NU may sell Priority Habitat

By Rob Tokanel, News Staff

‘ BURLINGTON ‘- Northeastern released a real estate advertisement March 30 attempting to sell nearly 75 acres of property that has been deemed Priority Habitat by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. The 74.5-acre plot sits behind Northeastern’s Burlington campus and borders Mary Cummings Park, a 210-acre conservation land for which the trustee is the city of Boston.
The advertisement announced the land was for sale as a ‘residential development opportunity’ in a ‘strategic location on Route 128 on the Burlington/Woburn line.’
Cath Moore, a member of the Board of Directors for Mary Cummings Park, Inc., said the land has vernal pools that help feed the Mystic River and she worries what will happen if the woodlands are destroyed. She said she has been trying to contact members of the Husky Energy Action Team on campus to build support for conserving the land, which she said she has not seen Northeastern put to use for about ten years.
‘ Vice President for Marketing and Communications Mike Armini would not specify whether the land remains on the market or what the school has planned to do with it.
‘The university routinely looks at its different properties and considers uses consistent with our current priorities,’ he said in an e-mail to The News. ‘From time to time, we will market a particular property to determine if we can generate resources through a sale or other arrangement. This is standard procedure, particularly in a time of budget consciousness.’
Representatives for Colliers Meredith and Grew, described in the advertisement as Northeastern’s exclusive marketing agent, declined to comment on the status of the sale. However, The News obtained an e-mail from Pat O’Reilly, Treasurer for Friends of Mary Cummings Park, Inc., in which Paul Maggiore, CEO of the Maggiore Companies, told a Woburn city council alderman that the school had taken the land off the market until it could hold discussions in mid-June, at which time they planned on placing it back on the market.
‘ Maggiore said in the e-mail he intended to aggressively pursue the project. The alderman, Ray Drapeau, said in the e-mail he co-sponsored a resolve to look into having the city of Woburn purchase the land, possibly to turn it into senior housing.
According to media reports, Northeastern also attempted to sell the land in 2000 but a dispute over the number of houses that could be built in the development caused a sale to Archstone Properties to fall through. Woburn residents and city officials at the time tried to block the 640-house development from taking the place of what was then being used by Northeastern as a botanical research center. After about eight years of legal litigation, the issue was dropped, O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly, who said he grew up several blocks from the land, said it was seized as a test site by the military in the 1950s and purchased by Northeastern in the 1960s. Moore said the land was used by the school to grow poinsettias and Christmas trees in the 1980s, which they accepted donations for. The greenhouses that were once used for research now sit overgrown and abandoned next to an old farmhouse that also sits on the property.
O’Reilly said he would like to see as much of the land saved for conservation as possible, but he would also like to look into restoring the greenhouses and farmhouse to support an educational outreach program helping young children get more exposure to the natural environment.
‘Those types of program activities would seem to be a nice co-op opportunity for NEU students in the Human Services Program and the School of Education,’ he said.

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