Residents Debate Allston Benefits

As deadline draws near, community demands community school, park

Members of the Allston neighborhood last night offered up a cacophony of shouts insisting that their voices be heard in the debate over what benefits Harvard should provide to the community as it plans its expansion across the Charles River.

At a meeting of the Harvard Allston Task Force last night, Allston residents said they were no longer content with waiting as the deadline for the legally binding plan for community benefits to be implemented by Harvard over the next decade reaches its year-end deadline.

“Lots of people in the community have thought about the benefits questions but have not had the chance to voice those concerns in this forum,” said task force member Brent Whelan. “I’m wondering when in this meeting will the 50 or so neighbors present...have time to represent their opinions?”

Come spring, Harvard will begin construction on a four-building science complex, the first piece of the largest campus expansion in the University’s history. But before Harvard officials can break ground on what will be a 589,000 square-foot construction project expected to cost nearly $1 billion, they must iron out the details for how they will spend over $21 million in community benefits.

After over a month of deadlock over how to prioritize the broadly defined benefits outlined this spring, the Allston Brighton North Neighbors Forum yesterday presented the task force with a three-page document outlining community benefits that Harvard should provide in conjunction with building the science complex. The list includes a kindergarten through eighth grade school and the reconstruction of a local community health center. The neighbors forum was created earlier this month with the goal of giving the community a powerful and united voice in negotiations with the city and with Harvard.

But Ray Mellone, who chairs the task force composed of mayor-appointed citizens, told the community that the science complex should not be used as a device to fulfill all of the neighborhood’s wishes.

“A lot of hope is being built upon the hope of having an enormous amount of long term benefits thrown into the science project,” he said. “It’s unreasonable to think that every possible wish will come true between now and the time we have until the end of the year.”

Senior Project Manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) Gerald Autler told the crowd of about 90 at a public library in Allston that although the timeline the community expected for benefits to be distributed differed from the timetable of the city, the goals of the requested benefits were shared among the two parties.

“I don’t think we’re on different continents here,” Autler said, referring to the green space and public realm benefits that the neighborhood forum requested in its document. “At the same time we have made it clear all along that we wanted to finish up the cooperation agreement one or two months after the board meeting.”

The BRA board approved Harvard’s science complex on Oct. 3.

Christopher M. Gordon, chief operating officer for the University’s Allston Development Group, said that while everything the community wants will not be attached to the science complex, Harvard’s master plan would give the community ample time to work out a plan for long-term benefits.

“The master plan is going to take a long time,” he said. “We don’t think that the next couple of weeks or months are going to be the end, it’s barely going to scratch the surface.”

The University says it will submit its master plan to the city next spring.

—Staff writer Laura A. Moore can be reached at lamoore@fas.harvard.edu.