Tensions Flare at Charlesview Q&A

Tensions flared yesterday when Allston community members criticized what they said was a lack of clear communication and information at a meeting with owners of Charlesview Apartments.

Over 60 Allston residents gathered to hear preliminary plans for a proposed relocation of the 213-unit affordable housing complex in the heart of Harvard’s planned campus across the Charles River.

“This is the beginning of a process of not only sharing our vision and views, but also yours,” said a member of the apartment’s Board of Directors and community pastor, Lawrence F.G. Fiorentino.

The meeting, the second one this week, was hosted by Charlesview Inc.—the faith-based nonprofit organization that owns and runs the apartment complex—and included a presentation and extensive question-and-answer session with nonprofit consulting firm, The Community Builders. The “organization focused on building and sustaining strong communities,” according to its Web site, was first approached for the project three years ago.

The partnership between the two, however, has excluded community involvement, residents said.

“Why is everything kept in secret? Why have you ignored our wishes?” asked the Charlesview Residents’ Organization president, Lucia Sanchez, to the Board. “There is no chair at your table of decision for us.”

Community Builders’ Development Consultant Felicia Jacques said that community members do have a seat at the table.

“There is a development committee of both residents and board members with an open invitation to the entire community,” she said.

Jacques cited resident input in the rejection of two previous relocation sites suggested by Harvard. The current site borders Western Avenue and is situated farther west of the apartment complex’s present North Harvard Street location.

A few critics lambasted the Board’s plans, exemplified by five rough sketches of buildings on easels, including a proposal to double the amount of units to 400. The availability of parking, the development’s size, and planners’ optimistic estimates of a 2008 ground-breaking drew ire, garnering applause from the crowd when voiced.

“The Charlesview community is at odds with itself,” said Allston resident Tim McHale. “This is Harvard pulling the strings as puppeteer.”

Sanchez’ son, Ricardo Sanchez, said he also placed blame on the “mismanagement” of Charlesview Inc.

“Management wants to be bailed out by a white knight,” Sanchez said. “Or maybe today it’s a crimson knight.”