The City Council yesterday unanimously approved using eminent domain to take roughly an acre of undeveloped land on the shore of Sprague Pond for a park, after one councilor assured the others that city officials will offer a fair price to the current owners - a key concern in a city with a history of eminent domain being used to destroy whole neighborhoods for apartment towers and highways.
The city will use money from its Community Preservation Act fund - collected from a surcharge on property taxes - to take the land from Darius Gregory and Garnet Brown, who spent four years winning city and state approval to put three condos on the property.
On March 1, Gregory and Brown paid $325,000 for the two parcels in question to the family of John Homer, who had maintained the land as a private park for Lakeside Avenue residents until his death in 2007. However, Gregory and Brown then put the land on sale for $1.6 million, calling it "a unique opportunity to purchase a coveted piece of waterfront property within the Boston city limits" that was ready to go for development and that they had decided to "move on to other projects." They have since taken the property off the market.
Councilor Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury), whose Committee on Community Development and Housing held a hearing on the proposal, said that as a resident of Jamaica Plan, which was hard hit by eminent-domain takings for the unbuilt I-95 extension, one of her big concerns was that Gregory and Brown be treated fairly. She said she had been assured in a private meeting with a key city official on the proposal this would happen, although she said she could not provide additional details because the price is currently under negotiation.
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan) also supported the proposal. The council then voted to approve the taking.
The city says the land would preserve an environmentally sensitive and historic site - the land was once part of Camp Meigs, where the 54th Massachusetts trained, and was a fishing spot for Native Americans before that - and would offer an area of "scenic beauty" with a good view of the Great Blue Hill.
Last October, the state Department of Environmental Protection restored the pond's designation as a "great pond," because while it might only be about eight acres in size, it was once more than ten acres, the minimum size for pond greatness. Jamaica Pond is Boston's other designated great pond. I
In addition to sounding cool, the designation means the pond is open to the public. Currently the pond is surrounded entirely by private land, except for a sliver at the northern end owned by the city, which uses it for parking trucks.