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Conservators Take Position on Kesseler Woods Purchase

As the Board of Aldermen took up the Community Preservation Committee's recommendation to spend an additional $1 million to acquire Kesseler Woods, the Board of the Newton Conservators met to determine its position and convey it to the two aldermanic committees charged with reviewing the proposal. Below is the text of the letter outlining the Conservators' statement on this issue:

October 27, 2003

Alderman Amy Sangiolo
Chair, Ad hoc Committee on Community Preservation
Alderman Paul Coletti
Chair, Finance Committee
Newton Board of Aldermen

Dear Ms. Sangiolo and Mr. Coletti,

I am writing on behalf of the Newton Conservators for two purposes: to express our appreciation of the work of city officials that has led to the acquisition of Kesseler Woods; and to comment on the proposed expenditure of an additional $1 million for the acquisition.

The mission of the Conservators is to preserve open space. To this purpose we heartily applaud the Mayor, the CPC, and the Board of Aldermen. The acquisition of Kesseler Woods has been a high priority of the Conservators for many years. The city's winning effort to acquire the land is a great success. The city undertook a difficult process in partnering with a private developer, in keeping the amount of the bid secret, and in submitting a bid that topped the others yet gained the land at a very favorable price. This acquisition is an example of what can be accomplished by the Community Preservation Act and will be appreciated for generations to come.

The Conservators promote basic principles regarding open space acquisitions. We seek open spaces that are contiguous to other open spaces. We seek whenever possible to create the largest open
area. And we believe that these spaces should be easily accessible to the public. The Conservators' Board of Directors met on Wednesday evening, October 22, and was unable to reach a consensus on whether to support either of the two current alternatives for the land on Brookline Street. In particular, our concern is with the proposed configuration of the open space to be protected in the 11-lot plan.

We look forward to endorsing a workable plan for this portion of the site that does create the most contiguous open space with public access. During our discussion, individuals on the Conservators' Board pointed out how the development plan in that area might be altered to provide the developer equal benefits while increasing the public benefits of better access and more open space. These Conservators may wish to convey their advice individually. We appreciate that the city, of necessity, has available to it only limited options in altering the development plan for this portion of the site. We offer as guidance from the open space community that open space in that location not be isolated and that the acreage in publicly accessible open space be maximized.

Sincerely,
Eric Reenstierna, President

 

The CPC recommendation garnered a tie vote in the Ad hoc Committee and failed in a Finance Committee vote in a joint meeting of the two committees. Some aldermen who opposed the expenditure cited their belief that giving up a few acres (estimates ranged from 3-4 acres based on various plans) of open space was worth the savings of $1 million. Under the agreement negotiated by the city, the developer guaranteed the $1 million and would have the right to three additional house lots along Brookline Street if the city failed to appropriate the money.

Other aldermen indicated their concern about a three-quarter acre parcel of open space that would serve as a buffer between existing and new homes to which public access would be limited. A view was expressed by some that ground apparently lost by not spending the $1 million could be made up in the special permit process when this project comes before the Board of Aldermen as part of the land use process. Finally, some members of the Board felt that the million dollars could be better spent on other projects in the city.

The proposal went before the full Board of Aldermen on Monday, November 3 and was chartered by Alderman Ciccone. This means that the matter is automatically tabled until the next meeting, to be held on Monday, November 17. That meeting had not been held as of this writing.

Other activity on the Kesseler Woods acquisition includes the delineation of wetlands, required to determine areas that are protected under the state Rivers Act and other wetlands legislation. This falls under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Commission. In addition, the developer continues to develop plans for the Brookline Street parcel, which will be the first of the two development parcels to go through the city's land use process.

The first step is the subdivision of the property, which will be considered by the Planning and Development Board. Lots that require grade changes of three or more feet or that constitute rear lots, as defined by city ordinance, will also require a special permit from the Board of Aldermen.

The acquisition is scheduled to close on January 7, 2004, the date the city will take ownership of its share of the property and Cornerstone, the city's development partner, will take ownership of parcels on LaGrange and Brookline Streets.

 

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