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A good plan for Newton

THE COMMUNITY Preservation Act is designed to allow a city or town to establish a special fund to preserve open space and encourage construction of affordable housing. The state Legislature should not stand in the way of Newton using $5 million of this money to safeguard much of Kesseler Woods, one of the few undeveloped tracts of land in the city, while still facilitating the creation of housing.

If this project were in the heart of Newton, it would move forward without question. Because it is on the Brookline border, Representative Michael Rush, who represents part of that town and most of West Roxbury, has intervened. The objections of a few constituents should not trump the greater good of everyone in the area.

The Brookline residents are worried because a 62-unit condominium development would be located a few hundred feet from their doors. Eleven single-family homes are also planned. The neighbors may want to keep Kesseler Woods free of development, but that is out of the question. Until 2004 the land was owned by NStar. To maximize the value of the site, it had obtained preliminary approval for 68 single-family homes, without open space laid out to facilitate public access.

Newton, working with Cornerstone Corporation, has devised a plan that will preserve more than half the 42-acre site as open space, yet the company is putting more into the land purchase than the city, $10.1 million compared with $5 million. Cornerstone will contribute $75,000 for trails on the conserved land to encourage access.

Housing prices have skyrocketed in all three communities. Under the plan, 12 of the 62 condominiums will be sold at reduced prices to address affordable housing needs.

Rush says the development will increase traffic on busy LaGrange Street, and might threaten Saw Mill Brook, which runs through Kesseler Woods to the Charles River. LaGrange is busy, but that has far more to do with new vehicle registrations than with any one development. According to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, since 1990 car registrations in Newton have increased by 15 percent, those in Brookline have gone up 16 percent, and those in Boston 34 percent (no breakdown is available for West Roxbury).

Rush wants to kill the project by banning development within 1,000 feet of the brook, but existing environmental law, which prevents development within 200 feet of the waterway, should be enough.

Cornerstone should strive to minimize the impact on the Brookline neighbors by keeping construction noise to a minimum and shielding the finished project with trees and scrubs. But overall the development will enhance the entire area. 

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