Community get ready for fight
JAMAICA HILLS—Conservationists and concerned neighbors started gearing up for the fourth time in 21 years last week after they learned Hellenic College plans to sell 12.5 acres of largely undeveloped woodlands it owns near Jamaica Pond.
Word of the sale came in the form of a listing on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)—a go-to listing source for real estate brokers. A copy of the listing, which describes the parcel for sale by Hellenic as a 12.5 acre piece of land at 156-222 Prince St. with 1,500 feet of “street frontage,” was sent to the Gazette by e-mail Jan. 10.
That listing had been taken down as of Jan. 19, but John Papson, director of marketing and public relations at the school confirmed to the Gazette that the sale was not off. “The listing was taken down, but the possibility of a the sale still exists. It is not off the table,” he said.
Gerry Wright, co-chair of Friends of Jamaica Pond—and a veteran of many community battles to prevent development on the hill—told the Gazette last week that woodland hill is “one of the most pristine views in the city. It is like being in Vermont or New Hampshire or Maine. The hill is part of the pond.”
Prince Street runs between the pond and “Hellenic Hill,” where the small Greek Orthodox college’s campus is located.
In a written statement emailed to the Gazette Jan. 18, Hellenic College President Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou said, Jan. 18, “Hellenic College Inc. has been a responsible neighbor and prudent protector of its environment for sixty three years. Our trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to secure the future of the institution. We have not and will not impugn the integrity of our presence in the greater community.”
Papson also sits on the board of the neighborhood group the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA), which will almost certainly be reviewing any proposed development on the land. Another JPA board member, John Iappini, told the Gazette that, while the organization had not yet taken a formal position, “It is safe to assume we are going to be opposed to any development.”
While word of the possible sale spread fast last week, community members had few details about what is going on.
”I am curious to see what they are thinking,” state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told the Gazette. “If there were discussions with the community in the past, I would hope they plan to tell the community what they are thinking now. I guess putting it on the market is their way of telling us. How much more blunt can you get?”
Maria Morrelli from the local neighborhood organization the Jamaica Hills Association, was circumspect about commenting with out more information. “We want to find out a little bit more. It’s great big parcel. People are used to seeing it a certain way. We want to be responsible about what gets communicated,” she said.
There is a long history of community opposition to development on the Prince Street side of Hellenic Hill, dating back to the 1990s, at least.
In 1993, a community campaign opposing a Hellenic proposal to build dorms that would have risen above the hill’s tree line convinced the college to scale back those dorm plans. That campaign included a community surveying effort where local residents raised balloons through the trees while others stood on the shores of the pond to determine how tall the dorms could be built and still not be visible from the pond.
The dorm construction took place on top of the hill. In 1990 and 1998, private developers proposed projects on part of the Hill’s Prince Street frontage at 150-156 Prince St. That property was not owned by the college at that time.
In 2004, 150-156 Prince St. was put up for sale by its private owners again. Hellenic purchased it in 2005, and, according to Gazette reporting at the time, promised not to develop it.
That 150-156 lot is apparently different from the 156-222 Prince St. property the college now has on the market.
Wright told the Gazette that the Prince Street frontage of the 150-156 Prince lot was nowhere near 1,500 feet. “Fifteen-hundred feet is more than a quarter of a mile. It takes you over the crest of Prince. That is quite a piece of frontage,” Wright said.
If the land is sold, development plans will be subject to at least some community review, because its proximity to Jamaica Pond Park puts it in a greenbelt overlay district as well as a conservation protection subdistrict. Also, any development proposals over 80,000 square feet would be subject to large project design review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Wright told the Gazette that, in addition to being concerned about preserving the natural beauty of the park, he is concerned about the continuing health of the local ecosystem. He fears, he said, that run-off from construction on the hill could contaminate the pond.