, Salem, MA

Local News

June 11, 2013

Town Meeting votes tonight on buying Pirie land

HAMILTON — Controversy over whether the town should buy the 86-acre Aquila Farm for $4 million has heated up over the past few weeks. Tonight, Town Meeting voters will make their decision.

Special Town Meeting begins at 7:30 tonight in the Winthrop School cafeteria. The purchase will require a two-thirds majority to pass.

UpperCross Development, a Boston real estate development firm, 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.

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

Town Moderator Bruce Ramsey has made the decision to have the vote taken by ballot at the meeting. He said this will be the most effective way to get an accurate vote with the large turnout expected.

Conceptual plans call for the town to sell a portion of the property to a developer to build a cluster of cottage-style homes, duplexes or senior apartments, with the rest of the property used for conservation, public horseback riding and hiking trails, and sports fields.

Supporters say the plan would help lower the town’s tax rate, provide more affordable housing and open up the land to public use. Opponents say it’s a risky financial deal with taxpayer money, and it would create traffic problems and interfere with equestrian trails.

Ann Minois, a resident of Moulton Street who opposes the plan, said yesterday that the town shouldn’t be in the real estate business with taxpayer money. She is concerned about “lack of specificity” about the costs associated with the purchase, as well as the impact on the school system in a relatively short amount of time, she said.

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