Appeals Continue In Middle Campus, Soccer Field Cases

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

Boston College continues to press ahead with two legal appeals regarding the use of its property, according to Associate Vice President for State and Community Relations Paul White. Both appeals are aimed at reversing City of Newton decisions.

Testimony is likely to continue in the Middle Campus trial in Massachusetts Land Court through September, he said, as Newton defends its denial of a special permit for the academic building and student center.

Meanwhile, the University also is contesting a decision by the Newton Conservation Commission that prohibits Boston College from building soccer fields on the Newton Campus within 200 feet of Edmands Brook. While that appeal continues, BC has begun preliminary work on building a regulation soccer playing field at a different location nearby that does not require the commission's approval.

The Middle Campus trial has been continuing throughout the summer on an intermittent basis as time on the judge's schedule allows, said White. Boston College concluded its case last month and Newton has begun its presentation.

At issue is the Newton Board of Aldermen's 1996 decision to deny a special permit for the project. BC is arguing that the project is worthy of a permit based solely on its merits and that the Newton zoning ordinance, as it applies to Middle Campus, is arbitrary and capricious and, therefore, illegal.

"This is a long trial for Land Court," said White. "It's a very technical case that involves the use of land by an educational institution. It has become quite complicated.

"But we feel the University has made a very strong case for the project and we're optimistic about the result."

White said the judge probably won't render a decision until a number of weeks after the trial's conclusion.

The central issue in the Newton Campus appeal is the status of Edmands Brook, located near the campus and Newton's Edmands Park. The Conservation Commission ruled on July 23 that the brook is a river subject to the state's Rivers Protection Act and that, therefore, any field would need to be located at least 200 feet from the brook. BC's plan called for the construction of a regulation-size soccer playing field and a smaller practice field. Under the plan - worked out with input from BC's immediate neighbors in the area - part of the playing field would have been located within the 200-foot area.

Boston College presented scientific evidence to the commission indicating that the brook is intermittent - dry for part of the year - and, therefore, does not fall under the Rivers Protection Act. In any case, the University maintains, the project is exempt from the Rivers Protection Act because it was submitted for state environmental approval before the law took effect in 1996. The University is appealing the Conservation Commission's ruling to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"We were extremely disappointed that the Newton Conservation Commission chose to ignore the weight of scientific evidence indicating that Edmands Brook is an intermittent stream," White said. "We also were very disheartened that our carefully constructed, environmentally sensitive plan, fine-tuned in response to citizen suggestions, was struck down by the commission."

White noted that the decision is particularly unfortunate given the many efforts the University made to solicit and respond to the concerns of the Conservation Commission and neighbors, especially immediate abutters. Extensive modifications to the construction proposal were made following a number of meetings with neighbors, conservation officials and other interested parties.

With a pressing need for athletic field space, White said the University moved the site away from the 200-foot limit following the commission's ruling and will soon begin construction.

Unfortunately, he said, the move necessitated by the commission's decision will mean that many of the mitigation elements that had been worked out with neighbors will no longer be possible. However, he added, Boston College will continue to work with its neighbors to minimize the fields' impact on the surrounding community.

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