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Newton could spend nearly $16 million to take Webster Woods from Boston College

Boston College bought the former Mishkan Tefila synagogue property in 2016. Now Newton’s mayor wants to acquire 17 acres of woodland behind the building by eminent domain.LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

If Newton moves ahead with an eminent domain taking of Webster Woods from Boston College, the city could spend nearly $16 million on the purchase and legal fees, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a statement Monday.

Boston College has opposed the taking, but Fuller said Monday the city must act to protect about 17 acres of undeveloped land acquired by the college three years ago.

“While the cost of preserving Webster Woods is significant, I know we must keep the woods pristine for future generations of Newton residents (and Boston College students),” Fuller said in Monday’s statement.

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In 2016, the college purchased a 25-acre site from Congregation Mishkan Tefila for $20 million. The land included the existing synagogue building and parking lots on about 8 acres, plus another 17.4 acres of undeveloped land known as Webster Woods.

The property is located amidst about 160 acres of publicly owned open space along Hammond Pond Parkway in Chestnut Hill.

While Boston College has not announced future plans for the property, Fuller said the taking is necessary because the college won’t guarantee the property will be left as is.

“Boston College, unfortunately, isn’t willing to commit to the permanent preservation of the woods so I’m moving forward with the purchase through an eminent domain process,” Fuller said.

On Monday, Fuller outlined the process for how Newton would proceed with taking the property from the college, which would be supported by community preservation funds. That money, which is funded by a property tax surcharge, can be used for open space preservation, affordable housing, and acquisition of historic and recreational land, she said.

“This use is exactly one of the areas the Community Preservation Act was designed to fund — preserving open space,” she said.

The city’s real estate appraiser valued the undeveloped 17.4 acres at $15.2 million, she said, and legal costs associated with the taking would be an estimated $740,000.

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A significant portion of the purchase price could be bonded over a 30-year period, she said, to allow the city’s community preservation program to have sufficient funding for other projects.

Some of that cost will be borne by donations, she said: A group of Newton residents has already contributed an estimated $200,000 toward the purchase of the property.

The taking of Webster Woods from Boston College would have to be approved by the Community Preservation Committee and the Newton City Council, she said.

The city would not seize about 8 acres of land that include the building and parking lots, she said.

Fuller will address the eminent domain taking of Webster Woods during Newton’s Community Preservation Committee scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers at Newton City Hall at 1000 Commonwealth Ave.

The Community Preservation Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6 in the City Council chambers.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.