Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

CJBC and EcoPledge Call for BC to Preserve Webster Woods Property as Eminent Domain Case Moves Forward

After a preliminary vote by the Newton Community Preservation Committee, the city council is expected to vote on Dec. 2 in the latest development of the dispute between Boston College and the City of Newton over ownership of the Webster Woods.

On Nov. 12, the Newton Community Preservation Committee voted to advance Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s proposal to claim the property owned by Boston College at 300 Hammond Pond Parkway, also known as the Webster Woods, via eminent domain in a 7-1 vote.

The vote is the latest development in the ongoing struggle between Boston College and the City of Newton. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced on Sept. 18 that the city would assert eminent domain over the BC-owned property in the Webster Woods in order to preserve the forest.

The city is not the first group to express opposition to BC’s use of the property at Webster Woods, as Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC) and EcoPledge have both opposed BC’s ownership and usage of the property. As part of their fight, CJBC and EcoPledge have been circulating a “Save Webster Woods” petition, which they plan to share at the city council meeting on Thursday.

Encapsulating the urgency with which they see this cause, the petition states that “it is easy to protect the woods, but will be nearly impossible to bring them back” if BC is allowed to further develop the property. While this issue may seem distant and irrelevant to many students, Rosenthal emphasized that professors and students from both BC and other universities use the Webster Woods to conduct research, which would be ruined by future development on the property.

While a September statement from BC stated that no plans for further development of the property have been proposed, a lawsuit filed by the university to block action by the city claims that “the university has plans in progress and anticipates future development of the entire HPP property.”

CJBC member Kyle Rosenthal, CSOM ‘21, called the vote a “decisive step toward funding the city’s proposal.” However, before the eminent domain action can actually be executed, the proposal must be passed by the city council. The council is expected to hold a meeting on Nov. 25, with a final vote to be conducted on Dec.  2.

While there will be no official opportunity for “community input” during these planned city council meetings, CJBC nevertheless intends “to have a presence of BC community members who support the protection of the woods” at the proceedings, according to Rosenthal.

Rosenthal added that he and CJBC would like to “reiterate that we love BC, but are disappointed in its actions.”

Additionally, in a separate Facebook post, CJBC accused the administration of spreading false information in a letter that it distributed to residents of Newton, explaining their position in the Webster Woods case. The letter challenges the move by the city, citing taxpayer concerns and its drain on public funding as one element of their opposition. 

However, CJBC’s post suggested that, despite demonstrating this concern, BC has hypocritically “failed to contribute the full amount of its Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT),” a program by which tax exempt institutions are asked to voluntarily pay a portion of what they would owe in taxes. In 2019, BC has only contributed 10% of the requested amount, according to a report by the city of Boston.

While this dispute is being deliberated by the Newton City Council, BC has also initiated legal proceedings against the city to temporarily block the eminent domain claim. In its court filings, BC argued that an injunction should be issued against the city on procedural grounds, arguing that the NCPC violated the Open Meetings Law in its Oct. 10 meeting this year.

However, associate justice Christopher Barry-Smith of the Massachusetts Superior Court ruled that “at this juncture,” BC had not sufficiently proven their claims, and thus denied BC’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The Gavel attempted to reach out to University Spokesman Jack Dunn for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publishing.

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