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New Development Plans for Kesseler Woods

February 2006 Update

The Kesseler Woods agreement with Cornerstone Corporation is producing more open space for Newton than was originally planned. The additional open space is the result of negotiations between the developer of the housing (Cornerstone) and the city’s Planning Department.

The city partnered with Cornerstone in the successful bid for Kesseler Woods in 2003. Since then, Cornerstone has presented the Planning Department with its design for condominiums on the high ground at the north end of the parcel on LaGrange Street near the Brookline town line. Later, the plan will go to the Board of Aldermen for a special permit.

Tom Southworth of Cornerstone spoke to the Conservators’ Board of Directors at its January meeting and took questions. Mr. Southworth compared the original plan to the current plan. The original plan called for multiple townhouse buildings and surface parking lots spread across the entire hilltop. The new plan calls for most of the units to be consolidated into a single, main building at the middle of the hill. All the parking is to go into a central garage under the building, requiring less land. The development will require removal of ten feet of ledge, on average, where the buildings will stand to keep parking below grade and to allow the buildings to achieve a low profile. Land along LaGrange Street that originally was planned for townhouses is to remain in its wooded state, leaving the streetscape as a natural corridor.

Materials to be used in the exterior of the buildings are stucco and stone. The Conservators have advocated for “green building” technology in new public buildings in the city. The condominium is not a public building but we support the technology here as well. Mr. Southworth indicated that the plan is not yet well enough developed for him to say whether green building technology will be used.

During the last city-wide election, some candidates tried to make Kesseler Woods an issue, suggesting that public money was being used to aid a developer and to buy a swamp. In the heat of a campaign, facts can be lost. For the record, here are the facts:

• Cornerstone paid $10 million for 11.5 acres of upland that is the actual site of its developments (the land inside the “hay bale line”).
• The city paid $5 million and got protection of 30.5 acres, or 73% of the land.
• The land the city got contains more developable upland than the land Cornerstone got.
• Half the city’s $5 million is from Newton taxpayers and the other half is matching funds from the state.
• Cornerstone has agreed to pay $75,000 for installation of new trails.
• 20% of the new housing at Kesseler will be affordable, helping to meet an ongoing and serious need in Newton.

The $2.5 million actually paid by Newton taxpayers went a long way. The purchase was a bargain from any perspective. The 30.5 acres of open space at Kesseler are a link between existing city-owned conservation holdings along the Sawmill Brook, creating a contiguous 55 acres of mixed upland and wetland habitat.

Map of Kesseler Woods showing two areas currently owned by the city (outlined in white) and an area of conservation restriction, which will be deeded to the city once the condominium project is complete. The Conservators will hold conservation restrictions on each of these parcels to further protect the land. The current plan for the condominium project is shown in the lower right hand corner. Just above it is the 13-lot single-family home project currently under construction.

Land on the left side of the map labeled “City of Newton” is Sawmill Brook Conservation Area (20 acres), acquired by the city in 1979-1985. Another parcel at the top center, also labeled “City of Newton,” is Bald Pate Meadow Conservation Area (5 acres). These two properties are linked by the Kesseler Woods acquisition. On the far left side of the map, Sawmill Brook Conservation Area connects to a cemetery in West Roxbury, then to Brook Farm (179 acres, owned by the state DCR) and the new Millennium Park in Boston (100 acres). Just off the map at the upper right corner lies the Kennard Park and Conservation Area in Newton (48 acres) and the Lost Pond Reservation and Conservation Area in Brookline (58 acres). Because of these contiguous and/or proximate parcels, Kesseler Woods creates a near-perfect link in a chain of open spaces that covers well over 400 acres of land.

(Map courtesy of Cornerstone Corporation)

Martha Horn of the Conservation Commission indicates that the Commission, which has control of the $75,000 for trails, will likely use part of the funds to hire a wildlife biologist, who will make recommendations about trail locations and management of the land. One existing path is atop a drain easement that runs from LaGrange Street to Sawmill Brook. The Conservators have advocated for a trail to reach the high rocky outcrops on the edge of the proposed condominium parcel. Hikers go to the high ground for the views available there over land to the south. Siting a trail there requires sensitivity, because some of the best locations for views are adjacent to the proposed new buildings.

Brookline abutters near the proposed condominium have opposed the new construction. A Brookline state representative filed a legislative proposal to extend the boundary of land regulated under the Rivers Act to 1,000 feet at this location, whereas a margin of 200 feet applies at this and all other similar locations across the state. The proposal would prevent Cornerstone’s development. The Conservators opposed the effort in a letter to the chair of the committee hearing the proposal. One reason for our opposition was that denial of the development could be seen as a failure of the city to complete an agreement with a developer, making the city a less reliable partner in future agreements. And, we argued, an extension would do harm to the Rivers Act itself. The Act has become an important tool for the protection of land along rivers and streams. If it can be extended and re-worked simply as an anti-development tool at the discretion of neighbors, the Act itself is weakened and could some day face repeal. The Mayor and others from the city met with the committee chair at the State House to argue against the proposal. Mr. Southworth reports that the proposal appears unlikely to pass.

Kesseler Woods was a success the day the bids were opened and the City of Newton/Cornerstone partnership won the bid. The plan protects the land from much more extensive development and assures public access to a large open space that could have been shut off in a development of single-family house lots. The changes the city has achieved through negotiations since that time have created further protections for open space in that area of our community.

Eric Reenstierna


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