Harvard and Boston officials announced last night that they have delayed plans to construct an art museum in Allston and suspended community meetings for the month of March in an effort to refocus on a proposed science complex and to regain control of a planning process that some have described as confusing and rushed.
Officials involved in the Allston expansion said that the next two months will be solely devoted to discussions and workshops about the science complex. The deadline for community comments on the art museum—originally scheduled for this Friday—will be rescheduled once the science complex proposals are moving forward.
The announcement comes two weeks after a Harvard-Allston Task Force meeting in which residents voiced concerns that led them to encourage the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the autonomous body responsible for all of the city’s construction and renewal projects, to deny approval of Harvard’s plans in their current form.
In addition to raising concerns about the plans for the proposed art museum, residents at that meeting also said they were also frustrated by the amount of paperwork and overlapping deadlines for the University’s other projects in its expansion into the neighborhood.
Task Force chief Ray Mellone said that the overlapping deadlines for the art museum, science center, and the fifty-year master plan have limited the effectiveness of the planning process.
“There are too many documents, too many deadlines, too many scoping issues,” he said at the meeting held for residents and University officials last night at St. Anthony’s School in Allston. “It makes it impossible for the Task Force to actually scope specific projects.”
Chief Operating Officer for the Allston Development Group Chris Gordon said that the University’s decision to spread out the various deadlines was in response to such community concerns.
“Just generally there’s been a bit of tension...[and] we would really like to reaffirm a partnership and work with the community,” he said to the crowd of nearly 100. “We’re not trying to be a quick hit developer.”
In addition to spacing out project deadlines, Senior Project Manager for the BRA Gerald Autler said that having smaller, issue-specific meetings would also aid the review period of Harvard’s plans.
“My proposal is that we spend our time in smaller group discussions around those specific issues rather than in larger meetings like this,” he said, referring to concerns residents raised about the impact the complex with have on traffic and how the building will serve the neighborhood. “I think that’s a more productive use of the Task Force’s time.”
Mellone, a long-time Allston resident, said that this limited participation from the community would help the process remain efficient.
“We will have a limited participation, but you will have participation,” he said. “Otherwise we’ll be right back where we started.”
Chief University Planner Kathy Spiegelman also said that these reforms would improve the University’s expansion process.
“It doesn’t help us to rush the process,” she said. “We’re here for the long-run.”
The next Task Force meeting will be held on April 9.
—Staff writer Laura A. Moore can be reached at email@example.com.