Citizens Clamor for Park in Place of Grad Housing

For Cambridge residents in the Kerry Corner neighbourhood, hopes of a green oasis on the corner of Grant and Banks streets have become nothing more than a mirage.

Harvard broke ground on the lot last week, despite a call from local residents to create a park as compensation for the loss of green space that has resulted from other nearby construction.

The planned wood-frame house is to be one of seven graduate student townhouses—but residents of Kerry Corner, the neighborhood near Mather house, say they weren’t informed that construction would start so soon.

Thomas J. Lucey, Harvard’s director of community relations for Cambridge, said the residents had fair warning, and that construction will continue.

"We have been very consistent in our message that we intend to build housing there," said Lucey.

The construction on the contested lot is part of a larger graduate housing project first outlined in October 2003 in consultation with Cambridge City Council and the Riverside Neighborhood Association.

Last November, a fire destroyed the house that formerly occupied the lot, and Gladys Evans, 78, died in the blaze.

Neighbors hoped that Harvard would make into a park commemorating Evans.

But last spring, Harvard obtained a permit to build the wood frame house, Lucey said.

The fight for a park gained heat last month, when the city cut down a 110-year-old ash tree near the sidewalk next to the construction site, despite protests from local residents.

The city said the tree had to come down because of damage to its roots.

Carol Bankerd, a resident of Kerry Corner, said the root damage was a result of Harvard’s failure to adequately protect the tree during construction of the graduate housing.

Bankerd has started a petition calling for "Harvard University to relinquish the lot at the northwest corner of Grant and Banks for use as a public open space" to serve as compensation for the loss of the ash tree. As of last night, the petition—which sits on the ash tree stump—had 134 signatures.

"The neighborhood had lost a significant amount of green space in the construction on Grant and Cowperthwaite," said Cambridge resident Rod McDonald.

Although construction on the site began last week, Harvard’s weekly report on upcoming construction in Kerry Corner did not mention that construction was going to start on the contested lot, McDonald and Bankerd said.

Kaj Vanbkjer, who lives across the street from the construction site, criticized Harvard’s approach but said that "if you are a big landowner, I guess you can get away with it."

—Staff writer Mathieu D.S. Bouchard can be reached at mdsbouch@fas.harvard.edu.