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City OKs Harvard campus services building, a first step in broader Allston developments

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 14, 2013 07:47 PM

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The city on Thursday night gave final approval for Harvard University to relocate its campus service facilities in Allston after the university agreed to a list of conditions about its overall development activity in the neighborhood.

No one spoke against the relocation proposal at Thursday night’s meeting of the Boston Redevelopment Authority board, which voted unanimously to approve the plan.

The project calls for Harvard to relocate campus services – mailing, information technology, police training, recycling, storage, and transportation fleet management – from a building at 219 Western Ave. in Allston to a site a few blocks away at 28 Travis St.

Relocating Harvard’s campus services facilities – a move the university has said it does not intend to be permanent – will make room at the Western Avenue site for a proposed 350,000-square-foot residential and retail project, which a private developer hopes to get city approval for next month, start work on in the fall and finish in about two years.

Harvard considers the relocation proposal and the mixed-use project to be part of the first phase of what it expects to be decades of development to expand its campus.

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

In addition to tweaks to the project itself, Harvard agreed to allow residents to use its campus shuttles and committed to extend a 5-year program that gives $100,000 per year in grants to local community organizations.

This week, the university won more residents over by agreeing to comply with a list of terms drawn up by Mayor Thomas M. Menino based on concerns he heard in a recent meeting with neighborhood residents.

The terms are similar to a list drafted one week earlier by the Harvard Allston Task Force, a group of neighborhood residents appointed to oversee the university’s development plans.

The terms, included as conditions of approval for the relocation project, will require Harvard to:

Start a community planning process this April to build its promised Rena Park and begin the first phase of the park’s construction in 2014; develop a comprehensive master plan for campus services, which would clarify that the 28 Travis St. relocation project is temporary; implement that campus services master plan within one year after the university opens its proposed science complex in Allston, which is scheduled to open in about five years; and to not run vehicular service between midnight and 6 a.m. at the 28 Travis St. site, city officials have said.

The terms also state that, if the university fails to comply with the terms, the city would block Harvard from opening new buildings in Allston by withholding occupancy permits.

The university has a $100 million building under construction that is scheduled to open later this year on its business school campus in Allston. And, this past fall the university unveiled a 10-year master plan framework for Allston that, in addition to the proposed science complex, 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 controversial for years. Many Allston residents have said their patience and trust with the university is running thin, if not gone all together.

But, officials from Harvard, the city and area residents have said they hope the recent compromises signal the start of improved relations between the university and residents.

Several local elected officials, representatives from local labor unions and residents, including a task force member speaking on the rest of the group’s behalf, voiced support for the project at Thursday’s meeting before the board vote.

The approval of the project also clears another, non-controversial proposal from Harvard to make renovations to the Bright Hockey Center and Gordon Indoor Track.

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

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