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Allston residents to back Harvard project if university agrees to several demands

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 6, 2013 06:17 PM

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A city-appointed resident group in Allston said it will back Harvard's proposal to relocate a campus services facility within the neighborhood if the college and the city agree to eventually move the facility away from residential streets, build a promised park, and complete a neighborhood-wide master plan process.

Harvard has proposed relocating campus services — mailing, information technology, police training, recycling, storage, and transportation fleet management — from a building at 219 Western Ave. to a site a few blocks away at 28 Travis St.

That would make room at the Western Avenue site for a proposed 350,000-square-foot retail and residential project, which a private developer hopes to start work on in the fall and finish in about two years.

The relocation proposal has faced criticism from some who have said putting the campus services facility on Travis Street would not fit with the surrounding residential area. Based on community feedback, Harvard has made numerous revisions to the proposal in recent weeks, which has lessened some, but not all, of the concern.

The Harvard Allston Task Force voted unanimously at a meeting Tuesday night to recommend that the city’s redevelopment authority approve the relocation proposal, but only if the conditions are met.

The task force drafted a resolution asking Harvard to: include in its master plan locations where all of its campus support services can be housed and that those locations not be near residential streets; that the services that would be relocated to 28 Travis St. are moved out of that location before the university opens its proposed science complex in Allston, which is scheduled for completion about five years from now; and that schedules are set for construction of the proposed Rena Park and for the North Allston / North Brighton Community Master Plan that would have the park and the community planning process completed before the science complex opens.

The resolution is in line with requests from task force members to see Harvard present more details about non-academic focused projects.

"For the things Harvard wants, they have specific plans. But, for all of the things for the community, it's all a bunch of maybes and somedays," task force member Harry Mattison said recently.

The task force is scheduled to meet again with officials from the university and the Boston Redevelopment Authority next Tuesday, March 12.

The task force hopes a deal “with similar language as the resolution we voted on,” will be reached at next week’s meeting, Mattison said by phone Wednesday.

“If we don’t, we’ll have to reconsider our support of the project, and we’ll be looking to hear from Harvard and the BRA about why they couldn’t meet those reasonable conditions,” he said.

The redevelopment authority is scheduled to vote at City Hall next Thursday, March 14, on whether to approve Harvard’s relocation proposal. The authority will also consider approving the 350,000 square-foot proposal for Western Avenue, a project dubbed the “Residential and Retail Commons at Barry’s Corner.”

Officials from Harvard and the city redevelopment authority said Wednesday they hoped an agreement could be reached with the task force.

"Over the past eight months, we have received clear feedback about the 28 Travis Street relocation plan from the task force, the city, Allston neighbors and elected officials," Kevin Casey, who works for Harvard's public affairs office, said in a statement. "We have revised our proposal to address concerns raised and are pleased we have been able to put forth a comprehensive response – including moving ahead with Rena Park planning and community access to the Harvard Shuttle – based on substantial input. We look forward to reaching an agreement with the community and moving forward with this project.”

“We’re making progress with the community and will continue to work with the task force, Allston residents, and Harvard on reaching an understanding about the proposed Travis Street relocation plan," said a statement from Melina Schuler, a spokeswoman for the redevelopment authority.

The relocation proposal is part of a 10-year master plan framework for Allston that Harvard unveiled in the fall. The framework calls for nine new projects, including a new basketball arena, a refurbished football stadium, a hotel and conference center, and new business school buildings.

Harvard owns about 360 acres in Allston, nearly double the size of its Cambridge campus.

The university’s presence and development plans in the neighborhood have been rife with controversy for years, creating tension between Harvard and Allston residents.

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 to replicate Harvard Square.

At the heart of the first phase of that 50-year plan was a 589,000 square-foot science center that was estimated to cost $1 billion.

The complex’s foundation was built, but in late 2009 construction was put on hold indefinitely as the university’s endowment was rocked by the recession, diving $11 billion, or 27 percent.

In the spring of 2011, the university began its first major project since then: a $20 million investment to convert a building into a laboratory for innovation and entrepreneurship. It opened that 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 later this year.

As those two projects moved forward, Harvard announced it would take 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 the university’s financial risk.

The university announced this past summer that it expects to resume work on the science complex next year. 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 month, Harvard University announced plans to move a “substantial majority” of its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences from its main campus in Cambridge to the planned science complex in Allston

To read more about revisions to the Travis Street relocation proposal that were announced Tuesday night, read this story from the Harvard Crimson student newspaper.

To read more about Harvard’s proposals for Allston, click here.

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