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Saugus

Former Hilltop Steakhouse site could be sold soon

The Hilltop Steakhouse on Route 1 south prior to its closing in 2013.
The Hilltop Steakhouse on Route 1 south prior to its closing in 2013.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff file

A national real estate firm has a tentative agreement to purchase the former Hilltop Steakhouse site on Route 1 in Saugus for a mixed-use development that could include housing and retail.

AvalonBay Communities has the 14-acre site under contract with High Country Investor, Inc., the property owner, according to a letter to the Saugus Board of Selectmen from Michael J. Roberts, senior vice president of AvalonBay.

The letter, read to the board at its May 25 meeting by High Country Investor chief financial officer Dennis January, said AvalonBay is completing its “due diligence” under the contract while “working on potential development concepts for the site.”

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“These concepts are anticipated to include a residential use in the rear of the site and retail in the front of the site,” the letter said. “We anticipate using the current liquor license held by High Country Investor, Inc., in the retail portion of the site.”

The Hilltop, a Route 1 landmark known for its thick, juicy steaks, a 68-foot-tall neon cactus sign, and a herd of fiberglass cows, closed in October 2013 after 52 years in business. The restaurant, which in the 1970s and 1980s served more than 20,000 customers a week, was demolished in April 2015.

Only the cactus remains standing at the site.

High Country Investor acquired the business in 1988 from the late Frank Giuffrida, a butcher who started the restaurant in 1961.

A spokesperson for Virginia-based AvalonBay said the company would not offer any comment beyond the letter.

January was accompanied at the selectmen’s’ meeting by Peter A. Rossetti Jr., the attorney for High Country Investor. Rossetti, who is also chairman of the Saugus Planning Board and a former selectman, said he could not comment on any sales price that has been discussed in the contract negotiations.

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Saugus Town manager Scott Crabtree said the town last year adopted zoning changes encouraging mixed-use development on Route 1. He said the intent was to generate new revenue by attracting sustainable smart growth.

“I think what AvalonBay is looking at is exciting for the town and we look forward to working with them on their potential proposal for redevelopment of the site,” said Crabtree.

“For the town, it’s better having something being taxed at its highest and best level,” Rossetti said of the potential development.

AvalonBay acquires, develops, and manages apartment communities in 10 states and the District of Columbia, according to its website. The firm currently owns or has an interest in 282 apartment communities, including 39 in Massachusetts.

The 14-acre Hilltop site after the restaurant was demolished in 2015.
The 14-acre Hilltop site after the restaurant was demolished in 2015. Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff file

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.