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Newton moves to seize Webster Woods from Boston College

Boston College bought the former Mishkan Tefila synagogue property in 2016. The Newton City Council voted to take  roughly 17 acres of woodland behind the building by eminent domain.
Boston College bought the former Mishkan Tefila synagogue property in 2016. The Newton City Council voted to take roughly 17 acres of woodland behind the building by eminent domain.LANE TURNER

NEWTON — City councilors on Monday unanimously approved the taking of more than 17 acres of undeveloped Webster Woods property from Boston College — a move the university opposes but local officials said is necessary to help preserve Newton’s remaining open space.

In a roll call vote, each councilor on the 24-member board approved five separate motions that called for spending a total of roughly $16 million on the taking and associated legal fees.

In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said the city’s order of taking will be recorded with the South Middlesex Registry of Deeds by the end of the month. At that point, she said, the city will own the land, and within 60 days a check will be issued to BC.

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She has said $15.2 million is needed to buy the land, plus an estimated $740,000 in legal fees.

“We anticipate Boston College will challenge our acquisition and the value of the land,” Fuller said. “We are prepared.”

In November, the Community Preservation Committee approved $15.7 million from Newton’s open space fund. The group Friends of Webster Woods will also donate $200,000, according to the city.

Boston College is disappointed in the city’s decision to take the property by eminent domain, university spokesman Jack Dunn said in an e-mail Tuesday.

“This costly ordeal could have been avoided if the Mayor had not cut off negotiations, or had agreed to a land swap. Now we will challenge the taking and the Mayor’s appraisal of the land’s value in court,” he said. “Our contention remains that the Mayor and City Council have grossly underestimated the value of the property and the legal cost associated with its seizure.”

The Chestnut Hill property sought by the city is near about 160 acres of public open space along Hammond Pond Parkway.

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Boston College paid Congregation Mishkan Tefila $20 million in 2016 for a 25-acre property consisting of the former synagogue building, parking, and woodland. The city is only seeking the undeveloped section — not the roughly 8 acres with the building and parking.

BC has not announced plans for the 17-acre woodland, but recent court filings hinted at possible development. The university’s long-term feasibility studies of the property “take into account the restrictions in place for protected resources within the 17 acres,” Dunn has previously said.

Last month, Thomas Keady Jr., the university’s vice president for governmental and community affairs, sent a letter to Newton residents seeking support for BC.

“Newton taxpayers deserve better than to be subjected to an ill-advised and expensive eminent domain proposal,” Keady said in the letter.

On Monday, many supporters of preserving Webster Woods applauded following the vote.

Marc Laredo, the council president, thanked his Ward 7 colleague, Lisle Baker, for his years of work to find a way to preserve the property.

Yigal Agam, 45, of Newton Highlands, held a “Save Webster Woods” sign during the vote and praised the land taking.

“We don’t have much open space left; we should keep the little that we have,” he said, noting that the woodland is used for walking and recreation. “That’s the soul of our city and our region. It’s important.”


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