ANNALS OF LAND USE WARS : ROXBURY LATIN

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^ Headmaster Terry Brennan of Roxbury Latin School addresses many supporters and some opponents at a recent design review hearing

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Two nights ago, at West Roxbury High School’s auditorium, about 250 people gathered to support, or oppose, Roxbury Latin School’s revised proposal to add an enclosed hockey rink to its campus along St. Theresa Avenue. The proposal — by an entirely private owner of land, please note — was subjected to public review and comment because that is the BRA’s process, and the School wanted, smartly, to apply BRA procedures earlier rather than later.

Supporters of the proposal audibly outnumbered opponents, by about 5 to 3. Clearly the School has gone many lengths to marshal paramount neighborhood support, and it showed, as one supporter after another spoke. As for opponents, they too spoke : in detail and either passionately — the spokesman for Bogandale Road’s twenty or so abutters — or in ridicule — a man from Redgate Road on the other side of the School grounds. The Redgate Road man poo-pooed the School’s need to build a hockey rink, saying that Roxbury Latin provides great education even without a rink and so did not vitally need to build one. The Bogandale Road spokesman viewed the Rink — which will front Bogandale Road its full length — as an insult to the neighborhood, placed where proposed intentionally to injure the Bogandalers. He promised a legal fight every step of the way.

This, readers, is how it is in the densely settled neighborhoods of Boston. An entirely private owner of land, long established and strong in the community, cannot use its own land for purposes it thinks best without having to pass through a fight, or many fights. Not once did anyone at the hearing say these dreaded words : that a private owner of land has the right to use its own land as nit sees best fit. Quite clearly, today, an owner of land does not fully own his land. his abutters own it too.

That’s the basic consequence of zoning laws, which were enabled in Massachusetts by a 1956 statute. Yet the fight against Roxbury Latin went beyond the restrictions of Boston’s zoning code. Opponents take the position that what they do not want Roxbury Latin to do on its own land is the rule, whether or not zoning restrictions have been complied with.

No doubt the new hockey rink will, if allowed, change the relationship-p between the Bogandale Road home-owners and the School. Will it devalue their homes ? They seem to say that it will, but predictions of this kind don’t always take place as feared. The Bogandale Road homes may actually increase in value; for walking proximity to a school that takes in boys of all backgrounds and sends them to great colleges is no small amenity. This very point was a major argument advanced by the supporters of the School’s proposal.

Were Roxbury Latin not a hugely respected institution, with thousands of influential alumni, most still living in the area, and were the school less shrewdly led in this fight, there can be scant doubt that their proposal would crash., It still might, though my sense is that approval is likely. The School addressed every environmental issue, every zoning condition, every traffic and conservation concern. It has thoroughly prepared its case, and it has the funds and expertise to do so.

That’s what it takes, these days, for a private owner of land in the City of Boston to get to use his own land as he deems best.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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