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Neighbors watch property sale

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Spotlight Report

Neighbors watch sale of Brighton property closely

By Donovan Slack, Globe Correspondent, 12/5/2003

For decades, Mulligan family holidays have been spent in the shadow of the Catholic Church. More specifically, next to the expansive cardinal's residence and grounds in Brighton.

But the cardinal was more than just a neighbor to the Mulligans. Joe Mulligan III's grandmother was a personal secretary to Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, and his grandfather was the cardinal's chauffeur.

For Mulligan, news of the church's intent to sell the residence to settle sexual abuse claims signifies not only "a sad end to an era" but the beginning of a potentially unnerving chapter in the neighborhood -- one that he and many of his neighbors worry could jeopardize the quiet residential setting they have come to cherish.

"I think a lot of people have looked at the church as a source of stability," said Mulligan, whose parents live in a house abutting the cardinal's residence and grounds. "I guess that's gone now."

Speculation about who or what will take over the 28-acre property had residents and politicians buzzing throughout Brighton yesterday. "It's going to be one of the biggest planning and development issues to confront this community, ever," state Representative Brian Golden said. "You're talking about a gargantuan open space."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke with church representatives yesterday morning about whether they would be willing to work with city officials to identify appropriate buyers and uses of the property. "They said they'll work with us," Menino said. He would not say what types of use he favors.

Many neighborhood residents said yesterday that they definitely opposed construction of condominiums on the land. Some favored large residential homes. And others threw their support behind Boston College, a potential buyer frequently mentioned yesterday.

Despite some neighbors' fears that such a sale would bring noisy students and parking problems to the area, Robert Vera believes the college deserves the extra space. "Students don't bother us," said Vera, who lives across the street from the cardinal's residence. "We had three children go to BC."

One neighborhood group, though, is steeling itself for a protracted battle against any college purchase of the property. Lorraine Bossi, who handles zoning issues for the Brighton-Allston Improvement Association, said selling to Boston College would be a "catastrophe" for Brighton. "I've worried about this for a year," said Bossi, who planned to bring up the issue at the association's meeting last night. "We have enough problems with them as it is. We've tried to contain them."

Bossi is among those neighbors pulling for the construction of large residences, or "mansions," on the site instead.

"I think this should be well thought out," the 34-year Brighton resident said. "The community has to have input."

Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who also lives near the cardinal's residence, believes ownership will not be the issue, but rather how the new owners plan to use the property.

"The problem would be if it were to be a dormitory use or high traffic use," he said.

Galvin added that the neighbor potentially impacted more than any other could be the church itself. With the archdiocese retaining ownership of the seminary next to the residence, he said the need for peace and quiet will be just as important to church officials as it will be to lay neighbors.

"I dont think they'd want the type of dormitory use you see on lower campus," he said, adding that students often can be found there on weekend nights "falling up and down the street at 4 in the morning."

"If you're trying to run a seminary, how much interference would that use create?"

Regardless of which usage options Galvin and other neighbors favor, Golden said the issue is sure to strike a chord.

"It may even surpass Harvard's acquisition in North Allston in its potential to arouse extraordinary neighborhood involvement," he said. "It's in the heart of a densely populated neighborhood, and you're talking about a possible loss of open space."

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.


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