CHARLTON – Three residents have filed a complaint in Worcester Superior Court alleging the Board of Selectmen violated state laws by, in part, concealing its negotiations with a large-scale marijuana business seeking to locate at Charlton Orchards.

Residents have been fighting Valley Green Grow's plan to construct a $100 million marijuana cultivation, sales and research center on the 94-acre orchard at 44 Old Worcester Road, owned by the Benjamin family.

Selectmen approved host and development agreements with the North Andover company on May 15 and upheld that vote on June 19.

If the project goes as planned, it could grow to be the largest such operation in the state, and possibly the country.

Selectmen John P. McGrath, Karen A. Spiewak, Joseph J. Szafarowicz, David M. Singer and Deborah B. Noble are defendants in the lawsuit filed on July 5 by Gerard F. Russell, Brett W. Moore and Barbara Moore.

According to a press release the plaintiffs issued Tuesday, a Superior Court hearing is set for July 19.

“Good and transparent government was corrupted, and approval of the amendment was tainted as a result of the selectmen’s development agreement that promised favorable zoning treatment to VGG in exchange for payment,” the plaintiffs said in the press release. “Moreover, the withholding of facts that they should have disclosed to Town Meeting voters before the vote was taken on Article 27 violated the public trust.”

The complaint asks the court to determine selectmen intentionally violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to properly notify residents of the full nature of their May 15 meeting; rule they violated state law by timing a vote on the agreement before an anticipated zoning change; nullify the board’s May 15 vote that approved the host and development agreements, and nullify the May 21 town meeting vote on Article 27 that set zoning and regulations for marijuana businesses.

The complaint alleges the posted agenda for the May 15 selectmen’s meeting was not sufficiently specific to inform the public of the issues to be discussed and decided.

Mr. Russell filed a state Open Meeting Law complaint with the town clerk and state attorney general’s office on May 31 stating that the meeting notice should have made clear that the board was considering agreements with Valley Green Grow.

In her written response June 20, Town Administrator Robin L. Craver disagreed with his accusation.

“The Board of Selectmen does not believe the May 15th posting was inadequate given it identified the property address under consideration as well as the documents the board was addressing, namely, a host agreement, non-opposition letter and land development agreement,” Ms. Craver wrote.

The residents also allege selectmen violated state law by approving the agreements in exchange for payments to the town; timed the approval so the project would be exempt from marijuana zoning regulations residents were about to consider at town meeting, and allowed public officials to make false statements at town meeting, without correction, to persuade people to vote favorably on the marijuana zoning.

Selectmen are expected to respond to a citizens’ petition to reconsider the May 21 town meeting vote on Article 27 by setting a special town meeting for Aug. 1.

The complaint also challenges the opinion given by Zoning Enforcement Officer Curtis J. Meskus that cannabis cultivation is a permitted use on the portion of Charlton Orchards land that is zoned for agriculture.

Gerard Russell, assistant managing editor of the Telegram & Gazette, has recused himself from any involvement with this news story.