A state Appeals Court justice ruled on Monday against a group of Ipswich residents battling to prevent the sale of a seaside cottage community currently held by a Colonial-era trust set up to benefit the town’s public schools.
Justice Peter Agnes denied the residents’ appeal to stop the sale of the 26-acre parcel known as Little Neck for $32.5 million, and to allow them standing in the case that focuses on the dying wishes of William Paine, a wealthy English settler and merchant.
In a 22-page ruling, Agnes wrote that the group of more than a dozen citizens did not speak for all of the 13,175 residents of the North Shore town, and that only the Ipswich School Committee has the “legal right . . . [to] protect the interest of the beneficiary,’’ the Ipswich schools. Paine’s will, written in 1660, stated that Little Neck should never be sold and that rents collected from the land be set into a trust to benefit Ipswich schoolchildren.
In December, an Essex Probate Court judge approved a settlement, allowing the land to be sold to 167 cottage owners for $32.5 million, with the money put into a new investment trust for Ipswich schools. Douglas DeAngelis, an Ipswich resident who is among the more than a dozen residents who filed the appeal, said they are disappointed in Agnes’s ruling.
“William Payne’s [sic] will clearly states that the land should not be sold or wasted,’’ DeAngelis said in a statement. “We maintain that the proposed settlement manages to do both . . . We are the only party left to advocate that Payne’s dying wish be fully respected and fully executed for the maximum benefit of current and future generations of Ipswich schoolchildren.’’
The citizens had argued that approval of the sale by the School Committee and the state attorney general’s office violated the terms of Paine’s will.
But Agnes wrote that approval of the settlement by those two entities was “fair, reasonable and prudent.’’
A spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley said the settlement will safeguard Paine’s trust and “will restore a much-needed revenue stream for the Ipswich schools.’’
DeAngelis said the group will have its lawyers study the decision before deciding whether to appeal Agnes’s decision to the full Appeals Court. William Sheehan, a lawyer who represented the Little Neck trustees, said Monday he is prepared to defend the settlement if more appeals are filed.
“We can’t prevent them from doing what they are lawfully able to do,’’ Sheehan said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, it costs a lot of money to keep appealing. That’s money that could go to the schools.’’
Jeffrey Loeb, chairman of the Ipswich School Committee, said he hopes the appeals cease, if only to stop a bitter dispute that has divided the town.
“I’m hopeful that this will bring an end to the fighting and get us all back focusing on what we all believe in, our public schools,’’ he said.