Conservators Recommend Open Space Priorities – 2008

The Newton Community Preservation Committee has held public meetings to hear how Newton residents want CPA funds spent. These meetings are important: they provide guidance to the CPC in its funding allocations. CPC funds have allowed the City to undertake projects that never could have been accomplished in the CPA’s absence: Kesseler Woods, Angino Farm, and the Habitat/open space project at Dolan Pond, to name three. The Community Preservation Act allows spending for acquisition of open space (and land for recreation), for historic restoration, and for affordable housing. As the city’s land trust, the Conservators advocate primarily for open space. We have been instrumental in acquisitions of open space and have incorporated other CPA goals in our projects as well. On November 19, 2008, in a public forum at City Hall, as Newton Conservators President, I presented the CPC with the Conservators’ guidance for new open space goals.

At meetings and by email, the Conservators’ Board of Directors had taken the opportunity to “brainstorm” potential projects. We understand that some items we proposed may not meet current regulations of the Community Preservation Act. (In a recent court decision brought by a Newton citizens’ group, the City was barred from using CPA funds to upgrade two existing recreation facilities. It remains to be seen if the bill sponsored by state Senator Cynthia Creem will amend the law enough and make more items on our “wish list” possible. Strong arguments can be made both for and against the proposed changes; the Conservators do not have a formal stance on whether or not the proposed bill should be adopted. Senator Creem’s bill as submitted may allow CPC funds to finance improvements to existing recreational spaces.) Our discussion produced proposals that are fundable under existing CPA regulations, as well as others only fundable if regulations are amended.

Speaking for the Board, I let the CPC know that it would be useful to set aside CPC funds on a yearly basis to prepare for future opportunities to purchase large, costly open spaces if they come onto the market (such as all or parts of our golf courses). The city’s golf courses function as some of our largest open spaces, but as open spaces they remain unprotected. We feel that conservation restrictions on Newton’s golf courses would be beneficial, and we also suggested that the CPC fund acquisitions giving the City a right of first refusal at each golf course.

As a land trust and citizens group that advocates for Newton’s open spaces, the Newton Conservators believe that our main priority is to preserve properties listed in the “City of Newton Recreation and Open Space Plan.” Most acquisitions in the past have come from this list. An example of an important property in the Open Space Plan is vacant, wooded land behind Temple Mishkan Tefilah, which consists of about 10 acres with vernal pools located in the middle of Webster Woods.

CPA funding could also be used to purchase a larger portion of the Kesseler Woods land owned by the Cornerstone Corporation. If this site is developed, the city will lose the opportunity to save an untouched natural site with beautiful rock outcroppings.

photo by Frank Howard

Rebuilding the historic railroad bridge in Newton Lower Falls would create a link between Newton Lower Falls and Wellesley for pedestrians, bicyclists and people with disabilities. This would also create a link for commuters who use the Riverside “T” Station.

We support funding for signage, maps, kiosks and trail markings for pedestrians, bicyclists and the disabled using trails in our conservation areas and along our aqueducts. Educating citizens about these areas would increase their value to all residents.

Dog walking brings many people into our parks and conservation areas. At present many owners allow their dogs to run free and do not clean up after their dogs. This creates an unsafe and unsanitary situation in our open spaces. Professional dog walkers are unloading large numbers of dogs into our parks to run unrestrained. We would like funding from the CPC to provide signage and pamphlets explaining dog walking regulations, bag distribution boxes and used bag receptacles.

We asked the CPC to consider funding for invasive weed control and support for related volunteer efforts for the Charles River. The Charles River forms more than half of Newton’s boundary and a healthy, open river provides a great recreational resource.

The Cheesecake Brook Greenway’s original design called for a tree-lined boulevard with a greenway to the Charles River. This could be a link for pedestrians and bicyclists including commuters, school children and recreational users. We suggested funding for a walking path along the brook from Watertown Street to the Charles River Pathway. This is currently DPW land, and the greenway would create a recreational facility where none exists now.

As part of our advocacy for walking and biking trails, we support funding for Riverside Park to reestablish the hiking loop there and to improve access to the loop from the Newton side of the Charles River. The DCR is currently replacing the Recreation Road Bridge over I-95. The DCR also plans to repair the two Charles River pedestrian bridges that are part of the loop. The pedestrian tunnel under the Conrail tracks is currently the only access point to the loop from Newton. This tunnel needs cleaning, ceiling stabilization, and lighting. Access to the loop trails from Grove Street could be established by adding a pedestrian-grade crossing or overpass across the rarely used Conrail/MBTA connector track. This would let Riverside Center office building workers and the Grove Street neighborhood use the park. This would also help neighbors in the west end of Auburndale to walk to the Riverside MBTA station. Reopening the portion of the trail fenced off by the MWRA would re-establish a hiking loop and bicycle route from Recreation Road to Charles Street.

Neighborhood preservation should include planting trees to restore and preserve our historic streetscapes and landscapes. Additional funding to relocate overhead wires underground would also beautify our historic streetscapes and scenic roads and prevent the damage wires do to street trees and birds.

The small park at the intersection of Walnut and Crafts streets across from Day Middle School is one of the first public parks in Newton, purchased with funds raised by private citizens. With a revision of funding regulations, CPC money could be used to restore and preserve this park.

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It is the job of the Community Preservation Committee to make decisions as to how to allocate funds. It is the work of the Conservators (and others) to bring worthwhile open space projects to the CPC. The items on our “wish list” were brought up by individual members of our Board of Directors. We know that there are many other worthwhile projects in our city. We anticipate that, as we have in the past, our members will continue to develop new projects that will benefit the city.

Beth Schroeder
Newton Conservators