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Newton

Possible plans for reservoir buildings stirs controversy
By Elizabeth Paulson
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2002

The buildings near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, built in the famous Richardsonian Romanesque style, are considered historical landmarks.

Media Credit: Jeff Brien

The buildings near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, built in the famous Richardsonian Romanesque style, are considered historical landmarks.

An article that appeared in the Feb. 7 Allston-Brighton TAB describing the possible development of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir area may have caused more controversy than necessary.

The area causing of this controversy “includes everything inside the wrought iron fence Ö with the exception of gatehouse two” of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, which borders the eastern end of the BC campus, said Marianne Connolly, program manager for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). This includes the two pumping stations on Beacon Street.

Possession of the land and buildings was recently surplused from the MWRA to the Division of Capital Assets Management (DCAM), both state agencies. This was done because “they became too costly to keep up,” said Pat Otis, president of both the Friends of the Waterworks and Chestnut Hill Association.

“A couple of years ago, a bill was passed, which allowed for the property to be sold,” she said. “The legal term is called a disposition process.”

Connolly said the land was better off in the hands of the DCAM, and that it was not up for immediate development.

“I wouldn’t use the word development,” she said. “It’s really a shift in management to the DCAM. It’s an opportunity for them to provide the community with more public access. It’s a resource that can be better utilized by them [DCAM] as a parks service.”

DCAM does not intend to maintain control over the property and is currently drafting a Request for Proposals (RFP), a statement that includes all relevant information about the properties such as borders and building stipulations. According to Martha McMahon, a spokesperson for DCAM, its involvement is in “preparing an RFP for the reuse of the property.” “We’re working with the MWRA to dispose of it,” she said. Potential developers will use the RFP (to be completed in April or May) to write proposals.

An article about the project that appeared in the Allston-Brighton TAB put the situation in a much direr context. The article described a heated debate between concerned members of the community and a representative from DCAM at a recent meeting.

The possibility that a 120-foot building could be built on the one acre of land that may be developed of the 7.9 acres was the focus of the article. The article failed to mention that proposals from developers will not be accepted until June, and that the building was just one idea. Some believed the article portrayed angry citizens battling state authorities.

Albert Rex, chairman of the Chestnut Hill advisory committee and a key target in the article, was subjectively cast as the villain. According to the article, a “resident who did not want to be named” told the TAB, “about two-thirds of the way through, when [Rex] realized that substantial opposition existed in the community, he collapsed. The outcome was a triumph of community activism.” The article ended ominously with the line “But whether this will in any way halt the process that has come so far remains to be seen.”

Fliers that were put up on light posts and in apartment buildings around Cleveland Circle and Comm. Ave. by those in opposition to any development of the reservoir caused the high turnout at that meeting and led many BC students to fear for the immediate safety of the buildings and running paths.

Like many others, Brian Moynihan, A&S; ’04, thought that possible development was a threat to the land surrounding the reservoir.

“I don’t see how they can do that, when every attempt BC has made to expand has been thwarted by the same community people,” he said.

“I’d like to see it developed by BC,” said Christine Burns, A&S;’04. “It’s land that I think we could use, and we obviously need to expand.”

“I run around that area and I know a lot of people do,” said Michael Krueger, A&S; ’05, who was under the impression that the paths were in danger. “They’d really be hurting BC kids if they took away the running trails,” he said.

Otis said the reason that meeting covered in the TAB article was so controversial was because “people just misunderstood a number of key elements about what was happening. People came to that meeting not willing to even listen to Albert Rex, not in the frame of mind to,” she said.

Although the property will most likely be sold or leased to a private entity, according to Otis, Connolly and Boston College officials, neither the water nor the surrounding land and buildings are in any danger.

Extensive measures will be taken to ensure the preservation of both the high and low pumping stations, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are protected as Boston Landmarks.

“One of the first stipulations [written in the RFP] is that [the developers] have to restore the buildings first,” said Otis. “They can’t begin work on anything else until this is done, and there must be as little new development as possible.”

“We’re hoping some group that loves old buildings will come in,” said Otis, on the fate of the two pumping stations. “We’ve had a number of very famous architects that have expressed interest in this area.”

Potential ideas for use of the Richardsonian Romanesque and Ecole des Beaux Arts style structures, include converting the high pumping station into a museum and the low station into a hotel. Under no circumstances will their exteriors be subjected to alterations. The land around the reservoir may experience public-friendly changes, making the reservoir area accessible to all members of the community as an area of recreation.

At this point, BC is not interested in buying the property, even though it comprises 50 percent of the campus’s eastern border.

“BC has expressed no interest in developing these sites,” said Jean McKeigue, BC director of community affairs.

“We agree that the land in its present capacity is a misuse of the property,” said Jack Dunn, BC director of public affairs, “Anything that could enhance the usability for our students, we’d support.”

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