Community Preservation Act Under Attack

The Community Preservation Act is under attack.

And we shouldn’t necessarily be concerned about that. In a democracy, everything ought to be poked, prodded, shaken, bent, spindled, hung out to dry, put to the acid test, and examined under a microscope in the hard, cold light of day. What doesn’t pass the test is politely shown the door. The rest is preserved because it stands on its merits.

When all is said and done, the Community Preservation Act is a keeper. By any measure, it deserves to stay.

Before the voters of Newton adopted the CPA, the city suffered two decades of inability to fund open space purchases. The result was a string of losses, of which the woods at Andover-Newton Theological School is only the most recent example. In the few years since the Act was adopted in Newton , the city, with the Conservators’ help, has expanded both the Webster and the Dolan Pond Conservation Areas with acquisitions. It has undertaken to save Angino Farm at Winchester and Nahanton Streets, the city’s last working farm.

The most significant acquisition is Kesseler Woods. Five years ago, when Boston Edison first threatened to market the property, the city was helpless to protect it. Five years later, the city had the CPA, and this priority parcel on the city’s Open Space Plan was saved.

The city has managed to stretch a dollar in each of these acquisitions. Protection of twenty-five-plus acres at Kesseler cost $4.50 per square foot of land (of which half was paid by Newton taxpayers and half by matching funds from the state). At Webster and Dolan, the costs were $10.00 and $11.50 per foot for land that developers would have fenced and built over. Contrast this with the going price range of $30 to $60 per foot for residential lots in Newton. Part of the credit for these economical purchases goes in some cases to conservation-minded land owners willing to accept less than full market value for their land. The rest of the credit goes to a city government that has watched its spending carefully.

CPA money has been spread across the city, from Newton Corner to West Newton, Auburndale, Newton Centre, and Oak Hill. Most of the early funding was allocated to badly-needed historic preservation and to recreation and affordable housing. But when Kesseler Woods became available, the other interests served by the CPA rallied to the open space cause and allowed the city to offer its winning bid.

The CPA allows us to acquire those open spaces that are most essential to the city’s livability. It allows us to pass on to our children a community as rich in woods and wildlife as the city that was passed down from our parents.

Alderman Salvucci has proposed the elimination of the CPA in Newton. The matter is being considered by the Aldermanic Programs and Services Committee. If you feel as strongly as we do about this, make yourself heard through an email or letter to Marcia Johnson, the Committee chair.

Eric Reenstierna