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BC gets closer to its housing target

Touts dorm plan for 1,300 students

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / June 17, 2008

Boston College, seeking to quell neighborhood complaints over disruptive students, announced plans yesterday to build new dormitories for nearly 1,300 students in a campaign to become the first major college in the city to provide university housing for all of its undergraduates.

To achieve that goal, BC has agreed to pay $67 million for a 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Ave., one-third of a mile from its main campus in Chestnut Hill, that would house 560 students. BC also reaffirmed its controversial plan to build new dorms on property purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

The far-reaching plan could intensify pressure on other local universities to accelerate dorm construction. Several schools, including Boston University and Northeastern University, are building dormitories in response to demands from students and residents. BU, for example, is building a $100 million high-rise dormitory for nearly 1,000 students, which when it opens in 2009 would allow 80 percent of its students to live on campus.

BC officials touted the plan as a milestone that would markedly improve town-gown relations by guaranteeing students four years of campus housing. Beyond that, BC also plans to restrict undergraduates from renting apartments in one- or two-family houses in Allston-Brighton and Newton.

The proposal, which requires city approval, seeks to reduce tension between colleges and their Boston neighbors, particularly over students who live off campus. Neighbors frequently complain about students' late-night rowdiness, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino has consistently urged colleges to build more dormitories.

"The neighbors have long asked for 100 percent student housing, and we've given it to them," said BC spokesman Jack Dunn. "We have never had complaints about Boston College students living in university housing."

Dunn said the converted dorm would be identical to other student residences and would be staffed by resident assistants and a priest.

Many Brighton residents, weary of disruptions caused by unruly students, welcomed the planned increase in student housing, whether on campus or close to it. But other Brighton neighbors said the college is not so much putting more students on campus as extending the campus into the neighborhood.

"I'm ecstatic that Brighton will no longer be a hotbed for student rentals," said neighborhood activist Eva Webster. "It's much better to have them contained and under BC's control."

Tim Burke - a member of a community task force reviewing the plan who lives beside the former archdiocesan property, which the college calls its Brighton campus - said BC's housing pledge represents a victory for neighbors.

"These landlords rent one- and two-family homes to 14 kids, and we live beside them," he said. "They come and go at all hours and have no stake in the neighborhood. This is just what we've been asking for."

But some neighbors, including opponents of dormitories on the former archdiocesan property, criticized the plan to convert the Commonwealth Avenue apartments as a similar incursion into a residential area.

"It is very dangerous for a university to keep expanding in this way, to keep buying up housing stock in a neighborhood," said Brighton resident Alex Selvig, an outspoken opponent of the Brighton dorms, which he said threatened a "fragile neighborhood."

Most Brighton residents urged BC to build more dorms on its main campus, which college officials say is too crowded for new development.

Boston College presented its latest blueprint for new dormitories at a task force meeting last night. In total, its plans would provide space for all 8,600 undergraduates within the next decade, BC officials said

The college will formally file its revised plans with the city Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which will review the plan, said that while officials welcome increased student housing, they will evaluate it in its entirety. "They understand that dormitories are important to the mayor and the city," said Susan Elsbree. "But it's all in the execution. We need to look at all the balances and trade-offs."

In February, Menino urged BC to explore alternatives to building dorms in Brighton, raising doubts about the college's plans for the 65-acre property. The college sees the land, which neighbors have long cherished as a peaceful haven from urban life, as an opportunity to give a crowded campus room to grow. Menino declined a request to be interviewed yesterday.

Building dorms on the former archdiocesan property would, for the first time, house BC students on the Brighton side of Commonwealth Avenue, long seen as a symbolic buffer between the neighborhood and BC. In a concession to neighbors, the college said yesterday it would delay its plan for a 350-student dorm in Brighton until 2018.

BC now houses about 85 percent of its students on campus. Nearly all students want to live on campus, Dunn said, and college administrators and faculty believe the structure of a residence hall improves the college experience. It will also help the college attract students seeking four years of guaranteed campus housing.

"This will erase a significant competitive disadvantage with elite schools with whom we compete for students," Dunn said.

Residents at 2000 Commonwealth Ave., who do not have leases, will have to leave their apartments in about a year, he said. Many are BC students.

Neighbors said they remained fearful that the college would continue to creep across and along Commonwealth Avenue.

"Are we going to live in a residential neighborhood or on a college campus?" asked Theresa Hynes, a Brighton activist. "They are crossing the boundary line."

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

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