Hill preservation possible

February 18, 2011
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Wright: Development will not happen

PONDSIDE—A still-unsure path toward reconciliation was laid at the Feb. 7 meeting of the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) regarding Hellenic College’s controversial bid to sell largely undeveloped land it owns near Jamaica Pond.

The land in question is 12.5 acres at the base of what is commonly known as Hellenic Hill. The parcel sits opposite the pond at 156-222 Prince St. A map of the property for sale, provided by the college, shows that, in addition to the Prince Street frontage, it also runs around to the back of the hill on the Western side, where it abuts Pond Circle. The property is mostly undeveloped, but includes a white house facing Prince Street on the western side.

Operating from an awkward position, John Papson, a public affairs officer with the college and member of the JPA board, took off his board hat to act as a representative for the school at the meeting.

Papson said Hellenic definitely plans to sell the property and that the school is open to discussing strategies for making sure that the land, overlooking the pond along Prince Street, remains undeveloped.

But he also attempted to distance the school from any outcome from the sale that might upset the community. “One of the things the school would like to make a distinction about is the sale and the possible development of the property,” he said. “Anyone can sell private property. What that property is used for is an entirely different issue.”

He also said that, because the land is at the base of Hellenic Hill, where the college’s campus is located, the school would have a significant interest in how it is used after it is sold.

“It is encouraging to hear that the college is concerned about the future of the land,” Gerry Wright, head of the Jamaica Pond Association, said at the meeting. The community’s job, he said is “to show any potential developer that they are going to lose a lot of money if they choose to develop that land.”

Friends of Jamaica Pond and the JPA have been involved in at least four efforts since 1990 to preserve the hill, which rises on the opposite side of Prince Street from Jamaica Pond, and provides a highly valued pristine backdrop to the Pond. Those efforts have included convincing the college not to build dorms that rise above the tree line on its main campus on top of Hellenic Hill and successfully opposing efforts by other private developers to build on Prince Street.

Wright and Jamaica Pond-area resident and former JP District Councilor Maura Hennigan—both veterans of past hill preservation efforts—said they have contacted conservancy groups that might be interested in purchasing the land to preserve it, and that they are eager to discuss that possibility with college officials.

“A number of environmental groups have expressed an interest. They can play a major role, along with the city and state and the community,” Hennigan said at the meeting. “But without the college as a part of it, we cannot get it done. The question is whether the college is willing to sell the parcel not at the highest price.”

Papson was not able to provide any details about the college’s financial goals for the sale. “Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone can [yet] tell us what the property is worth,” he said.

But, “If there is a group that has a concrete proposal…Talk to me. I will make sure a meeting gets held,” Papson said.

A real estate listing asking $18 million for the 12.5-acre parcel that was placed on, and removed from the multiple-listing service (MLS) last month, was published in error, Papson said. “The MLS listing was a mistake. I it should not have been put up,” he said.

News of the college’s intent to sell the land was first reported by the Gazette after a copy of the MLS listing was e-mailed to the Gazette.

JP’s state house delegation—State Reps. Jeffrey Sánchez and Liz Malia, as well as state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz—and At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo have all said they will work to make sure the hill is preserved. Local City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who lives in the Jamaica Pond area and attended the Feb. 7 meeting, said he also support the community’s efforts.

This week, Friends of Jamaica Pond began circulating a petition to oppose development on the site, on the grounds that it would negatively impact the pond’s watershed.