Development to Begin in Bordering Neighborhoods

While contention and hostility have long characterized the interactions between Cambridge residents and Harvard, over the past year there have been indications that the two sides are fashioning a more positive working relationship.

In January, Harvard reached a long-term deal with the city that will substantially increase the University’s annual voluntary payments, an agreement that was years in the making.

The University also got the green light to begin construction in two Cambridge neighborhoods with decades-long histories of resistance to University encroachment—the Riverside neighborhood along the Charles, and the Agassiz neighborhood north of Harvard Yard.

Even with the recent successes, the image of Harvard as an aggressive developer has not disappeared, and in Riverside one resident filed a lawsuit to attempt to block the University’s plans.

But Mary H. Power, Harvard’s senior director of community relations, says the progress on the construction in both neighborhoods is a positive sign.

“As we look back on this year, we see tremendous successes in University-community relations,” Power says. “I don’t think there has ever been so much development underway at one time.”

In both Agassiz and Riverside, the expansion comes as a result of long-term agreements reached in 2003 which are now coming to fruition.

“It was a hard-fought negotiation and both sides won some pieces and both sides lost some pieces,” says Alan Joslin, who serves on a committee to oversee the implementation of Harvard’s agreement in Riverside. “That’s what really marks a successful negotiation, when no one is totally happy.”

PILOT TAKES OFF

Harvard’s wealth and sizable endowment have often generated considerable resentment among city residents and politicians, who say that since Harvard’s property is largely tax-exempt, the University benefits from Cambridge’s public services without giving adequately in return.

Last year Harvard paid the city $4.5 million for its taxable properties as well as a voluntary $1.7 million payment in lieu of taxes—(PILOT)—to compensate for its tax-exempt property.

After the PILOT agreement re-opened for negotiation in 2000, Harvard officials met with City Manager Robert W. Healy to discuss upping Harvard’s contributions.

The new agreement, signed in January, commits Harvard to contributing $2.4 million to the city’s 2006 budget. The base payment will increase by about 3 percent each year and $100,000 each decade.

According to current estimates, when the agreement terminates in 50 years, Harvard’s annual payment could amount to nearly $10 million.

When the new deal was announced to the City Council, some members argued that Harvard—the city’s largest landowner—should contribute more.

“This is not a gift,” Vice Mayor Marjorie C. Decker said at the time. She contended that the University would owe $33.3 million annually if its property were fully taxed.