Newton officials push to preserve Webster Woods
Newton officials are stepping up efforts to preserve a part of Webster Woods in Chestnut Hill that was formerly owned by Congregation Mishkan Tefila.
Boston College purchased the nearly 22-acre property at 300 Hammond Pond Parkway — including the temple building, parking area, and undeveloped land — for $20 million in 2016.
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller is forming an advisory panel to explore how best to limit future development of the property. Meanwhile, 15 Newton city councilors back a proposed measure calling for the city to acquire or protect the woodland portion.
“We’ll see what the right way forward is. There are a lot of alternative ways to make sure it’s permanently protected,” said Fuller, who plans to meet with BC’s president in the coming weeks. “My goal would be to reach a cooperative agreement with Boston College.”
The property extends into the largest section of public open space in Newton. It is flanked by the Webster Conservation Area, the Hammond Pond Reservation, and the Cohen Conservation Area, which are tied together by walking trails.
“It’s critical that the [Boston College] piece of it stay the way it is and not be developed,” said Ken Kimmell, co-chairman of Friends of Webster Woods, named for the family that owned the land about 100 years ago.
BC spokesman Jack Dunn said the college’s intention is to use the developed portion of the property for parking, administrative offices, and possibly an academic purpose. Upgrades are underway at the former temple building.
No decision has been made about the future of the undeveloped land, he said.
“We welcome the opportunity to meet with the mayor and share with her our plans and the ongoing work,” said Dunn, who characterized the meeting of Fuller and William Leahy as a chance for the two leaders to get to know each other.
The former temple and parking sit on six acres. Woodlands cover 12.4 acres, and a 3.3-acre section consists of both woods and parking.
An appraisal commissioned by the city in 2017 valued the undeveloped portions of the site at between $1.26 million and $4.75 million.
The entire property is subject to a deed restriction limiting it to educational, religious, or nonprofit recreational activities, according to the appraisal.
The City Council docket item, now before the Zoning and Planning Committee, is intended to show strong support for preserving Webster Woods as open space, said Lisle Baker, city councilor for Ward 7, which encompasses Chestnut Hill.
Also supporting the measure are Baker’s Ward 7 colleagues, councilors-at-large Rebecca Walker Grossman and Marc Laredo, who serves as City Council president.
On possible option, Baker said, is for the city to work with the college to create a restriction against building on the undeveloped parts of the site. Another is for the city to acquire the land outright.
“My personal preference is public acquisition, but the question is making sure this property is preserved,” Baker said.
Webster Woods and the nearby conservation areas are an important resource for city residents and serve as a critical habitat for local wildlife and plant life, said Beth Wilkinson, the president of Newton Conservators and chairwoman of the city’s new Webster Woods Advisory Panel.
A seven-member executive committee, including Wilkinson and city officials, has already been formed. Volunteers are being sought to join the city’s larger advisory panel, and can apply by visiting the city’s website.
“We really hope the woods are preserved and there is no development back there,” Wilkinson said.