Watertown will expand its public open space and take control of one of the few wetlands in the city limits after the City Council voted to approve the acquisition of the Walkers Pond property.
The vote came Tuesday night, and City Manager George Proakis said the deal to buy the property on the Westside of town could be completed within the next week. The 6.67-acre parcel will be purchased for $11.25 million.
Leo Martin, chair of the Watertown Conservation Commission, thanked the Council for the final approval, adding that Council President Mark Sideris and former Town (and City) Manager Michael Driscoll “put up with him” as he continued to push for the acquisition of the property.
“We have nine ponds in Watertown and we don’t control any. It’s nice to control open space that has wetlands associated with it,” Martin said. “Thank you very much. It’s a very big day for us.”
A couple members of the Council remember touring the site with Martin and other members of the Conservation Commission several years ago. Councilor Tony Palomba said even before that a meeting was held in 2008 to push for purchasing the pond.
The pond sits along the border between Watertown and Waltham. Councilor John Gannon has memories playing at Walkers Pond when he was young: looking at frogs and tadpoles at Walkers Pond, and learning to play hockey there when it froze.
“District D has the least amount of open space,” Gannon said. “This acquisition provides more opportunity for residents from District D and all over Watertown and neighbors in Waltham as well.”
District D Councilor Emily Izzo said the acquisition provides happy news for her and her constituents.
“Being able to vote on this is so exciting, and I just want to say how exciting it is for the West End in general to be able to say we are having a community meeting on open space, not another development in the area,” Izzo said.
Getting the deal done was no simple matter, Sideris said. He thanked Driscoll, Proakis and former acting Deputy City Manager Steve Magoon for making it a reality.
“I remember sitting in a room with the principal of this property several times to start the conversation. It was not an easy conversation to be had,” Sideris said. “To get to this point is a testament to the community and a testament to everybody for continuing to keep this on people’s radar. This was the opportunity we were looking for, for acquiring more open space.”
The purchase was not straightforward, either, Proakis said. First, because 0.47 acres of the property is located in the City of Waltham, Watertown had to ask the State Legislature to pass a Home Rule Charter to allow the purchase of land in another municipality.
Also, the deal technically calls for Watertown to “take” the land from the owners, Proakis said. By doing it through an Order of Taking, he said, the City could negotiate a price acceptable to the seller. State regulations limit how much a city or town can pay for a piece of property.
“It caps us in way to a price unlikely for anyone to sell it to us,” Proakis said.
Most of the time, a taking of property is associated with eminent domain, where a government gets land from a property owner who does not want to part with it. While they are compensated for the property, oftentimes the owner of the land is not willing and it can lead to legal issues. In this case, Proakis said, the seller is willing.
“While eminent domain is the route that appears on paper, we don’t have an unwilling seller who is going to turn around and appeal and sue us,” Proakis said.
While still being a relatively new City Manager, Proakis said he was excited to see the purchase come to fruition having worked on it since he arrived in town in August.
“We could possibly have this acquisition completed by end of this week if not by the beginning next week,” Proakis said.