College says it never promised preservation; Hennigan calls for partnership
PONDSIDE—At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo last week threw his full weight behind a mounting community effort to keep Hellenic College from selling undeveloped woodlands that form a backdrop to Jamaica Pond to developers.
In a phone interview last week, Arroyo, who lives in Forest Hills, told the Gazette he is committed to seeing the sloped woodlands—commonly known as “Hellenic Hill”—remain undeveloped. “This is not NIMBYism. Jamaica Pond is probably the most used open space in the city…It is an oasis in the city. If they develop the Hellenic Hill site, that is gone,” he said.
“I am going to be working in City Hall to figure out what we can do…We are going to work to make sure we can preserve Hellenic Hill as it is,” he said.
The Prince Street land owned by the college was listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service for real estate professionals last month and reported in the Gazette. Though the listing was removed, the land is still for sale, according to the college.
It includes a parcel of land at 150-156 Prince St. that the college bought in 2005. Hellenic spokesperson and Pondside resident John Papson told the Gazette last week that community members who remember a 2005 promise from the college not to develop land that land for at least 25 years are not mistaken.
“I have heard that. Apparently that comment was made,” Papson said in a phone interview, “It was made by a consultant during a community meeting” not by a Hellenic administrator, Papson said.
Papson told the Gazette that, as far as he knows, that promise was never formalized. He said he could not remember the name of the consultant who made it.
Papson also confirmed that the land the college is currently planning to sell—156-222 Prince St.—includes the 150-156 Prince St. parcel as well as other land it owns along Prince Street.
The college’s 2005 purchase of the 150-156 Prince St. land from a private owner put an end to a Prince Street development scare at that time.
Prior to that sale, then local District 6 City Councilor Maura Hennigan had pushed for the city to purchase the land, and had secured a $1 million bond authorization for that purpose. The city never issued that bond, but it is still on the books.
At another time, with pressure from Hennigan and many others, the state legislature voted to allot money to purchase the land, but then-Gov. Paul Cellucci vetoed it.
In an interview this week, Hennigan, a Jamaica Hills resident who is now clerk of Suffolk Superior Criminal Court, called for creating a partnership composed of the college, local community groups and environmental organizations that would lobby for the city and state to provide the funding to save Hellenic Hill once and for all.
She pointed to state legislation passed in 2008 that allotted more than $45 million for purchasing preservation land based on recommendations from the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Now is “a good time [for a land need] to be on the radar screen” for 2012 funding, she said. She said she had spoken to some area non-profits about forming a coalition that would support the purchase of Hellenic Hill for the public.
“I know how the community feels about the pond,” Hennigan said. “The pond is a great equalizer. Everyone is the same. They feel a reverence for the pond.”
She said she recognizes that Hellenic College is a private property owner with rights, but added, “The college needs to agree to partner to plan. And the community needs to band together.”
As the Gazette previously reported, Hellenic College President Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou’s only comment on the matter came in a Jan. 18 written statement: “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.”
Prince Street runs between Hellenic Hill and the pond, and many consider preserving the pristine view of the woodland hill from the pond to be a key priority. Community activism has prevented development on the hill that would have encroached on views from the pond at least four times since 1990. Those efforts included convincing the college not to build dorms that rise above the treeline on its main campus on top of Hellenic Hill and successfully opposing efforts by other private developers to build on Prince Street.
The Jamaica Pond Association board has invited Triantafilou to its next meeting Feb. 7. Papson was not sure, as of last week, whether Triantafilou would be able to attend. [See JP Agenda.]
Sandra Storey contributed to this article.