President’s Report – 1998

Presented by Michael Clarke at the Annual Meeting of the Newton Conservators, Wednesday, May 27, 1998 in Noyes Hall of the Andover-Newton Theological School.

The past year has a very busy one for the Newton Conservators. Mike Collora has increased our membership through a direct mail campaign. Bonnie Carter produced four very informative Newsletters. Our grants program continues strong and this year we funded two grant proposals for environmental-based activities for the Countryside Elementary School and the Bigelow Middle School.

Early in the year we queried the two mayoral candidates on their positions on a number of open space issues and published their replies in our Newsletter. We have since interviewed with both Mayor Cohen and, Mike Kruse, the new Planning Director, at our February and March board meetings to ascertain their views on planning for Newton’s Open spaces.

The Board of Alderman, at their first meeting of the year, passed the Telecommunications Ordinance that Fred Abernathy wrote and lobbied for, and which the Conservators strongly backed. The ordinance provides for the effective control of communications antennas in Newton and is a model for other communities.

The Conservators’ efforts of several years ago in clearing the southernmost section of the Charles River footpath along Wells Ave. paid off handsomely. The existence of the footpath and its connection with the segment that Dan Driscoll recently cleared and marked opposite Nahanton Park provided Martha Horn, the City’s Environmental Planner, with a strong argument for transferring 30 acres from DPW to the Conservation Commission. In March, the Land Use Committee readily agreed, and the South Charles River Reservation is now a part of Newton’s Conservation lands.

Throughout the year the Conservators have been a strong voice on the Newton 2000 Committee on the Environment, which Doug Dickson has been chairing, and the Mayor’s Transition Task Force on the Environement. The Newton 2000 effort will make a statement on Newton’s vision for its natural environment and natural resources for the millenia. The Mayor’s Transition Task Force has made a number of specific recommendations to the Mayor concerning the preservation of open space.

The Ordway Park Committee, Chaired by Carol Corbet, undertook an extensive cleanup of the park, which combined about $4000 worth of arbor services with many volunteer hours. The area around the large beech tree was cleared, a large, dead, yellow wood tree was removed, a number of trees crowding the growth of others were taken out. The chips from the removed trees and branches were recycled into new surfaces for the trails. Judy Hepburn planted a number of daffodils that were evident this the spring, so that the park now has a very welcoming look.

In addition to our successful Walks program, chaired by Judy Hepburn, the Conservators participated in a highly successful Depot Day, which celebrated the capping of the Rumford Ave landfill and its transformation into a recycling center. Both the walks Peter Kastner and Judy Hepburn led through the surrounding open space and the canoe trips that Marty Sender and I led between the Depot and Auburndale Park were greatly appreciated.

But all is not rosy. The year will be remembered for the two large parcels of open space that came suddenly on the market. The Mayor has been dealing personally with the 40 acre Kessler Woods, which Boston Edison must sell. During a visit at one of our board meetings, the Mayor indicated that he is confidant that at least the 13 acres of wetlands will be preserved and that he is seeking a means to preserve more.

20 Acres of the land that now surrounds us on the Andover-Newton Theological School campus has been placed on the market. In an 1888 essay on “Our Hills” in Newton, H.I. Ordway wrote: “Newton Centre is abundantly blessed by nature in possessing Institution Hill, and we have reason to be thankful that the hill will always be free from the barriers of more private ownership.” Unfortunately, it now transpires that this last wooded Hill in Newton will be developed. 6 Acres will go to a new Hebrew College campus. Working with Hebrew College and the Bowen-Thompson Neighborhood Association, we were were able to develop wording for a zoning ordinance change that allows for a special permit process so that religious and educational institutions in one zoning district could cluster their campuses, as long as the obviated setback between them is preserved as open space. We are continuing to work with Hebrew College, the BTNA and the city to hammer out the details of a the special permit so that as much open space as possible will be preserved with no less public access than we now enjoy. In fact, Hebrew College will be presenting a possible CR to do this at the Conservation Commission meeting tomorrow.

We have also been closely monitoring the sale of the remaining 14 acres that Andover-Newton plans to sell to a developer. This includes 10 acres between ANTS and the Bowen School . Since the very first Newton Open Space Plan, a CR has been sought to preserve the view of the Blue hills from this area of the campus. We hope that as part of the special permit process Andover-Newton will make some provision for a view to remain with public access to it.

In the coming year, in addtion to these two major open space issues, we expect that the MBTA will begin acting on its intention to development their Grove St. site. This will get more interesting when the MBTA approaches the city for permits to do so.

So next year promises to be just as busy as the last.