Hellenic Hill preservation talks begin

David Taber

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) is in preliminary talks with Hellenic College about preserving of Hellenic Hill, an undeveloped woodlands overlooking Jamaica Pond that the college owns and plans to sell.

In a phone interview last week, ENC Executive Director Julie Crockford said the ENC and others interested in conserving the land have met twice with the college.

“The college is open to working with us to exploring conservation alternatives and donor interest in conservation alternatives,” she said.

A first step in that effort would be to work with the school to figure out what the land is worth, she said.

Hellenic College spokesperson John Papson told the Gazette the college has received two offers on the land from developers, but said the school is not currently in active conversations with either of them. He confirmed that the college had recently met with ENC and others interested in conserving the land.

In a letter Archbishop Demetrious head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and President of Hellenic’s board of trustees said, “The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees…is working on all kinds of options which will benefit our school as well as preserve and conserve the land around it.” That letter was addressed to the Community Caring Institute—a Jamaica Plain nonprofit—and red out loud at a community forum on the future of the Hill April 27.

Crockford said the conservation effort was buttressed by that forum at the First Church Unitarian Universalist on Elliot Street. The forum was attended by over 100 community members and elected officials and sponsored by a host of JP organizations, including Friends of Jamaica Pond, the Arborway Coalition and the Jamaica Pond and Jamaica Hills neighborhood associations. The sentiments expressed there were universally pro-conservation.

Papson said the college has not determined what it believes the land is worth. But Crockford said it is likely the sale price will be lower if the land is sold for conservation than it would be if it were sold for development.

And getting a conservation sale-price could be easier if there is strong community opposition to development. “If the community can really stop this, then it only has conservation value,” Crockford told the Gazette immediately following the forum.

Pond-area resident Roger Gottlieb said at the forum that he is ready to go to the mat for the land.

“This is sacred space. It means too much to too many people and other life forms…We should raise money, organize and write letters. And if it comes to it, do civil disobedience,” he said.

At the forum, many community members expressed interest in working on a community fund-raising effort to purchase the land.

This week Gerry Wright, head of Community Caring and the Friends of Jamaica Pond, said the friends group and other local organizations plan to host a follow-up meeting in the next two weeks.

Community members got some encouragement from Christian Orthodox Church in Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

“His All-Holiness appreciates your concern for the beautiful city of Boston, and especially its unique Emerald Necklace, which he recalls from his visit to New England. He is also touched by your vigilance to control development in the area…” says a letter written by Patriarch Bartholomew’s secretary and addressed to Alison Yoos of the JP nonprofit the Community Caring Institute.

The letter also says that while the patriarch has “no immediate jurisdiction” over the sale or development of the hill, he would express his feelings on the subject to Archbishop Demetrious of America.

Patriarch Batholomew and Archbishop Demetrious’s letters were both read at the forum.

"Obviously, [the patriarch’s] opinion is respected. But, as we’ve said in the past, the buck stops on the desk of the board…They’re the ones who have to make the decisions here," Papson said, adding that the board is responsible for the school’s financial well-being.

John Ruch contributed to this article.

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