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Neighbors, Y members unite to oppose demolition of Huntington Y

Posted by Sara Brown  August 25, 2011 03:32 PM

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Opponents of Northeastern University’s plans to turn the Huntington Avenue YMCA into dormitories united at a community meeting Wednesday night.

Some argued for continuing to try to save the Y, while others spoke out against the college’s continued expansion in the Fenway neighborhood.

“I see this as an issue of following the law and following our agreements with Northeastern,” said Jim Hartman, a Fenway resident, arguing against the fact that the college would be leasing the building to a separate management company.

Jon Phoenix, a rising senior at Northeastern, also spoke out against his school’s expansion plans, saying the new dorms would contribute to rising costs at the school.

Paul Axelrod, a physician who lives in the neighborhood, said he considered the YMCA a place with a “special heritage.”

“It would be really wonderful if we could find a way for that spirit, and the capacity of the place, to be preserved,” he said.

Last October, Northeastern teamed with a private company in plans to build a 16-story dormitory on part of the YMCA's Huntington location. A group of YMCA advocates, and opponents of the expansion, have challenged the plans, forming a "Save the Boston Y" campaign and petition.

In May, the Boston Landmark Commission voted against a petition to upgrade the historical significance of the YMCA. The commission faced the issue again Tuesday, when they agreed to rehear a petition regarding the property but voted against upgrading the building’s historical significance rating.

Northeastern has said the additional student housing will help fulfill a pledge to city officials to house more students on-campus.

The groups united Wednesday to "prevent the demolition of the historic Huntington Avenue Gymnasium by Northeastern University," according to a mission statement read at the meeting, saying that the development "threatens the character" of surrounding neighborhoods, and future Northeastern expansion threatens their "long term viability."

About 35 people gathered at the Susan Bailis Assisted Living Center to discuss the issue.
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Andre Jones, a Jamaica Plain lawyer and YMCA member, said the meeting brought together people “with a common goal, a common outlook.”

“There’s a community within that YMCA that’s at risk,” he said, recalling people who have been members for more than 50 years, and some who continued family legacies of belonging to the Y.

Jones spoke about his concerns about a lack of discussion and community input about the school’s plans, and about the city's transparency regarding the plans.

Neighborhood groups, like the Symphony United Neighbors, St. Botolph Neighborhood Association and the Gainsborough Neighborhood Association “need to connect on this issue,” he said.

Future meetings are planned for the end of September, organizers said.

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