matters worse, Mr. Tramontozzi addressed issues that had not been raised by any of the other traffic experts that the City had proffered,” the appeal states.

Testimony from Fire Chief Joseph Barron was also critiqued. Another appointee of the mayor, Barron submitted a letter asserting traffic concerns without providing any traffic analysis, attorneys said.

In early April, Koch also sent a letter to the City Council accusing individuals speaking at a public hearing process of being “representatives” of C-Mart.

In that instance, the mayor also cited traffic concerns without providing data to back up his assertions.

In all three instances, attorneys said, the mayor helped influence the process.

“The Mayor's use of his political muscle to thwart C-Mart's application violated the spirit of the remand order,” the appeal states. “The purpose of the Remand Order was to provide C-Mart with a fair chance to address traffic concerns and to ensure that the Council would maintain its focus on actual traffic data and analysis, and thereby avoid a situation where traffic would be used as mere cover for a decision that was based on raw politics or improper bias. That purpose was not fulfilled.”

The appeal goes on to suggest that the council is “incapable of providing C-Mart with a fair process,” and that the mayor “will pull out all of the political stops to ensure that the permit application is denied”.

The appeal asks the court to annul the council’s decision, and have the courts issue an appropriate permit.

Though the council’s denial mainly pointed to traffic as the reason for the rejection, and a number of neighbors against the project cited traffic concerns during a public hearing, proponents still say the project is feasible.

Mainly, when compared to other uses applicable within zoning regulations, a grocery store wouldn’t have a negative impact, the appeal said.

“[Traffic engineer] BSC’s presentation, and its report, demonstrate that the proposed project, with mitigation measures, would, in several respects, improve traffic conditions over what they would be if certain as-of-right uses were implemented without mitigation,” the appeal said.

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