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Mayor calls BC's $1b expansion plan an intrusion

Says concerns in Brighton ignored

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / July 2, 2008

Escalating a simmering town-gown feud, Mayor Thomas M. Menino denounced Boston College's $1 billion expansion plan yesterday as an intrusion into the Brighton neighborhood and accused university leaders of arrogance in pursuing development goals with little regard for residents' concerns.

In a wide-ranging and sharply worded criticism of the plan, Menino said he squarely opposes BC's recently announced proposal to convert a high-rise apartment building about a third of a mile from the Jesuit university's main Chestnut Hill campus into a dormitory for 560 students.

Menino also restated his opposition to BC's plans to build new dorms on property it purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and disputed the university's contention that it cannot house more students on its main campus.

"I want them to build on the campus they have right now, not buy up property and turn it into a dormitory," he said in an interview. "I think they can find the room and come up with a plan that will have the least impact on the neighborhood."

Menino's opposition to two central components of an expansion blueprint, which BC says is crucial to its future, deals a setback to its campaign to win the city's approval. It also sharpens the gap between city officials and BC as the two sides begin to debate the details of the plan.

Menino criticized BC's approach in advancing the project, saying the school has not heeded doubts expressed by the neighborhood and the city.

"Confrontation doesn't work," he said. "I'm saying to them, 'Let's work together and stop pitting people against each other.' There has to be a balance between the interests of the city and the college."

Menino took particular exception to a recent effort by BC administrators to drum up support for the plan.

In a June 27 letter, president William P. Leahy urged alumni and BC employees who live in Boston to urge city officials to back the plan.

Menino said the lobbying effort was premature because the plan, filed with the city late last month, is in the early stages of review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. BC's plan needs approval of the BRA's five-member board, four of whom were appointed by Menino.

"My argument to them is, 'Listen to the neighbors,' " Menino said.

Jack Dunn, a BC spokesman, declined to respond directly to the mayor's criticisms, but said that university officials consulted with neighbors about the expansion plan for more than two years. Leahy's letter was sent in response to hundreds of calls supporting BC's campaign to house all its undergraduates, he said.

"Mayor Menino has a friend in Boston College, and our outreach is simply an attempt to demonstrate the widespread support for this master plan," he said.

BC announced last month that it planned to add housing for nearly 1,300 students over the next decade. To that end, the university recently agreed to pay $67 million for a 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Ave.

The mayor's comments yesterday followed a story in Banker & Tradesman, a banking and real estate publication, saying Menino opposed the planned dormitory. The Boston Herald reported yesterday that Menino was irked by Leahy's letter to alumni.

If approved, the new housing would make BC the first university in Boston to provide dormitories for all undergraduates who seek it, BC officials say. Dunn said the Commonwealth Avenue dormitory is "the only way we can achieve that goal."

Menino said he remained confident that the city and BC can find common ground.

Many neighbors support BC's planned development on Commonwealth Avenue, saying that students will be better behaved in dormitories with college oversight than in off-campus housing. But neighbors generally prefer that dorms be located on campus.

"Everyone's in agreement that a solution that the neighborhood could support wholeheartedly would be to build all the housing on the main campus," said Michael Pahre of Brighton.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.

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