JP Observer: Pond view in danger until the public owns it

March 29, 2013
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The natural area that forms the backdrop of Jamaica Pond on its western side appears eternal. It’s true that Hellenic Hill’s history reaches back to the time when Native American Kuchamakin, Jamaica Plain’s namesake, ruled the area—even back to when the bowls that formed the pond were dug out by glaciers.

The natural area has clung to its continued existence for centuries the same way the roots of the forest grasp the soil.

But over the last 25 years, a vigilant community and local officials have had to rise up and rebuff five plans that would have ruined that 12-plus-acre urban wild. Unfortunately, defenders have not managed to raise enough money to buy the land and guarantee the vulnerable hill’s protection forever.

JP Gazette articles going back more than 20 years and Gerry Wright of Friends of Jamaica Pond—whose history as a steward of Jamaica Pond Park goes back farther than that—describe various proposals to tear down and build on Hellenic Hill and how they were squashed.

Early 1990s: On a walk, Wright ran into a surveyor in the woods who said condos were going to be built. Wright checked it out, alerted the media and the community. After coverage of the negative response, the developer dropped the idea.

1993: Dorms Hellenic College planned for the hillside were moved after a dramatic demonstration where some residents raised balloons through the trees to the height of the potential new buildings while others watched near the boathouse. They said they saw that the dorms would be visible.

1998: Dover Builders of Norwood proposed to develop 30 townhouse units on 7 acres, but dropped plans after officials and community came out firmly against them.

2004: JP Gazette staff came across a website advertising 7 acres of the wooded hillside by an individual private owner for $5.7 million. The web site showed possibilities for various developments. Community uproar was calmed when Hellenic College bought the land and said it had no immediate plans for it.

2011: A reader alerted the Gazette that Hellenic College listed 12.5 acres of the woodland along Prince Street for sale for development. After much community opposition and receipt by Wright’s office of a letter from church Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul generally supporting Emerald Necklace preservation, the college withdrew its active listing.

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy stepped in to talk to the college, “exploring conservation alternatives and donor interest” in purchasing the land for conservation, Executive Director Julie Crockford was quoted as saying.

The City of Boston budget has $1 million to $1.25 million in it for that. The state legislature once voted to pay up to $5 million for the land, but then Gov. Paul Cellucci vetoed the bill. The New England Trust for Public Land and City of Boston’s Open Space Acquisition Fund have also discussed the ownership solution.

Until enough money is raised to buy the land, the public should pay careful attention to the hill behind which the sun sets at Jamaica Pond. Until the public owns the hillside, its beauty remains under constant threat of destruction.

 

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