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Needham Town Meeting will decide on $2.5 million land purchase along Charles River next month

The town and developer Northland Residential would divide much of the historic Castle Farm property, located close to Dover.

Needham Town Meeting will decide whether to purchase open space along the banks of the Charles River near the border with Dover.TOWN OF NEEDHAM

Needham officials and a Concord-based developer are partnering on the proposed purchase of land located along the banks of the Charles River that would preserve nearly 3 dozen acres of open space, according to a statement. The agreement would also open up room for a 70-unit town house project.

The town and developer Northland Residential would essentially divide much of the historic Castle Farm property, which is located south of Charles River Street and close to Needham’s border with Dover.

Under the arrangement, Needham officials would spend $2.5 million on a pair of 3-acre lots on Charles River Street, as well as about half of the 58-acre former farm property along the river, the statement said.


Needham Town Meeting members on Oct. 24 will be asked to approve the roughly 34-acre purchase, according to the statement.

Northland Residential would acquire the remaining 28 acres for about $18.5 million, according to the statement. The developer is proposing to use about 14 acres for its town house project, and leave the remainder as open space. A buffer area also would be left between the town houses and the neighborhood on Whitman Road.

That property also includes a roughly 10,000-square-foot home built around 1900, according to town records. A recent Zillow real estate listing described the home as having “stunning architectural detail” with 12 bedrooms, eight baths, and scenic views of the waterfront.

The former farm property was once home to renowned environmentalist Charles H.W. “Henry” Foster and his wife, Barbara Foster, according to the town. Henry Foster was a president of The Nature Conservancy, and worked as a professor of environmental policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, according to the Harvard Gazette.

Jack Dawley, the president and CEO of Northland Residential, said in the statement: “The envisioned land use plan simultaneously honors the lifelong environmental stewardship legacy of Henry and Barbara Foster, the conservation and land preservation objectives of the Town and the recognition of fair market value of land assets of this nature.”


A spokeswoman for Northland Residential declined comment to the Globe.

If Town Meeting approves the purchase, it would mean public ownership for about 64 acres of land located between Charles River Street to the north and the river to the south.TOWN OF NEEDHAM

The proposal does not include a separate, roughly 7-acre property located off of Charles River Street, which would remain privately owned.

Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, a town spokeswoman, said the developer approached town officials earlier this year about working together. They have negotiated sales terms with the family trusts that own the properties.

Northland’s project would be proposed under the state’s Local Initiative Program, which provides technical assistance to communities and developers working together to create affordable housing, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The developer is proposing approximately four of the 70 town house units would be affordable to owners earning 80 percent of the area median income.

In Needham, the area median income for a family of four is $140,200, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Before Northland can purchase its share of the farm property, Needham’s Select Board and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development must approve its application through the LIP program, according to Roy Gonzalez.

The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals also will have to review the developer’s application for a comprehensive permit for the project, she said. That process would begin after the developer acquires the land.

The town’s share of the purchase would abut a roughly 30-acre portion of the Ridge Hill Reservation, a publicly owned open space that the town bought from the Foster family in 1981. The town will seek to borrow the money, according to Roy Gonzalez..


If the purchase is approved by Town Meeting, it would mean public ownership for about 64 acres of land located between Charles River Street to the north and the river to the south. It also includes an existing trail network.

The land purchase will preserve the scenic road view along Charles River Street, and significantly expand the town’s waterfront access to the Charles River, according to the statement.

“This partnership will allow the Town to provide more of this kind of space and to protect this land now and for generations to come through Town ownership,” Marianne Cooley, the chairwoman of Needham’s Select Board, said in the statement.

John Hilliard can be reached at