November 12, 2019
Community Preservation Committee Program Manager
Newton City Hall
Volunteer readers from the League of Women Voters of Newton (LWVN) have reviewed the application for the use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to pay for the proposed acquisition of Webster Woods by the City of Newton pursuant to an eminent domain taking.
LWVN is concerned about the process of using eminent domain to acquire Webster Woods. While the choice of the method of acquisition is not under the purview of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), acquiring Webster Woods with CPA money signals acceptance of the decision to use this acquisition tool. We believe that a more open and transparent process would have been helpful to allay concerns on our Board and allow us to give a whole-hearted approval. Because this did not happen, we do have some reservations that the taking of this land by eminent domain without a full understanding by the public as to its necessity sets a problematic precedent.
Nevertheless, on balance most, but not all, of our Board members support this application and recommends that the committee support this proposal for the following reasons:
- Acquisition of Webster Woods for the preservation of conservation land aligns with LWV and Newton priorities for open space and recreation land that would benefit the community as a whole;
- It has widespread community support;
- This may be the last opportunity to acquire the land and it should not be missed.
Our readers and members of the Board did, however, express the following concerns regarding the proposal, which we request be addressed before the application is approved:
- Project costs, as described in the application, do not seem to adequately take into account: (i) the cost of a hostile taking and a lengthy legal battle with Boston College over the appraised value of the land, and (ii) the annual costs of maintaining Webster Woods.
- $15.2 million of the $15.9 million total costs will be paid for with CPA funds. We believe too large a proportion of the project costs are being funded by CPA dollars. Instead, CPA funds should be used to leverage a larger contribution from outside resources of funding, such as a private partnership or additional community contributions. Alternatively or in addition, the city should find additional pockets of money from its own revenue sources to pay for a portion of this project.
- We are concerned that using such a large amount of CPA funds will deplete the account for years to come and not leave room for the funding of other projects (particularly non-city sponsored projects or those in the affordable housing and recreation categories).
Overall: LWVN supports the acquisition of Webster Woods but would like to have a better understanding of why eminent domain has been determined to be the best method for the acquisition of the land, and see a more realistic estimate of the project costs and the use of more non-CPA dollars to fund the project.