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Battle in Ipswich over Little Neck comes to an end

After a group of Ipswich residents announced it would give up its legal challenge of the Little Neck property sale, School Committee chairman Hugh O’Flynn expressed the hope that it would put the conflict to rest.

“We’re neighbors and friends, and this has been a hard issue,” O’Flynn said. “It has been a divisive issue for a long time.”

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The residents — who called themselves Ipswich Citizens for Public Trust and also the Little Neck Interveners — said Tuesday they were dropping the challenge after the Supreme Judicial Court denied a petition for direct appellate review.

“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,” read the residents’ statement, which has 14 cosigners.

In August, the 27-acre property was sold for $31.4 million to 166 cottage owners, dissolving one of the nation’s oldest land trusts.

It was established in accordance with the 1660 will of William Paine, who asked that the land never be sold, and that the rents collected from its use should be placed into a trust to benefit the Ipswich public schools.

The sale was part of a settlement between the Little Neck tenants and the Feoffees of the Ipswich Grammar School, a board charged with managing the land. The two parties had been in court since 2006, with the tenants — who own the cottages but not the land — arguing that their rents were prohibitive.

The settlement was approved in late 2011 by Probate Court Judge Mary Ann Sahagian and the state attorney general’s office, which oversees charitable trusts.

It was challenged by the group of residents, but various legal motions were unsuccessful.

“We made this decision reluctantly because no court in Massachusetts has actually examined the facts of this case or made a reasoned legal decision on the validity of breaking Mr. Paine’s will after 352 years,” reads the statement. “To the contrary, we have been denied an opportunity to argue this case on its merits.”

“I appreciate that they’ve made a hard decision, but nonetheless it was the correct one both for themselves and the community at large,” said Mark DiSalvo, a trustee for the residents’ association.

Town Meeting recorded a 500-84 vote to oppose the agreement in May, and O’Flynn and others have cited it as a factor in the defeat of some incumbents in this year’s town election.

Under terms of the sale, the schools will receive $25.5 million, with payments of $800,000 for three years (including the current fiscal year).

The rest will be put in an investment trust, which DiSalvo said will yield a better return than the town would receive from the real estate.

O’Flynn noted that because rents were kept relatively low, so was the benefit paid to the schools until community pressure in the early 2000s. He said the schools are currently developing a policy on how best to spend the money, which he says will invigorate the school district.

“I think we’ll do a good enough job with it that everybody will be satisfied in the end,” O’Flynn said.

David Rattigan may be reached at Drattigan.Globe @gmail.com.
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