Threat of Sale is Imminent for Wellesley College’s North 40

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Threat of Sale is Imminent for Wellesley College’s North 40

Threat of Sale is Imminent for Wellesley College’s North 40
Jul 31, 2014
Jean Wiecha
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Nature has always played a significant role for Wellesley students - Library of Congress, American Memory Collection

 

The future of a 46-acre portion of Wellesley College’s historic campus is uncertain if the College succeeds in its effort to sell it to a developer or to the Town of Wellesley. Known as the "North 40", it is part of an 1873 donation by one of the College’s founders, Henry F. Durant, and features woodlands, community gardens, a variety of flora, hiking trails and animal habitat.

History

Wellesley College, which occupies a 720-acre campus west of Boston, is renowned for academics, influential alumnae, and for its historically significant landscape. Considered among the most beautiful campuses in the country, Wellesley College’s current appearance still reflects early 20th century plans devised by Arthur Shurcliff, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and others. Campus and community residents alike enjoy the winding paths among historic buildings as well as the woodland paths around adjacent Lake Waban.

North 40 Pines
Wellesley's North 40 woodland, photo by Jean Wiecha.
To the north, the campus buildings front the Boston Marathon route. Every April, throngs of students cheer the runners as they near the race’s halfway mark. The students applaud and yell, but they stay on their side of the street and stand behind a barrier fence, as if the campus ended abruptly at the pavement.

In fact, the College campus continues on the other side of the road. There, the College owns 46 acres known as the North 40, one of several land parcels given to the college by one of its founders, Henry F. Durant, in 1873. The so-called “Durant Indenture”, inclusive of the North 40, became the college campus. The land also came with certain restrictions – Durant wanted the land used as "farm lands, pasture, woodlots, mowing fields, as well as pleasure grounds and cultivated lands" for the benefit of Wellesley College. In the college bylaws, a quote from the indenture states that Durant’s lands were "conveyed for the purpose of maintaining thereon forever a college for the education of females.”

North 40 Gardens
Wellesley's North 40 community gardens, photo by Jean Wiecha.
Over the years, the College maintained the North 40 in accord with Durant’s wishes and generously permitted community residents access. The site’s trails have become an integral part of the town of Wellesley’s trail system, which provides well-connected woodland access to people and wildlife. In addition to a trail system, since the 1970s the North 40 has hosted community gardens including one run by the Weston Road Garden Club, a long-standing partner to the Wellesley Pantry in providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need.

While the campus proper is elegantly sculpted, the majority of the North 40 remains “farm lands [and] woodlots” as stated in the indenture. Its heritage and legacy as a mixture of wild and cultivated space entrusted to the college make it a place out of time, a respite from the 21st century, and the largest parcel of undeveloped land left in Wellesley. Students and local residents take stewardship of the land seriously and it remains clean, quiet, and abundant with wildlife despite being centrally located in a densely populated suburb.

Threat

North 40

North 40
(upper) Wellesley's North 40, photo by Jack Davis; (lower) photo
by Jean Wiecha.
On April 18, 2014, Wellesley College filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court requesting that the Durant Indenture be removed so that Wellesley College could sell the property. Area residents learned of the request on April 24. On May 2, the Commonwealth’s Attorney General granted Wellesley College's request. No hearings were held and no public discussion took place. Instead, residents of the Town of Wellesley received brief letters from the college informing them of its plans to sell the land for development.  This has raised concerns not only about housing density, traffic and eradication of forested land, but also about lack of proactive planning for the site and transparency in the decision-making process.

As of this writing (late July 2014), many town residents have voiced concern through town meetings, letters to College trustees, and other means. The College is moving to put the land on the market as early as September. While this is not the first time development options have been considered for the site – a decade or so ago plans were floated for a community retirement housing facility for faculty – this is the most concrete.  Time is running out to find an alternative to a development-oriented sale. Although the town has placed some conservation restrictions on development, it is also zoned for single-family residential homes and as many as 80 to 100 lots may be built on it if a private developer purchases it. If the town buys it, a school, playing fields, and/or other municipal buildings may be placed there. The destruction of the site’s unique natural, ecological and cultural values is virtually certain—and in violation of the donor’s conditions.

How to Help

The College should honor the integrity and intent of the Durant Indenture, be more transparent and proactive in the site’s analysis, planning, and land use. One alternative is to sell the land into a conservation trust. With this strategy, Wellesley College could receive proceeds from a sale, the buyers could potentially obtain tax benefits…and the wildlife and gardens could continue.

To get involved with the future of the North 40, please visit www.savethenorth40.org. Let Wellesley College know that the best alternative to not selling the land is selling it for the sole purpose of conservation.