SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 7, 2013

Pirie property developer has ties to Hamilton citizens group

HAMILTON — The company that is seeking to develop Aquila Farm is backing a campaign urging residents to vote against the town’s acquisition of the property.

UpperCross Development Group, which wants to build six homes on the 86-acre farm, has attended some of the group’s meetings and paid to register the domain name of the group’s website, SaveHamilton.org.

Jeff Stinson, a former selectman who supports the town’s purchase of the property, said a developer with a financial interest in the property should not be trying to influence voters.

“No matter what our opinion is — and there are good perspectives on both sides — let’s have the discussion as a community and a town over the facts,” Stinson said. “Let’s not let some outside heavyweight super PAC affect our decision here.”

SaveHamilton.org member Harold Lichten acknowledged that UpperCross Development has attended the group’s meetings and registered its website domain name. But he disputed the contention that SaveHamilton.org is a front group for the developer.

“That’s such a piece of hogwash,” Lichten said. “It’s an entirely grass-roots organization. Sure, the developer has interest in it, and we’re happy to receive help from anybody, but we run the organization.”

Lichten said the citizens group started with about 30 members, all residents of the town, and has grown since. He provided an email list with more than 50 names of people he said are members of the group.

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.

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

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