BRIDGEWATER - State Representative Angelo D’Emilia is suing Bridgewater, his hometown, and one of his constituent communities over a piece of property he wants to develop but which many local officials and residents prefer to protect.
The Bridgewater Republican says he is taking court action as a longtime developer, separate from his role as state representative. But many townspeople don’t see it that way.
At issue are 143 acres off Cherry Street known as Child’s Bridge Farm, currently owned by the Perkins family under the Calthrop Trust. D’Emilia, who has been negotiating a deal with the trust since 2003, signed a purchase-and-sale agreement on the property for $3.5 million last summer, and he already has permits in hand for a 97-home subdivision.
Because the property enjoyed tax breaks for its agricultural classification, the town had the legal right of first refusal for the land. The Town Council voted in October - one day before the deadline for a decision - to buy the parcel, and D’Emilia is crying foul.
The closing date between the town and the trust was set for March 5, but D’Emilia’s attorneys went to Superior Court in Brockton the same day for an injunction to block the sale. The town and the trust agreed to postpone the closing until March 19 rather than argue the injunction in court, hoping some accord can first be reached. The judge continued the case to March 19.
In his lawsuit, D’Emilia says he has sunk “hundreds of thousands of dollars’’ into his proposed project. He argues the town had been given several extensions on the land purchase and hadn’t met mandated deadlines, and therefore has forfeited its right of first refusal. He asks the court to order the trustees to follow through with the deal they made with him.
D’Emilia also argues the town was given an unfair advantage in its purchase because Calthrop Trust member Faelton Perkins agreed to credit Bridgewater with $800,000, his share of the sale proceeds, toward the town’s cost. While D’Emilia’s deal requires $3.5 million, the town would only have to come up with $2.7 million.
“Under right of first refusal, the town basically gets to step into Mr. D’Emilia’s shoes, but he would never have been offered the $800,000 credit,’’ said D’Emilia’s lawyer, Jeffrey Tocchio. “For the purchase-and-sale agreement, the town makes it look like it’s $3.5 million, but it’s not $3.5 million. This is a ruse and flat-out fiction. No one can look at this and say the town and Mr. D’Emilia have the same deal.’’
But some people in town said they found D’Emilia’s lawsuit offensive.
“The town has right of first refusal, and it has cobbled together the money for the purchase,’’ said resident Bruce Langlan. “Now he’s suing the town he represents? It’s despicable. What’s even more amazing is he’s suing a 91-year-old guy who wants to give $800,000 to the town so they can buy the land.’’
Resident Carlton Hunt said he understands the “business aspects’’ of D’Emilia’s actions but believes the decision will have long-term ramifications for the legislator.
“I’m very much disappointed he would go to this extent,’’ Hunt said. “Personally, I think he’s risking his political career.’’
Hunt said he believes Bridgewater officials acted properly in the purchase. “The process has been very proper and open,’’ he said. “The town followed all the procedures they could think of.’’
Town Manager Troy Clarkson, who initially advised the Town Council against the purchase for budgetary reasons, said he is confident Bridgewater will prevail in court. “When the judge reviews it, he’ll find the Town Council acted properly,’’ he said.
Town Council members declined to comment, saying the issue is in litigation.
Perkins said he had not received details of the lawsuit. “I have no comment at the moment, since I haven’t received anything definitive yet,’’ he said.
In the suit, D’Emilia seeks damages from Perkins, saying the 91-year-old had a “fiduciary duty’’ to his fellow trustees to further the deal between D’Emilia and the trust. Instead Perkins “violated that duty by acting to frustrate [D’Emilia’s] purchase and sale rights.’’
D’Emilia, meanwhile, says his role as a developer should be seen as separate from his role as state representative.
“This is an extremely difficult situation, and it was nothing I wanted to do,’’ he said about suing his town.
“I have business partners and investors who have been involved in this since 2003. I had no choice in the matter,’’ he said. “The decision was pretty much taken out of my hands.’’