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Threats taint BC dorm debate

Brighton neighbors prefer to see BC build more dorms in Chestnut Hill, where it has set up modular housing (right), rather than on the former St. John's Seminary land. Brighton neighbors prefer to see BC build more dorms in Chestnut Hill, where it has set up modular housing (right), rather than on the former St. John's Seminary land. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Andreae Downs
Globe Correspondent / January 27, 2008

The emotional debate over Boston College's plan to expand to former archdiocese land in Brighton has been muddied by anonymous online threats posted in the last two weeks against neighborhood activists.

Thomas Keady, BC's vice president for government relations, denounced the threats, which he said made his job - getting the expansion plans approved - more difficult.

"We are willing as an institution to cooperate with the Boston Police Department, and the BC police and administration are investigating," he told neighbors at an Allston Brighton Task Force hearing on Tuesday. "I never thought I would be coming here to discuss death threats."

The threats and other offensive comments have been taken down from the Web. One blog that allegedly registered anti-Semitic and sexist comments against one neighbor has been closed to the public. And a blog of neighbors who oppose BC's expansion has been closed to nonmembers because of the number of hateful postings it received.

A few posts calling anyone who opposes BC's plans "whiners" and worse remain at the Allston Brighton TAB site. University officials stressed that the blogs are not affiliated with the school, and that if the offending comments can be traced to BC students, officials will take disciplinary action.

Since Boston College submitted its Institutional Master Plan in early December, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Allston Brighton Community Task Force, an advisory body of BC neighbors, have collected public reactions.

Neighbors at the hearing last week registered unanimous opposition to BC's proposal to house 500 undergraduates in two dorms on the former St. John's Seminary land, which BC is calling its "Brighton campus."

Neighbors want the university to house more or all of the estimated 1,200 students who live off-campus. But they also oppose dorms for 490 on Shea Field, which they argued is too close to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, and many oppose a 420-bed dorm at More Hall on Commonwealth Avenue, at St. Thomas More Road. BC's plans call for dorms no higher than five stories, meaning that more land would be needed.

"This is moving open space from the Brighton campus to the Chestnut Hill site," said neighbor Charlie Vasiliades. "We've accepted enough changes at St. John's. Why not make the Chestnut Hill dorms six to nine stories instead?"

Most at the meeting suggested more students be housed at the one other site for which BC has proposed additional dorms - where 24 temporary structures, called modulars, sit in the center of the Chestnut Hill campus. Another idea was to retain the 790-bed Edmonds Hall, which BC wants to replace with a recreation complex.

BC officials said the plan does not include additional student housing, but instead for half the modulars to be replaced with two dorms housing the current number of students and the other half to be replaced with a university center to be built in 20 years.

The Chestnut Hill campus houses 6,000 undergraduates, according to BC spokesman Jack Dunn. He said neighbors in recent years have lodged no complaints about students who live on campus, but have asked that no additional housing be placed on the campus.

"People living near the Brighton campus are now saying they don't like the idea of students living" on the Brighton campus, he said.

Neighbors cautiously welcomed a plan for housing graduate students at the far east point of the Brighton campus - on the other side of Foster Street - and two BC proposals that are not yet part of the master plan: to help staff purchase homes in Allston and Brighton with some kind of mortgage assistance, and to prohibit off-campus students from living in one- and two-family homes (which some said should also extend to three-families).

Last week's discussion followed a Jan. 8 session on BC's proposed athletic facilities, including a fully lighted, 1,500-seat baseball stadium and 100,000-square-foot field house. Neighbors raised questions about the effect of night games, traffic, and lights on houses, and possible chemical runoff from artificial turf planned for many of the fields.

The following week, the topics were traffic, transit, and parking. BC discussed possible changes to the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue, St. Thomas More Road, and Lake Street, where there are chaotic turning patterns and pedestrians crossing busy roads to get to the BC MBTA stop. The university discussed plans to move that stop to a center platform farther east on Commonwealth, which it would allow the city and MBTA to widen by giving up 11 feet on either side of the street.

Neighbors asked the university for more detailed studies of each proposed change, and noted that the task force needs a traffic specialist to analyze data.

"It's premature to comment about what we think is good or not," said Frank Tramontozzi, a Brighton resident who is also chief engineer at MassHighway. "We have no information from traffic studies about existing conditions, how traffic would look in the future without development, and how traffic would look with development. BC should provide the task force with the tools it needs."

Others questioned whether BC had planned enough parking. The plan calls for 500 more spots in a garage on the new campus, but neighbors said an expanding workforce may bring even more workers to the campus. On the other hand, Fred Salvucci, a Brighton resident and transit specialist at MIT, noted that "parking lots are fertility drugs for cars."

The final task force hearing in this round, on open space and academic uses, begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Brighton Marine Health Center at 77 Warren St.

The BRA will compile comments and questions submitted before the public comment period ends Feb. 5, and give BC a summary. The university will file a response, setting off another round of public comment.

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