SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 12, 2013

Town rejects buying land

481 residents vote against Pirie proposal, 391 in favor of it

HAMILTON — Town Meeting voters last night overwhelmingly rejected a $4 million proposal to buy the 86-acre Aquila Farm.

Town officials proposed plans to use the land for conservation, public horseback riding and hiking trails, sports fields and to sell a portion to a developer to build a cluster of cottage-style homes, duplexes or senior apartments.

But the motion at last night’s packed Special Town Meeting failed with 481 residents voting against the proposal and 391 voting in favor. The purchase required a two-thirds vote but didn’t even carry a simple majority. A total of 869 voted, about 15 percent of the town’s registered voters.

The town had the right of first refusal to buy the property because of an agricultural designation that has allowed it to be taxed at a lower rate.

UpperCross Development has an agreement to buy Aquila Farm from owner Deirdre Pirie for $4 million. The company plans to subdivide the property into six large, equestrian-themed homes, with open space that would remain private.

Selectman Scott Maddern said using 14 acres of the land for mixed-use housing could bring in an estimated $500,000 to $525,000 in increased tax revenue to the town, while the plan by UpperCross would bring in about $170,000.

He said that there were no set plans for the property and more work would have to be done if the town decided to buy the land.

“There are valuable opportunities we can seize for the town,” he said, noting that the proposal addresses many of the needs of the town brought up in the master plan and housing production plan.

The Finance and Advisory Committee supported the town’s bid to buy the land at last night’s meeting.

Supporters at the meeting contended that the plan would help lower the town’s tax rate, provide more affordable housing and open up the land to public use.

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