North Reading's Select Board may purchase a popular turkey farm off the busy Concord Street thoroughfare by Park Street.
In late December, Seven Acres Farm owner Paul Magliozzi reportedly notified town officials that he intends to sell the 14-acre farm, which has for decades been a favorite spot for families to buy locally-sourced Thanksgiving Day turkeys and other poultry products like fresh eggs.
So far, North Reading officials have acknowledged meeting in executive session to consider exercising the community's rights of first refusal in regards to land sale. To date, few details have emerged regarding the identify of the would-be private buyer or the future development plans for the site.
During a meeting in mid-January, Select Board Chair Kathryn Manupelli promised the general public would be given an opportunity to comment on the potential acquisition. At the time, the chairwoman explained that both sides were working out questions about the adequacy of the purchase-and-sales notice submitted to the town by Magliozzi.
"Just to give a quick and brief summary, the town has, for any land that has been classified as farmland, the right of first refusal. We have discussed that and for legal reasons can't discuss it more broadly," she said.
"To let the town know, there will be further public hearings on that, so people can come and talk to the board. The reason we have to discuss it now is because there is a very, very small window to [exercise our rights]," the Select Board leader added.
Because sites like the poultry farm enjoy significant real estate tax breaks, state law grants municipalities the right of first refusal if such properties are later slated for sale for non-agricultural purposes. Under that statute, known as Mass. General Law Chapter 61A, the community has 120-days to exercise its rights.
There is some question as to whether that clock has officially started for the Seven Acres Farm site, as North Reading officials believe the initial sales notification failed to meet legal criteria. The Select Board is expected to raise the matter during a meeting this week, when a vote could potentially be taken regarding the acquisition.
"There's an issue with the notice-to-sell that we received. So we'll be sending a deficiency notice," said Manupelli during a Town Hall meeting earlier this month. "Nevertheless, we do expect that to be corrected and to move forward with the public hearing process."
Dating back more than 80 years, the Seven Acres poultry farm was founded by Magliozzi's parents back in 1938. Situated relatively close to I-93, not to mention the Route 28 thoroughfare, the agricultural business has long flourished by selling a number of chicken and turkey products directly to the public from a small retail store attached to the family homestead.
As many surrounding communities have lost their last functioning farms, Seven Acres has become a popular destination, particularly during the Thanskgiving and Christmas season as families looked to buy local turkeys.
According to area media outlets, which often ran special feature stories on the North Reading farm, the Magliozzi family raised as many as 3,000 birds each year. A number of fresh vegetables were also grown and sold from the Concord Street site.
The closure of the Seven Acres Farm comes as a number of similar agricultural ventures have shut down operations over the past two decades. Those other historic farms have most often been slated for new housing developments after local officials declined to exercise their own rights to purchase the land.
Back in 2015, Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin announced the city would allow the city's old 46-acre Shannon Farm site off of Lexington Street to be developed after local developer Scott Seaver revealed he intended to purchase the site for $8.1 million.
Ultimately donating about 23-acres of that old farm back to the community — in exchange for the ability to erect a multi-unit housing project — the City Council in the spring of 2017 okayed a proposal to erect 147 townhomes on the West Side parcel.
Five years before the Shannon Farm site was slated for development, the owners of the 33-acre Spence Farm parcel off of Wyman Street in Woburn was also put up for sale. Ultimately, the land was carved up into several pieces, two of which subsequently became new housing sites.
The third 7.5-acre parcel, which long featured a popular farm stand, was bought by the city for $2.4 million. Initially using the farm stand land for recreational purposes and special events, Woburn later built a brand new Hurld-Wyman Elementary School on roughly half of the land.
A few years before Woburn bought the Spence Farm land, leaders in the Town of Winchester purchased the 20-acre Wright-Locke Farm for approximately $14 million in order to block a proposed 300-unit apartment complex.
Town leaders, noting the farm dated back to the 1800s, at first planned to sell about half of that land to a private developer for a smaller housing project, but in 2010, the would-be developer defaulted on an agreed-upon payment plan.
In 2015, Town Meeting, looking to recoup some of the money used to purchase the farm, authorized the lease of some 12.5 acres of land to a private conservancy group. That non-profit, opting to use the land again as a farm, has since opened an educational center on the grounds.
Stoneham has also learned that its last functioning agricultural site, Franklin Street's Weiss Farm, is to be sold off for a private apartment development containing nearly 300 units. That proposal, filed under the state's Chapter 40B or affordable housing regulations in 2015, remains tied up in a series of legal appeals.
Back in 2013, landowner Donna Weiss first revealed she had inked an agreement to sell the 26-acre site by the town's high school, which opened in 1928 as a dairy farm. At the time, Weiss explained that a series of private lawsuits and challenges to her business operations — which resulted in the family business losing its official agricultural designation — forced her to consider other financial options.
Ironically, Stoneham officials, who had helped convince the state to strip Weiss Farm's special agricultural status, lost control of their ability to block the controversial housing development by exercising its acquisition rights under MGL Chapter 61A.