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Developer proposes 350,000 square-foot apartment, retail complex on Harvard-owned land in Allston

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  December 18, 2012 02:27 PM

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barryscorner1.jpg

(Boston Redevelopment Authority)

A rendering of the proposed "Barry's Corner Residential and Retail Commons" project.

A developer filed a detailed proposal with the city this week to build a 350,000-square-foot retail and residential development on land owned by Harvard University in the Barry’s Corner section of Allston.

The plans call for constructing two buildings that together would contain about 325 apartments, 45,000 square feet of ground-floor space for retail use and some residential amenities, and 3,600 square feet of outdoor open space. One of the buildings would range from seven to nine stories in height; the other would be six stories tall.

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About 180 underground parking spaces would be built along with 41 on-street spots on two new streets within the 2.7-acre project site at the intersection of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue in North Allston.

The project will now seek approval through a public review process run by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The developer, Samuels & Associates, hopes to start construction in fall 2013 and finish the project in about two years, according to a copy of the 452-page plan.

"The Barry's Corner project represents an important first step in the redevelopment of North Allston," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement from the developer. "I commend Samuels & Associates and Harvard University for coming together to meet the needs of the community, which will now benefit from shops, activities and beautiful public space right in their own backyard."

The development company estimates its project would create about 500 construction jobs and 250 permanent part- and full-time positions. The company intends for the project to seek LEED Gold certification.

The company said the project would be a vital improvement for the area, including by enhancing the streetscape and the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and creating better connections to the adjacent Smith Field.

“Our conversations with the Harvard Allston Task Force helped shape our thinking on how to program a site that serves multiple purposes – creating a link between the neighborhood and the university, enlivening the ground floor with neighborhood-friendly retail, adding open space and gathering places and incorporating enough residential density to support these goals,” said a statement from the development company’s president Joel Sklar.

Brent Whelan is a 30-year resident and a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force, a group of residents and local civic leaders in the neighborhood that the city formed to oversee the university’s development in Allston.

“Personally, I think it’s a good project. Adding density to Barry’s Corner is something that’s been long needed,” he said.

“But, there are others on the task force who are concerned and feel it’s too big,” he continued.

Whelan said that during the upcoming city review process, he wants to hear more from the developer about how traffic around the site will be managed; whether the housing will include an adequate number of units reserved for middle-income families and more specifics about how the site will interact with nearby park space and perhaps include better connections to the Charles River.

Harvard’s executive vice president Katie Lapp said the university supports the project.

“We think this proposal is a critical step toward meeting the vision shared by both Harvard and the community for an active and animated crossroads where the university and neighborhood meet and mix,” she said in a statement.

The project in Barry’s Corner is part of the university’s long-term development plans for Allston, where Harvard presence and plans have been rife with controversies.

In October, Harvard unveiled a 10-year master plan framework for the Boston neighborhood. That long-term plan features nine new projects, including a new basketball arena, a refurbished football stadium, a hotel and conference center, and new business school buildings.

Harvard began pushing for an expansion in Allston in the late 1980s, and it now owns 359 acres in Allston, nearly double the size of its Cambridge campus.

In late 2003, Harvard envisioned a massive 250-acre campus in Allston that included academic space, student housing, entertainment facilities, and the transformation of Barry’s Corner.

Work on a science center — the first phase of the massive redevelopment effort — began. But, it was put on hold indefinitely in 2009 as the university’s endowment was rocked by the recession.

In spring 2011, the university began its first major project since the science complex stalled: a $20 million investment to convert a building into a laboratory for innovation and entrepreneurship, which opened last fall.

A month later, the university broke ground on a $100 million building that will be used primarily for housing on its business school campus. It is scheduled to open in late 2013.

The university announced this past summer that it expects to resume work in 2014 on its planned science complex in Allston, the single largest investment in a science facility the 375-year-old Ivy League institution has ever made.

The building would contain between 500,000 and 600,000 square feet of space for a state-of-the-art health and life sciences laboratory, research, classrooms, and areas to foster collaborative innovation, officials have said.

Last summer, the school adopted a dramatically different approach to expanding in Allston by dividing its vision into smaller projects and working with outside developers and investors in an effort to ease Harvard’s financial risk.

Whelan said he and other task force members worry that the new approach could decrease the potential for public benefits.

He said that there is fear that if projects are led by private, for-profit developers instead of by a non-profit institution like Harvard, “they will do the absolute minimum required by the city in terms of public amenities.”

“We’re looking out for how we can build this community,” Whelan added. “And, since Harvard is the largest land-owner and no one else can build anything, it’s really up to them.”

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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barryscorner2.jpg

(Boston Redevelopment Authority)

A rendering of the proposed "Barry's Corner Residential and Retail Commons" project.

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