By Bethany Bray STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — IPSWICH — It seems the fight over the sale of Little Neck has come to an end.
The Ipswich Citizens for Public Trust announced this week that it will drop its appeal, a struggle that the group has poured countless hours into.
The 35-acre Little Neck peninsula was placed in a trust in 1660 and managed by trustees to benefit the Ipswich Public Schools. The trustees, known as the Feoffees, sold the land to Little Neck residents for $31.4 million on Aug. 10.
The sale netted $25 million for a new investment trust that will continue to benefit the schools.
The citizens group opposed the deal, saying the trust should not have been broken and the schools will get less money than if the trust had been preserved and properly managed.
In a statement released Tuesday, the group said it “reluctantly” made the decision to withdraw its appeal after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied the group’s request to hear its case last week.
“While we hate to let down the many people in Ipswich and around the country who have supported our cause, as a practical matter, pursuing the case further before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals is unlikely to achieve a different result,” the statement read. “The SJC was the court in the best position to protect the public interest and reach the merits of this case.”
The group also faulted the attorney general’s office for failing to take action against the Feoffees, despite the office finding — twice, in 2001 and 2002 — that the Feoffees were mismanaging the trust. The group claim that the attorney general’s lack of action led to tenant disputes on Little Neck, which the court cited as the reason to breach the 17th-century trust and sell the land.
“Anyone thinking about donating land or property for charitable purposes in Massachusetts should now think twice in light of the Little Neck case,” the group wrote. “It is clear the attorney general cannot be counted upon to uphold the intentions of donors and testators.”
Last week, the SJC did not make any statement about the Little Neck case other than to say that the group’s application was denied.
After the sale of Little Neck, the original Feoffees were replaced by a public board. The so-called “New Feoffees” made their first payment to the Ipswich Public Schools in September.
Little Neck was sold for a gross amount of $31.4 million; the New Feoffees ended up with roughly $24.9 million in assets after the sale went through.
The School Committee set the New Feoffees’ first payment of $800,340 aside while the Ipswich Citizens for Public Trust’s appeal lingered in court.
“We’re thankful and heartened that the interveners (the Citizens for Public Trust) chose not to pursue their lawsuit,” School Committee Chairman Hugh O’Flynn said in a message to The Salem News yesterday. “This gives the School Committee the opportunity to use the roughly $25.5 million for the good of the kids of Ipswich as soon as possible.
“We’re also hoping community can heal, now that the lawsuit has finished,” he said.
O’Flynn said yesterday that the School Committee is forming a plan for the “appropriate use” of the Little Neck funds.
The Ipswich Citizens for Public Trust filed an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief last winter when the sale of Little Neck was before the Probate Court.
In spring 2011, the group was also behind a citizen’s petition that led state Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, and state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to file a bill to replace the Feoffees with a public board.
The group’s effort to change the makeup of the Feoffees and their appeal of the sale of Little Neck were supported by a majority of residents at Town Meeting.
Doug DeAngelis, one of the members of the Ipswich Citizens for Public Trust to sign Tuesday’s statement, declined to be interviewed yesterday but sent a comment to the Salem News via email:
“As the parent of a child who has just entered the Ipswich school system, it is devastating to be denied the chance to be heard by the SJC on the merits of this case,” DeAngelis wrote. “Further, as a longtime board member and supporter of land trust organizations, the idea that all that is needed to brush aside the legacy of a donor is a frivolous lawsuit, conflicted trustees and a weak attorney general does not bode well for the ability to uphold land conservation restrictions in the future.”
The full statement from the Ipswich Citizens for Public Trust is posted at www.ipswichtrust.org.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.