Almost ten months after the initial lawsuits between Green Mountain Fireworks and the town of Colchester began, the two cases are coming to a close.
The court granted the town of Colchester’s motions to dismiss both cases with Green Mountain Fireworks (GMF) and owner Matthew Lavigne that had been in play. Now, GMF has 30 days to appeal both decisions. GMF’s lawyer, John Franco, believes the fireworks business will do so.
Last summer, GMF and Lavigne became embroiled in several lawsuits against the town, one of which was a request for a preliminary injunction, so the business could continue selling fireworks through the Fourth of July, the biggest holiday of the year for GMF.
The court denied the motion, as well as the town’s motion to dismiss the case. Lavigne appealed the town’s denial of his application for a permit to sell fireworks in July. Finally, on February 19, superior court judge Helen Toor dismissed the Lavigne vs. the Town of Colchester case, stating the court found no basis to reverse the Colchester selectboard’s decision to deny Lavigne the permit.
After a status conference on March 18, Toor also issued a judgement on the Green Mountain Fireworks vs. the Town of Colchester case, dismissing the case.
Lavigne and Green Mountain Fireworks have 30 days to appeal the two decisions, which Franco thinks will happen, saying there are still unresolved issues between the town and business.
“We think whether fireworks sales were allowed is amply covered by the planning act and it needs to be addressed in the zoning,” Franco explained. “[GMF] got their zoning permit so we think that satisfies the statute.”
“What the town of Colchester did was totally out in left field and not at all in keeping with the statute remotely or with due process,” he continued. “They basically improvised something that didn’t govern the display of fireworks.”
Green Mountain Fireworks began operating the Macrae Road storefront last year after working out of large tents in St. Albans in 2016 and in Milton in 2017.
A few weeks after the Colchester location opened, police cited the business for the illegal sale of fireworks, with then-police Chief Jennifer Morrison explaining that a building permit and a certificate of occupancy from the town do not constitute the proper permits required for fireworks, which cannot be sold without a town permit as well as one from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
“Planning and zoning does not regulate what businesses can sell,” the chief wrote. “Mr. Lavigne and Ms. Proffitt-Higgins have been advised that these permits do not constitute a municipal permit to sell fireworks.”
But Lavigne argued the town was misapplying the laws after the fact, claiming he was told he had all the proper permits by the planning and zoning office when he was preparing to open shop.
In response, he filed a civil lawsuit against the town and its police department, claiming municipal officials damaged his business by obstructing potential sales to customers. But a judge shot down GMF’s request to prevent further interference with its business and inventory, forcing the business to miss out on selling fireworks around the Fourth of July holiday.
At the time of the citation, Colchester PD said officers had responded to 16 calls about fireworks between May 1 and June 4, compared to six cases during the same time period in 2017. Morrison said her counterparts in St. Albans and Milton had reported the same problems.