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Proposal to make a Hyde Park pond 'great' may not be so good, say developers with plans for three pondside condos

Land where condos would go

Lakeside parcel where the condos would go, on Lakeside Avenue.

The state Department of Environmental Protection could decide later this summer whether to add Sprague Pond at the Readville/Dedham line off Sprague Street to its official list of "Commonwealth great ponds."

The Hyde Park Historical Society, which proposed the designation, says this would correct a longstanding oversight - the pond has always met the sole criterion for designation, that of being at least ten acres of size, possibly on its own but definitely if you include any former parts of it that were filled in, which is OK under state rules for determining what makes a pond "great."

Beyond making the somewhat obscure pond sound better, designation would highlight the area's historic importance, the society's Sylvie Agudelo said - Camp Meigs, where the 54th Massachusetts trained, bordered the pond. It would also help protect a wetlands area in Hyde Park that stretches along the Neponset River, which is less than half a mile away, on the other side of the Northeast Corridor train tracks. Currently, Jamaica Pond is Boston's only official "great" pond.

At a DEP hearing yesterday, Agudelo said maps and records show the pond and what is now filled in areas, in particular on the other side of the train tracks, were always at least 10 acres - and started at 19 in 1696, before Hyde Park even existed and the pond was entirely in Dedham.

The pond in 1851, when it was larger than it is today, the train tracks ran right through it, and the whole area was part of Dedham (source):

SJC decision from 1889 on the pond

Designation is "a huge priority for me," new 14th Suffolk State Rep. Rob Consalvo said at the DEP hearing, pointing to both the history and the work by Hyde Park residents to protect open space from Stony Brook Reservation to Fowl Meadow along the Neponset.

Although laws dating to colonial days would allow the public to potentially access the pond for boating, fishing and bird hunting, Daniel Padien of DEP says people could not cut across private property to get to the water - unless the property owners first said OK. The city of Boston does own a small, thin strip off Sprague Street that reaches to the pond, but it's not currently set up for public access.

However, Padien also said that designation would turn any filled land that was once part of the pond into "Commonwealth tidelands," on which any new construction would be barred or severely limited.

And that did not sit well with Darius Gregory and Garnet Brown, who have an agreement to purchase roughly an acre of vacant land on the Lakeside Avenue side of the pond to build three attached four-bedroom condos, for which they won Boston Conservation Commission and Zoning Board of Appeal approval in 2019 and 2020.

Zoning hearing on the proposal:

Gregory said he's all for historic preservation, but said he and Brown have "hundreds of thousands invested in this acre parcel," both to acquire the land and for the engineering, surveying, title research and other work required to win city approval and get the condos built. Would their project be grandfathered, should part of it be determined to be filled in pond bottom, they asked.

"I just need to know if this gets designation, where does that leave us?" Brown asked. "Why now?" Gregory asked. "It's been here over 400 years."

Padien said he didn't have answers to their questions, but said he'd be willing to meet with them.

The two were supported by Helena Tonge, president of the Belnel Family Neighborhood Association - which covers a Mattapan area off River Street across from the other end of Hyde Park. She questioned who is really backing the great-pond proposal and whether there might be equity and even faith issues involved.

Another question Padien said he couldn't answer is why the pond was not already officially "great," even though, in 1889, the Supreme Judicial Court declared it "great" in a ruling on whether an ice company on the Hyde Park end of the pond could claim ownership of the ice it had marked off but not harvested - which was then carved out by an ice company on the Dedham end of the pond.

In the case, People's Ice Company vs. Charles E. Davenport, the court concluded the Hyde Park company had no rights to ice it had not already removed because the pond was great and because of the nature of Massachusetts great ponds:

It is too well settled to be disputed that the property in the great ponds is in the Commonwealth; that the public have the right to use them for fishing, fowling, boating, skating, cutting ice for use or sale, and other lawful purposes; and that the owners of the shores have not exclusive rights in them except by a grant of the Legislature. ... The right to cut ice is common to all the public. The plaintiff has this right in common with the rest of the public, but it cannot by its own act appropriate a part of the pond by scraping it, or setting up stakes, and exclude the public from it. The ice until it is cut remains a part of the realty, and no one has any exclusive title to it. There is no statute or other law which enables an owner of the shore, or any other person, thus to exclude the public.

SJC decision from 1889 on the pond
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Of course Consalvo is on the side of weaselly people who hide behind weird lawsuits to protect their parochial interests. I bet he get a nice delivery from the microgreen grifters every month.

Voting closed 24

Shut up. Sorry the developers can't shove a condo where it doesn't belong but they didn't do their homework, or maybe hoped others wouldn't do theirs. So tired of developers taking to social media when things don't go their way to bad mouth elected officials. Be better at your job. The pond was already declared "great" by the Supreme Judicial Court. Consalvo is on the right side of this and the only one doing the right thing.

Voting closed 46

If you want to strain your ears, watch the 2019 zoning hearing above. The developers needed zoning approval because the land sits in an area designated for special scrutiny for conservation purposes (the project was otherwise zoning compliant), but at the hearing, it was obvious nobody knew about the 1899 court decision. Ditto for the Conservation Commission approval in 2020.

If anything, it would have seemed at the time that the pond was NOT a great pond, based on the official state list, which was drawn up by DEP in the 1990s and which does not include Sprague Pond.

Rob Consalvo is a nice guy, but I'm doubting he's an expert in the ramification of the Colonial Ordinance of 1641-1647, which is what this all stems from. And because he's a nice guy, I'm doubting he's pulling a Scaccia here and springing something he's known all along but never told anybody else about.

Voting closed 31

The microgreens folks bought and paid for Tim McCarthy. You think now that he's no longer a city councilor that discreet package of unmarked bills goes to Consalvo?

Voting closed 17

So far there's 2 comments specifically accusing someone of corruption, is there a factual basis for these accusations? If so, please share, if not, please stop. Apparently there is a lot of money in alfalfa sprouts. And, I seem to recall reading the owner of the development parcel near Sprague Pond has owned it for many decades and maintained it for the neighborhood to use for picnics, etc. there should be a way to allow part to be developed with adequate buffer for the pond.

Voting closed 22

But the man who owned it died a few years ago. It's the current owner, who basically inherited the land, who is working with Brown and Gregory (initially, just Brown), who filed for permission to build the three condos.

Voting closed 12

I guess it all depends on your definition of corruption. I once asked one of the owners of the greenhouse how they managed to swing such a sweetheart deal (they got acres of city-owned land for less than $1000), and he replied that he and his wife had donated the max to McCarthy's campaign, bundled donations from others, and held multiple fundraisers for McCarthy's campaign. Though probably not illegal, it was a pretty obvious quid pro quo.

Voting closed 16

Really? That was his true reply? Seems off...

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You do realize that McCarthy replaced Consalvo, not the other way around.

That said, what does Arroyo have to say about any of this.

Voting closed 18

A public pond is a parochial interest ?

Voting closed 15

So as stated before, the stench of NIMBY is real with this one. Glad that has come to light. No surprise.

Voting closed 21

Daniel Padien of DEP says people could not cut across private property to get to the water - unless the property owners first said OK.

Is this an accurate representation of what the great pond designation does? I think it is largely correct, people could not cut through random yards at will, but they could travel on whatever the public access is designated as.

My understanding, helping to care for a property that completely surrounded a great pond, is that there must be a public access to the pond, and that public access cannot be impeded by the property owner(s) through which the public access is designated. Any transit through the property that is not on the specifically defined public access route would be trespassing. The property owner has no obligation to keep the public access route clear, provided they did nothing to impede it.

Presumably whoever has the job of designating the public access to a great pond would do everything possible to avoid routing it through developed private property, but in my limited experience, if there is only private property around the pond, it will go through the private property somewhere. In my case, we didn't have to let them use our road, or parking lot at the entrance, so the handful of folks who did exercise their right to use the pond for fishing did have to carry in their boats down a dirt path for a bit of a distance from the main road.

Voting closed 14

That's what he said. The pond is almost entirely surrounded by private property, so maybe he was trying to reassure those property owners. Hardly anybody even knows about this pond, so it's not like there's been a huge clamor for access (very occasionally you will see somebody fishing on it).

There's no designated public access to the pond. As mentioned, the city does have a tiny strip that runs from Sprague Street to the pond, but it currently seems to be used for parking dump trucks.

There's a largeish apartment complex that will be going in just north of the pond. At the outset, the developer said he'd be willing to work to create a park, but that was when he was proposing 600+ units, not the 230 or so he finally ended up getting approval for, so I don't know where that stands.

Voting closed 14

I hope they start that soon. Walcott Square needs some development.

Voting closed 9

I'm trying to figure out if ice harvesting is still allowed on great ponds. Not having much luck finding out so far, but I just ran across a state law on public access to great ponds that basically says if there's already public access to the pond, well, that's great, but if there isn't, and ten citizens of the Commonwealth submit a petition, the state has to hold a hearing on the issue and then file a report within a year with the legislature on how to create public access to the pond, by way of legislation.

In this case, I'd think that city strip of land would qualify, unless it's too narrow, maybe.

Voting closed 14

I live on the other side of tracks from this pond at the end of HP Ave at the end of Boston. I did not know the pond was there and I support most development because we need it. I am confused. Can the pond be a great pond but it will also protect all the way over on Neponset Ave? Why would this stop development? I need to do some reading.

Voting closed 10

Sorry if I wasn't clear.

If you call up a map of Sprague Pond (like, oh, this one), you'll see how close it is to the Neponset River - and Fowl Meadow, which surrounds the river (for a good view of the meadow, go down to Meadow Road and drive towards the old Stop & Shop warehouse).

The possible impact on development would only be on the ground immediately around the pond. For example, there's a part of the former Stop & Shop complex on the other side of the train tracks, and maybe part of some of the train-yard land there that used to be part of the pond, but which is now filled in (those tracks off Prescott). Great Pond designation would possibly affect what could be built there.

The question for the three condos at question in the article is whether any of the land on which they would sit was ever part of the pond as well. It's possible it wasn't - to win city approval, the developers had to show their building was at least 50 feet away from the current shoreline - but resolving the question might delay the project.

Voting closed 11

Oh thanks. I live in the neighborhood directly across from the tracks. I need to see that just to wrap my head around this. They do car racing at that Stop & Shop warehouse. Do they hope to give that land back to the lake when the buildings are at their end?

Voting closed 12

More like blocking new construction, but who knows?

If you want to see the pond, drive down Sprague and turn left on McDonald Street. Park, walk down McDonald and you'll get a decent view via some company's parking lot. Turn back, walk down Lakeside Avenue, and look to your right. There'll be one view from the end of a driveway on your right, then, further down, just where the road takes a 90-degree turn to the left, there's another view down a slope (this is where the condos would go).

Voting closed 10