Saturday, 2:15 PM
Menino and Boston College clash over payments
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff
In the latest clash in an increasingly public quarrel, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino today called upon Boston College to increase its voluntary payments to the city to offset the tax revenue the city will lose because of the school's recent $67 million purchase of a high-rise apartment complex on Commonwealth Avenue.
As part of its $1 billion expansion plan, the college wants to turn the building, about one-third of a mile from the university's Chestnut Hill campus, into a dormitory for more than 500 students. As nonprofits, colleges are exempt from taxes on most of their property.
Menino announced his opposition to the expansion plan last week and urged the college to house all its students on its main campus. College officials say the main campus, which has 4,700 students on 40 acres, is too crowded to build the necessary dorm space, and they need to convert the Commonwealth Avenue property to meet the housing demand.
Today, Menino, through his spokeswoman, took aim at the college. "He believes BC should make that up somehow," said Menino press secretary Dorothy Joyce. "They don't do as much as their counterparts, and he'd like to see them do more."
Menino wants BC to pay the city the $424,000 it will lose in taxes from the Commonwealth Avenue property, as well as additional community benefits "to moderate the impact on the neighborhood," Joyce said.
Boston College, whose campus is split between Newton and Boston, pays the City of Boston $261,000 annually, a total that trails some other colleges in Boston. Boston University pays $4.6 million, and an additional $3.5 million in property taxes, while Harvard pays $1.8 million a year for its Boston facilities, city officials said.
Boston College officials today said they were willing to discuss the mayor's request as the city review of the expansion plan moves forward. "Boston College is happy to have discussions with the mayor on these matters and looks forward to doing so," said college spokesman Jack Dunn. Dunn said such discussions would probably take place later this summer, when the college and city negotiate a community benefits package around the proposed expansion.
Dunn defended the college's level of community support, saying the college provides more than $5 million worth of community service to Boston and Newton.
"In terms of community benefits, Boston College is among the most generous colleges and universities in the city," Dunn said. Dunn added that the mayor "has a friend in Boston College," and that reports of tensions between the two sides were "overblown."
The growing friction between the college and Menino is more than political posturing. BC's plan, which it describes as critical to its future, needs the approval of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, whose board is stacked with Menino appointees.
Menino has also expressed frustration over the college's recent efforts to have alumni contact city officials and state representatives to register their support for the expansion. Menino said the lobbying efforts were premature because the plan was only recently filed for official city review.
Most colleges reimburse their host communities for the cost of municipal services and for lost tax revenue on their property, often vast amounts of valuable land. In Boston, colleges typically provide additional community benefit packages in negotiations over their expansion plans.
Earlier this year, for example, Harvard, which is proposing a $1 billion science center in Allston, agreed to pay $24 million in community benefits.
Newton Mayor David Cohen recently announced that he plans to approach BC officials about increasing their payments, now $100,000 a year. Jeremy Solomon, director of policy and communications for the city, said the city's fiscal struggles following the rejection of a $12 million tax measure are prompting the move.
"It's clear we need to explore every revenue opportunity out there," he said, noting that the payments had not increased in a decade. The college does contribute to Newton in a variety of indirect ways, such as community service and free courses for city employees, Solomon added. BC's long-range expansion plan includes four new academic buildings in Newton.
Earlier this year, legislators asked state finance officials to study a plan that would impose a 2.5 percent annual assessment on colleges with endowments exceeding $1 billion. Supporters said deep-pocketed colleges were not giving enough of their tax-free fortunes back to the community.
College officials say the addition of housing for almost 1,300 students, including new dormitories on its Brighton campus across Commonwealth Avenue, will dramatically reduce neighborhood complaints over disruptive students. The college also plans to restrict undergraduates from renting apartments in one- or two-family houses in Allston-Brighton and Newton.
Neighbors strongly prefer that Boston College restrict new dormitories to its main campus, but many are thrilled by the college's campaign to provide university housing for all its undergraduates. Additional dorms, they hope, will cut down on the number of students living off-campus, whom they blame for many loud, late-night parties.
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