Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced that the City of Newton would use eminent domain to reclaim Webster Woods, which Boston College purchased in 2016 for $20 million. The City Council was not opposed to the sale at the time of the purchase, according to a University press release. One of Fuller’s campaign promises was to “permanently preserve” the woods within two years of her taking office. The city’s move comes at the tail end of that two-year span. BC has not announced plans to develop the property, located at 300 Hammond Pond Parkway, which comprises 17 acres of the 105 total acres of woods, but has also not committed to preserving the forest. The University has said that it will “oppose the mayor’s plan ‘to the fullest extent possible using all legal avenues.’”
The University should be allowed to expand but must work to mitigate its impact on Newton and the environment it may potentially disrupt. BC is a Top 40 University, and its purchase facilitates necessary continued growth and is not unique among other top-tier schools. BC is a major Newton institution and should participate as is appropriate within the Newton community. As a major contributor to the community and economy, it has a right to fairly purchase property in Newton to facilitate this growth. Equally relevant is BC’s need to be an ethical participant in the Newton community because of its hegemonic influence, employment numbers, and contributions to the community as a whole. The University has every right to own the land it purchased. If BC chooses to develop the land, it must do so ethically and responsibly.
The University has long been in communication with the City of Newton about its purchase of the property. The purchase was approved by then-Mayor Setti Warren, and the City of Newton did not attempt to purchase the land when it was originally for sale. Acquisition through eminent domain could be excessively expensive for the city and end up costing much more than the original $20 million.
If BC is to fully develop the 17 acres, though small compared to the surrounding 88 acres, it could significantly affect the forest. BC’s property bisects the larger area. As a responsible Newton community member, the University has a responsibility to ensure that the surrounding 88 acres are disturbed as little as possible if it does decide to develop the surrounding land. This will mean working closely with conservationists and community members about ways to minimize environmental impact.