To the editors:
As Wellesley College students return to school for the 2014-2015 academic year, they arrive at the scene of debate over the future of the college-owned 46-acres of woodlands bordered by Route 135, Turner Road and Weston Road, known to town residents as the North 40. With hopes to raise funds toward on-campus upgrades, Wellesley College successfully obtained permission to disregard the deed of Henry Durant, the donor of the land, allowing them to move toward selling the land to the highest bidder. However, a sale that singles out financial gain as a sole deciding factor between potential buyers, one that turns a blind eye to conservation and environmental preservation, could have irrevocably devastating consequences both for Wellesley College and the greater Wellesley community.
Wellesley College has a long history of being part of a mutually-beneficial relationship between itself and the Town of Wellesley. For many years, the College has accepted Wellesley High School students into some of their classes in order to supplement their learning experience in the public schools. In turn, Wellesley Public Schools grants students at the College with first priority over student teaching positions throughout the district. Wellesley College has also collaborated with various town departments on a number of projects, ranging in area from law enforcement to energy consumption.
Needless to say, the issue of the North 40’s fate provides Wellesley College with a new opportunity to recognize and prioritize the importance of its relationship with the larger community. Who the college chooses to sell the 46 acres of relatively-untouched wilderness to will dictate the level of positive or negative impact the sale will have on the surrounding community. If sold to a developer and built upon, town residents will lose the valuable natural resource they have come to respect and use with the college’s permission and have it replaced with gridlocked traffic, an increased maintenance burden on town finances and a decreased quality of life. Wellesley College, also subject to worsened traffic conditions, will be putting its water supply and reputation as a believer in environmental stewardship at risk.
But Wellesley College can choose to prevent this level of catastrophe through opting to sell the land to a more responsible buyer that intends to conserve and protect its natural beauty. There are various avenues through which this could be accomplished, many of which would maintain a level of profitability for the school while still meeting requests for resource preservation and protection. Groups of passionate volunteers in Wellesley that believe in “preserving Wellesley’s emerald necklace,” like the Friends of Wellesley North 40, are willing able to help seek out and utilize these processes.
For the community surrounding the North 40, the reasons for and benefits from seeking an environmentally-respectful answer to the land’s fate are many in number. Neighbors of the property, who have treasured the College’s generosity in granting them access to the land over the years, would be able to continue to use it for hiking, biking, dog-walking, gardening and many other life-enriching activities. Myriad species, ranging from deer and coyotes to red-tailed hawks and bluebirds, would have their homes saved. Traffic in the immediate area of the land would remain at its current levels, and new financial burdens on the part of the town to fund new maintenance and school enrollment costs would not be necessary.
Wellesley College would also benefit from selling the North 40 into a land trust or other conservation status. The school would be able to rely on continued protection of the aquifer under the North 40 that feeds their prized private water supply, which could be put at risk by commercial development. The College would also be keeping to its previously declared focuses on environmental stewardship and sustainability, as outlined in a recent letter from President H. Kim Bottomly and the College’s 2025 Plan for Campus Renewal. Of course, the College would also be preserving a positive relationship with its neighbors throughout Wellesley, demonstrating its dedication to playing a positive role in the community.
In the end, the leadership of Wellesley College is left with a decision, in which they must consider the disastrous consequences of moving for a quick sale of the North 40 with motives based only in immediate profit. The consequences of putting aside values in preserving natural resources will inevitably return to weigh down Wellesley College in the near and distant future. It is left up to not only community activists, but Wellesley College students and faculty, to make their voices heard in order to ensure that school does not make an irrevocable mistake of this magnitude.
— Matthew Hornung, Wellesley High School