To the editor:
In my capacity as president of the Wellesley Conservation Land Trust (WCLT), and with the WCLT Board’s approval, I have recently sent a letter to the attorney representing the Sisters of Charity, regarding the property at 125 Oakland St., Wellesley. The following is the contents of that letter:
Dear Mr. Himmelberger:
In your capacity as attorney for the property owners of 125 Oakland Street, Wellesley, Mass., I am reaching out to you on behalf of the Wellesley Conservation Land Trust (WCLT), an organization for which I serve as President.
Consistent with the WCLT’s mission since 1958 to preserve and protect natural land in Wellesley, our organization hereby offers to purchase a Conservation Restriction of up to 6-acres at full independently appraised value (TBD) on the property at 125 Oakland Street. Our offer is subject to mutual agreement on boundaries and our raising funds from public and private sources. Our preliminary analysis indicates that a viable Conservation Restriction could be located at the edges of your client’s property in a manner that would help to protect the important natural resources offered by Centennial Reservation, while at the same time allowing for future development options on the remainder of the large lot.
As you may be aware, I first reached out to the Sisters of Charity on June 10, 2022 to reintroduce the Land Trust to them. I wanted to remind them of our shared history as our organization helped raise funds for the purchase of their land by the town which created Centennial Reservation in 1980. I invited them to discuss how protection of the natural environment on their property could also support their objectives in a future transaction of 125 Oakland Street.
On February 26, 2023, prior to Town Meeting where the Sisters of Charity ultimately withdrew the Residential Incentive Overlay (RIO) zoning amendment, I emailed you with a request to discuss options. This email included our suggestion that, “the Wellesley Conservation Land Trust is respectfully requesting the Sisters of Charity halt moving forward with the RIO until the current wetlands, wetlands buffer zones, open space, and forest be fully protected in perpetuity with a Conservation Restriction or other permanent mechanism.”
The latest proposal you presented to the Advisory Committee on September 27, which includes a Special Permit requirement in a zoning amendment to the Educational District, is not adequate in protecting the open space in perpetuity. The Special Permit is a process to follow. It does not guarantee an outcome for protection. This is especially true when your client’s proposed Special Permit provision lacks the kind of written guardrails and requirements previously established by Town Meeting for other uses.
Similar to the Wellesley Conservation Council’s role in the 1980 purchase of Centennial Reservation in fundraising and helping to facilitate the transaction, the Wellesley Conservation Land Trust (same organization, same mission, different name) can facilitate the preservation of this valuable open space while supporting the Sister’s financial aims. We have experience in raising funds for open space protection, and we commit to utilizing that experience in an effort to raise the needed funds to protect these lands in perpetuity while simultaneously allowing the Sisters to sell the land to a new owner. We are a qualified land trust that owns land and Conservation Restrictions in Wellesley, Weston, and Needham. We have a record in managing and protecting land, which gives us credibility with public entities that might be involved in approving a Conservation Restriction. As a land trust, we have access to creative, nationwide preservation organizations that can offer advice in designing, implementing and even considerations of potential tax savings structures for a for-profit end user of the Sisters’ property.
The Wellesley Conservation Land Trust believes this offer represents a classic “win-win” which will both help support the Sisters’ goal to sell the property to a for-profit organization and remain at the site while also raising funds for their future, as well as support our mission to preserve the natural lands in Wellesley for future generations. This is a precious property for Wellesley residents as it abuts the town’s largest open space, Centennial Reservation and its contiguous woodlands with neighboring properties, with trails, wildlife, and mature tree canopy providing both carbon sequestration and enjoyment for all.
Please present this offer to your client and I look forward to working out the specific details of a transaction with you.
Michael R. Tobin
President, Wellesley Conservation Land Trust