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THE ARGUMENT

Should Newton take Webster Woods from Boston College by eminent domain?

Ken Kimmell
Ken Kimmell

YES

Ken Kimmell

Newton resident; co-chair of the Friends of Webster Woods; former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

Under the forward-thinking leadership of Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, the city of Newton has proposed to acquire by eminent domain a 17-acre wooded parcel in the heart of Webster Woods, Newton’s largest contiguous forest and open space area. This acquisition is essential to preserve the unique conservation and recreational value of these woods, and the public investment in the woods surrounding this parcel.

If we don’t act now, we will almost certainly regret it. The current owner, Boston College, has the right to develop this wooded land, and that potentially could mean cutting down thousands of trees, blasting and leveling hills, and paving the woods over.

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To be very clear: BC has made no commitment whatsoever to preserve the woods intact.

As a large forest accessible by the T in the Boston Metro area, Webster Woods is a unique resource for the whole region. Every year, for instance, hundreds of college students visit them to learn basic ecological principles; for some it’s their first outdoors research experience. These are the environmentalists and climate-change scientists of tomorrow. When you enter the Webster Woods, you feel the deeply steadying rhythms of the natural world and remember why it is critical to save what is left of it. These beautiful acres include an environmentally sensitive vernal pool vital to wildlife and fragile ecosystems.

It is no wonder that this parcel has been at the top of Newton’s open space priority list for years; it is exactly the type of acquisition that Newton voters wanted to fund when they endorsed a small surcharge on their real estate bills.

Some claim that this purchase is too expensive, and city funds should be spent on other needs. But the money for this purchase will come from the Community Preservation Act Fund, which can only be used for open space, affordable housing, recreation, and historic preservation.

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Some also claim that Newton should have bought the land a few years ago. It is unfortunate the city didn’t act then, but future generations will hold us accountable if we do not act now and seize the chance to protect this precious, irreplaceable Newton resource. Regrets don’t matter; the woods do.

Thomas J. Keady
Thomas J. KeadyLee Pellegrini

NO

Thomas J. Keady

Boston College Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s proposal to seize by eminent domain 17 acres of Boston College’s property at 300 Hammond Pond Parkway in Newton is troubling and ill-advised for a variety of reasons.

The city of Newton could have acquired this property in 2014-2015 when Congregation Mishkan Tefila approached local officials about buying their land. The city, however, chose not to do so.

After Newton opted out, Boston College, mindful of its long-term needs and the scarcity of land in the surrounding area, entered into negotiations with the Congregation and purchased the entire 25-acre parcel for $20 million in 2016. Since then, BC has spent $5 million in renovating the facility and another $1.5 million to repair a sewer line that had been leaking for some years. Currently, the building is used for academic lectures, student performances, and space for BC’s facilities department.

This year, Mayor Fuller approached Boston College about her desire to obtain the 17-acre undeveloped portion of 300 Hammond Pond Parkway. In discussions this summer, the university indicated that it had no interest in selling the land, but would entertain a land swap.

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Unfortunately, Mayor Fuller has rejected that possibility.

Now, the Mayor is resorting to taking the land by eminent domain, which not only risks rupturing relations with the largest employer in Newton, but also burdening taxpayers with the prospect of extended litigation and paying a significantly higher price for the property. No question, land is precious and highly valued in our area. Last year, Hebrew College sold 7 acres in Newton for $18 million, and last month, a buyer paid Newbury College $34 million for its 10-acre campus in Brookline.

Moreover, the city seeks to seize this land at a time when Newton residents already face increased expenditures for such costs as teacher salaries, school buildings, fire stations, and employee pensions and medical benefits.

This proposed land taking is unwise. It has already strained ties between Boston College and the city of Newton and will divert municipal resources from urgent needs in the community. As a result, Boston College will oppose this eminent domain action to the fullest extent possible.

This is not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.


As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.