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Brighton residents sue city over BC

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / July 11, 2009
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Brighton residents sued the City of Boston this week, seeking to halt Boston College’s plan to build ball fields and a dorm on the site of the former headquarters of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

The suit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court by two homeowners, including the realtor brother of Secretary of State William F. Galvin. It accused the city of rubberstamping the school’s $1 billion expansion plan without studying the traffic, parking, economic, and environmental consequences to the neighborhood.

The plaintiffs contend the school is proceeding with construction at the 65-acre site, even though opponents had until this week to appeal the city’s decision in court.

They are asking a judge to stop the plan and order city officials to restart the approval process.

According to Patrick Galvin, heavy excavation has disturbed the once tranquil site at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Lake Street, long inhabited by an array of animals. Foxes, rabbits, opossums and skunks have been seen wandering the neighborhood, said Galvin and other residents.

“This land has never been touched,’’ Galvin said. “You put in 10-foot trenches and cut down trees, and we’re suddenly inundated with wildlife: foxes, skunks. A woman found a baby rabbit in the middle of the road.’’

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn had not seen the lawsuit, but shot back at the Galvin brothers.

“The institutional master plan was approved in a lengthy public process by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Boston Zoning Commission, and the mayor,’’ he said. “We have every confidence the plan will be upheld despite any attempt by the Galvin family to abuse their power in an attempt to thwart it.’’

The secretary of state has been an outspoken opponent of the college’s expansion plan.

Dunn said the school has not started construction on any projects in the plan. The work it is undertaking - renovation of buildings on the site - was approved in an earlier expansion plan, he said.

BC purchased the for $172 million, according to Dunn.

In June, the city’s Zoning Commission approved the school’s 10-year master plan, which allows the school to build four academic buildings, a fine arts center, more than 1,000 beds of undergraduate housing, and athletic fields and facilities. At Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s urging, the commission required that the school first build a dorm on campus before it built on the archdiocesan site.

But many residents were still not satisfied and believe it is only a matter of time before the school revives its plan to house students on the site. When city officials approved the master plan, they excluded the plan for the dorm on the archdiocesan property, waiting for further advisement.

“The dormitory [idea] hasn’t been abandoned by Boston College,’’ said William Galvin, who also lives nearby.

Ram Rao - chairman of a group formed to oppose the expansion plan, Brighton Neighbors United - said that the city’s approval process was tainted.

“People never felt alternatives were fully explored,’’ and it wasn’t an open and transparent process, he said. “There are more than 60 acres there. That amounts to 10 percent of the green open space in Brighton.’’

Residents are concerned too, Rao said, that the city allowed the school to move forward with plans to convert an apartment building it purchased on Commonweath Avenue into dorms. The school, he said, should be housing students on campus.

But Denis Minihane, a Brighton business owner who served on a Boston College Task Force appointed by the city, said he supports the “positive growth’’ that the plan and Boston College represent.

“BC needed housing for their students, and it was a natural fit,’’ Minihane said. “Many of the neighbors want to see the site maintained as wilderness, so they can walk their dogs and see the fox chase the rabbits. But BC’s plans are cautious. They are classy. The buildings will be nice.’’

He added: “They will bring in students and students spend money. Students bring vitality, and they bring safety to the streets.’’

The suit also alleges that the task force violated the state open meeting law when it met in a closed door session Jan. 28. At that meeting, the group reversed its earlier opposition to a dormitory on the former archdiocesan property. The task force refused to explain its decision or release records of its proceedings, the suit said, though Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley ruled that doing so was required.