SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 20, 2013

Estates expected to get 'agricultural' tax breaks

HAMILTON — A developer is expected to move forward with plans to buy the 86-acre Aquila Farm on Bay Road for six large, equestrian-themed homes after residents last week rejected the town’s proposal to buy the property.

While the properties will be marketed as “large estate parcels,” much of the land is expected to continue to receive property tax breaks for its “agricultural and equestrian nature,” according to UpperCross Development, the company that has an agreement to buy the farm from owner Deirdre Pirie for $4 million.

The town had the right of first refusal to buy the property because of its agricultural designation, which had allowed it to be taxed at a lower rate under state law. But Town Meeting voters rejected the proposal to purchase, 481 votes to 391. The vote required a two-thirds majority.

Approximately 70 percent of the current property is expected to remain under Chapter 61A, the agricultural designation, according to a letter from James Kroesser, an attorney representing UpperCross, sent to selectmen in April.

While the tax rate remains the same under Chapter 61A, the assessed value of the land is reduced at a calculated rate, creating the tax discount. Homes continue to be assessed like any other property.

Kroesser said that 10 to 12 acres will be used to build the new homes, making them no longer eligible for Chapter 61A designation. The rest of the property will remain as agricultural.

“In every way possible, UpperCross intends to preserve the agricultural and equestrian nature of the property,” he wrote.

In order to qualify for Chapter 61A, property owners must have at least 5 acres that are “actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural uses,” according to state law. The law defines “actively devoted” as producing $500 gross income coming from products from the land or animals on the property.

“If you cut down a tree and sell it for $500, it will count,” said Selectman Marc Johnson, who strongly supported the town’s purchase of the land.

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