Riverside Building Plans Approved

Harvard received the go-ahead from the city’s Planning Board to construct 328 housing units in the neighborhood along the Charles River last night, despite emotional objections from several residents that included a profanity-laced tirade and the threat of legal action.

The board approved the University’s plans to build new faculty and affiliate housing at two sites in Riverside—in an area near Mather House known as Kerry Corner, and on a parcel of land along Memorial Drive currently occupied by Mahoney’s Garden Center. Harvard officials said last night they hope to begin construction in late spring or early summer.

The plans—which were first presented to the neighborhood in September and have since been tweaked in response to residents’ concerns—represent the results of a landmark compromise reached between Harvard and the City Council in October 2003. The agreement allows arvard to build taller buildings than the Riverside residents had wanted, in return for providing a public park and about 36 units of affordable housing for city residents.

After questioning Harvard architects about some of the details, members of the planning board unanimously approved Harvard’s proposals for both sites last night and praised the designs.

“Given the constraints in terms of scale...I think a tremendous amount of penetrating thought has gone into it,” Thomas Anninger, a planning board member, said of the Mahoney’s site design.

Board members emphasized that they had to work within the guidelines of the compromise between Harvard and the city.

The deal has been hailed as a watershed moment in Harvard’s relations with the Riverside neighborhood, where residents have bitterly opposed Harvard expansion for decades. But while University officials and neighborhood representatives continue to discuss the implementation of the agreement, residents still have objections to the plans.

At last night’s meeting and in letters to the planning board, residents raised concerns including the location of the buildings on the Mahoney’s site and the loss of trees near Mather.

Jared R. Curhan ’93, a resident of Banks Street, submitted a letter from his Boston lawyer objecting to plans to move two wood-frame houses to Grant Street to make room for a new building on Cowperthwaite Street. Kenneth L. Kimmell of Bernstein, Cushner & Kimmell wrote that the plan violated zoning regulations and failed to “minimize adverse impact on abutting properties” as required by law.

“Obviously we’re furious and we’re taking Harvard to court,” Curhan said after the meeting.

Mary H. Power, Harvard’s senior director of community relations, said she could not comment on possible legal action, but said the relocation of the houses was part of the agreement reached with input from the city’s lawyers.

“We’re confident that the project will be supported and upheld,” she said.

Harvard also faced opposition last night from resident Kevin Hill, who has argued that three proposed three-story buildings on the Mahoney’s site will block the neighborhood’s view of the river. In an alternate design he showed the planning board last month, Hill proposed that the buildings be moved to the edge of Western Ave.

At last night’s meeting, Harvard’s Director of Community Relations for Cambridge Thomas J. Lucey reiterated that under the terms of the agreement, the buildings must remain in the originally proposed location.

“What you’re doing is wrong. I’m not going to stand for that,” said Hill during repeated interruptions. “You’re playing with motherfucking dynamite.”

Police officers spoke to Hill in the hallway after the meeting.

Hill said afterwards that he planned to continue to advocate for his plan.

“I’m going to do whatever I have to do,” he said. “I’m going to use my power to make sure that this process is a level playing field.”

Power said after the meeting that the University has engaged in “extensive consultation and participation” with the community over the past three years.

Lawrence Adkins, president of the Riverside Neighborhood Association and a member of the committee overseeing the implementation of the agreement, said he was still not satisfied with the plans and would continue to talk with Harvard officials.

“This action doesn’t change anything,” he said after last night’s meeting. “There’s still a lot of breath left in us.”

Lucey also emphasized that the dialogue would continue.

“We plan to continue to talk to the neighborhood about these projects as we go forward,” he said.

—Staff writer Jessica R. Rubin-Wills can be reached at rubinwil@fas.harvard.edu.