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President's Message

Are the Conservators All Wet?

December 2005

Election time in Newton brings a range of topics to the forefront. Several interesting letters to the editor were published in The TAB over the last several weeks. One of the candidates was basing his campaign for mayor on spending priorities and called the Newton Conservators “All Wet” with respect to our interest and success in preserving a significant portion of Kesseler Woods. This candidate claimed that the city purchased a “swamp,” his characterization of wetlands, and in the process wasted $5 million in CPA funds. The position put forward by this candidate was that developers would have been restricted in their ability to build houses on this area because of the wetlands. (The Conservators’ reply was published in the November 10 issue of The TAB.)

I believe that it is naïve and shortsighted to think that Kesseler Woods would not have been completely consumed by developers. The land planner employed by the city indicated as much. Builders would have constructed many more houses under existing zoning than were negotiated as part of the city’s purchase of the property. And of course, whoever owned the property would not have granted free access by Newton residents to the relatively small sections of the land on which wetlands laws would have limited construction. The flora and fauna of the area would have been open only to the new homeowners. This is an issue that many critics of open space purchases fail to realize.

The other point overlooked by this candidate’s position is that most of the land the city acquired was buildable upland property, not wetlands. The purchased portion includes nine acres of open space adjacent to the existing Sawmill Brook Conservation Area on the south side of Vine Street, and another three acres on the north side of Vine Street . NStar projected that 21 homes could be built “by right” (no special permits required) on these sections of Kesseler Woods and 50 or more apartment or condo units would have been possible in a 40B proposal.

A significant portion of the developer’s (Cornerstone) land will ultimately be granted to the city, either outright or by conservation easement. This additional land straddles Sawmill Brook and a tributary, South Branch, which are the wetlands to which the critic of the purchase refers. Connecting the existing 20-acre Sawmill Brook Conservation Area and the 5-acre Bald Pate Meadow Conservation Area with the more than 25 acres of upland and wetland portions of Kesseler Woods will create over 50 acres of wildlife refuge, groundwater recharge and other environmental benefits along with several public hiking trails that will be extended into and through this property.

Several of us have taken walks through Kesseler Woods starting at Vine Street and ending up at the new Millennium Park in Boston . The walk continues after Kesseler Woods and Sawmill Brook Conservation Area through two cemeteries, the Brook Farm DCR land in West Roxbury and into Millennium Park . We use the two-car method where one car is left at Millennium Park and the other takes us to the starting point on Vine Street (or vice versa). This allows us to walk through the woods at our own pace, observing the vegetation, birds and other creatures in these areas without concern for the trip back. (Note: the route is part of an even longer walk that starts at the Charles River and ends in Newton Centre.)

Our ability to enjoy this contiguous series of green spaces did not come from a decision to acquire a swamp, but rather from decades of planning and hard work to be ready when the opportunity finally presented itself. This is true at both ends of this corridor—Kesseler Woods in Newton and Millennium Park in Boston . Thanks to the vision of some, this continuous trail is now available for the long-term enjoyment of all.

 

Bill Hagar

 

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