In 2016, Congregation Mishkan Tefila sold to Boston College approximately 23 acres of mostly wooded land that is surrounded by publicly owned conservation land. The city-owned Webster Conservation Area is to the north and west, and the state-owned Hammond Pond Reservation is to the south and east. Learn what you can do to help save the woods.
The parcel, 300 Hammond Pond Parkway, is parcel # 65008 0003 in the Newton Assessors’ Database. Its approximate boundaries are shown in yellow in the aerial photo at left.
In 2018, the college began using the former temple buildings for performance and rehearsal space.
The college’s plans for the rest of the land are unknown. Construction of new buildings on some or most of the land is possible. Boston College is exempt from many local zoning rules under the state’s “Dover Amendment.” In early 2019, construction began on a road salt storage facility on the rear parking lot of the property.
The land was part of the state reservation until 1954, when the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC; the predecessor of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation) sold it to the temple for the below-market price of $400 an acre, the equivalent of $3,500 an acre in today’s dollars. In 2016, Boston College paid $20 million for the property, or $870,000 per acre.
The 1954 sale was controversial. The Boston Globe reported that the Newton Board of Aldermen voted 15 to 3 to oppose the sale, and the MDC board approved the sale by a margin of only 3 votes to 2. Following the vote to authorize the sale, Newton created a new Board of Park Commissioners in an attempt to block the sale. The city then went to court, but lost its lawsuit.
The property includes Bare Pond, a vernal pool that has been the site of Newton Conservators walks. The image below superimposes an aerial photo of the temple’s buildings and parking lots onto a map of the woods. Note that the main east-west trails are on land now owned by Boston College, which is in white on this map.
Bare Pond (and a small buffer zone around it) is protected from development by state wetlands regulations. However, most of the land could be developed by Boston College for use as dorms, classroom or office buildings, or parking lots. Such development would be a devastating blow to a beloved conservation area.
The site development plan shown above was presented to the temple many years ago, and is not currently under consideration. However, it gives an idea of the extent of development that might be possible on the land.
The Friends of Webster Woods has been created to advocate for preservation of this important tract of open space. Follow them on Facebook. In July 2017, the Friends wrote a letter to the candidates for mayor asking them to pledge to take specific steps to preserve Webster Woods. The Conservators supported the FOWW letter, and our Board of Directors also wrote to the candidates with details about our position. We received this reply from candidate Ruthanne Fuller, who was elected mayor in November 2017.
We urge the City of Newton to permanently preserve the entire wooded area outlined in blue and to the west of the red line in the image below. Read the position adopted by the Board of Directors in July 2019.
In early 2018, Mayor Fuller appointed a panel to advise her on how to protect the woods. Conservators Director (and former President) Beth Wilkinson is chair of the advisory panel, which also includes Conservators Directors Peter Barrer and Dan Brody.
In October 2018, the City Council appropriated $105,000 of CPA funds to hire legal, appraisal, and other consultants to advise on a preservation strategy.
In February 2019, Boston College began construction of a road salt storage facility on the rear parking lot.
BC has received permission from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to allow heavy trucks to use Hammond Pond Parkway. Trucks are normally prohibited on DCR parkways.
What you can do
Follow the Friends of Webster Woods on Facebook
Make a tax-deductible donation to support Friends of Webster Woods. The link takes you to the Conservators donation page; we serve as the “fiscal agent” for the Friends, turning over all contributions to them. When you fill out the online form, put “Friends of Webster Woods” in the Comment field.
The science of Webster Woods, by BU professor and Conservators Advisor Richard Primack
The rear parking lot, where Boston College has built a salt storage facility, is part of the area that the Conservators believes should be preserved from further development. If the city acquires ownership of the parking lot, one future possibility would be to restore it as part of the woods. Read about the recent restoration of land in Boston that was converted from open space to a parking lot decades ago.
Click the first image to view as a slideshow. Then swipe, click the on-screen arrows, or use your arrow keys to move through the slides.
Post first published September 22, 2016