We are moving closer to permanently protecting Webster Woods. Votes by the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) and the City Council to approve the acquisition are expected by the end of this year.
Preserving Webster Woods for Newton in perpetuity is essential. The 17.4 acres of pristine woods off Hammond Pond Parkway lie in the middle of Newton’s largest forest, with 80-plus acres on the west side alone.
As the process for acquiring this parcel from Boston College through eminent domain proceeds, I want to keep everyone updated and try to answer some of the questions we’ve been hearing from residents.
Why didn’t the City buy the land when it was for sale?
Boston College bought the woods, along with the former Temple Mishkan Tefila building and parking lots, in 2016. While I can’t speak for the previous Administration, I have always been committed to preserving the woods. As Mayor, I made it a priority. Rather than looking back to 2016, I am looking forward to Newton’s needs now and in the centuries to come.
For 18 months, I held conversations with Boston College officials about our desire to permanently preserve Webster Woods. In spite of our best efforts to achieve a mutually agreeable solution, including an offer by the City to buy the undeveloped woods portion of the property at fair market value, we were unsuccessful at finding common ground. Boston College would not commit to permanently preserving the woods, so, in the end, my only choice was to proceed with an eminent domain action. This was our only way forward for acquiring the 17.4 acres of undeveloped wooded land surrounding the buildings and parking lots at 300 Hammond Pond Parkway.
The City is not disrupting or acquiring any portion of the developed buildings and parking lots that Boston College is using now. We are acquiring only the unused woods at the rear of the property that knit together over 88 acres of undisturbed forest land. Boston College will retain ownership of approximately eight acres that include the former temple, the existing parking lots. and the access road.
How was the acquisition price determined?
An independent, professional appraisal determined the current market value of the 17.4 acres of land to be $15.2 million.
Once the CPA and City Council vote, the order of taking will be filed; at that point, the City will own the property. We will then cut a check to Boston College. After that, any future legal proceedings about the land’s value will be focused on the value on the date the order of taking was filed.
What is the source of the funding?
We applied with the Conservation Commission to the Community Preservation Committee for monies from the Community Preservation Act open space reserve to pay for the acquisition and associated costs. The amount will be bonded, and the bonds will be paid over 30 years. This will leave CPC funds available to invest in other important priorities for Newton.
By state law, CPA funding can be used only for four specific uses: land preservation, affordable housing, historic preservation, or complete renovations of outdoor recreation facilities. In other words, CPA funds cannot be used for such areas as augmenting the City or School operating budgets, on salaries for teachers, or for routine field maintenance.
What about legal costs?
Any land acquisition requires legal costs as well as professional costs for appraisals, surveys, etc. We also anticipate Boston College will challenge our decision to take the land by eminent domain and the appraised value we are offering. We have included $740,000 for professional services, outside counsel and expert witnesses needed for litigation in our request for CPA funding. (The legal and associated costs may ultimately be higher than $740,000.)
Has this action damaged Newton’s relationship with BC?
Boston College continues to be an important part of the fabric of Newton. They have my respect. They will continue to be my partner. This is just one area where we disagree. I will continue to collaborate with Boston College on a wide range of issues.
By Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller. For more information on Webster Woods issues, see https://newtonconservators.org/
Headline photo by Ken and Margaret Mallory