On November 12th, the Newton Community Preservation Committee (CPC) recommended the expenditure of $15.7 million from the Community Preservation Fund to acquire from Boston College 17 acres of Webster Woods, as proposed by Mayor Ruthanne Fuller in October. The recommendation was given preliminary approval by the City Council on November 25th. The Council is expected to take final votes on December 2nd. (Read the full recommendation.)
The land was part of a 100-acre parcel that Edwin Webster donated to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as conservation land in 1916. The state sold 25 acres of this land to Temple Mishkan Tefila in 1954, and the temple sold the land to Boston College in 2016. (Learn more about the history of this land.) The city now seeks to acquire and preserve the 17 wooded acres of this land that has never been developed, and that has been used continuously as conservation land since 1916.
Money in the Community Preservation Fund comes from a 1% surtax on property taxes that Newton voters approved in 2001. The funds may be used only to support affordable housing, historic preservation, open space conservation, and outdoor recreation projects.
The CPC recommended that $15 million should come from 30-year bonds, to be repaid with CPA revenue. The City has used bonds to finance three previous CPA projects: Newton Community Farm, Kesseler Woods, and the expansion of the park next to the Crystal Lake bath house.
The CPC has established “allocation target” ranges to guide it in allocating funds among the four allowable purposes.
The largest target range, for affordable housing, is from 30% to 40% of total CPA revenue. The target for acquisition of open space and recreation land is from 15% to 25% of total revenue.
CPC member Dan Brody, who is also a Newton Conservators director, presented to the committee his evaluation of the likely cost of the Webster Woods bonds over 30 years under two different sets of assumptions about factors such as interest rates and growth in the tax base. Under the “pessimistic” scenario, Brody found that the project would require 9% of total CPA revenue, or about half of the open space allocation target. Only 7% of revenue would be required if the optimistic assumptions prove to be accurate.
At the November 25th City Council meeting, Newton Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Yeo presented an analysis based on Brody’s work. This analysis used a single set of assumptions, which the city staff determined to be reasonable. It concluded that 8% of CPA revenue would be required to repay the bonds.
Brody’s analysis, revised to use the mid-range assumptions, can be found in this document: