Allston Residents To Review Project Impact Report

Deadline set for document review, community members express concerns at task force meeting

Members of the Harvard Allston Task Force have expressed concern regarding the time frame given to them by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the University to read and give feedback on the Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR) for the planned Allston science complex.

In a meeting held Monday evening, the task force also cited troubling trends in the way the construction might affect the community and questioned the tangibility of the project’s benefits to the neighborhood.

Released on June 25, the DPIR, a hefty volume hundreds of pages long, analyzes the impacts the planned project will have on the neighborhood and city before, during, and after construction. It also addresses questions and concerns raised over the course of several discussions with the Allston community, city agencies and officials.

The task force has been given until Sept. 10 to review and propose any changes to the BRA before voting on the project’s budget.

According to Chief University Planner Kathy A. Spiegelman, an important point of tension lies between the University’s efforts to get the project underway by the end of the calendar year and respond to all of the task force’s comments regarding the DPIR’s content.

COMMUNAL CONCERNS

The DPIR states that the “Allston Science complex will further Harvard’s agenda in research efforts of global significance for cures of human disease…In addition, the Project presents the opportunity to provide a model of green development for Allston in general.”

The complex will also contain publicly-accessible areas with retail businesses and rentable conference rooms.

But Brent Whelan ’73, a member of the task force, said that he was unsure how exactly the project would benefit the Allston community.

“There is some nice language on this topic in the DPIR, but virtually no dollar signs attached to any of it,” said Whelan, garnering applause from the audience. “I am very concerned about Harvard going forward with this project with very rhetorical commitments regarding community benefits.”

While it is difficult to determine how the public space in the science complex will be employed, Harvard plans to conduct a study to see what sort of retail activity will benefit the community the most, according to Gerald Autler, the senior project manager for the BRA.

Spiegelman emphasized that the contractor plans for the public space in the complex were “flexible,” and would adapt to the community’s evolving needs.

TIMELY(NESS) MATTERS

According to the task force, the project is the largest, most far-reaching plan for an educational facility extension in the U.S. to date.

Due to the magnitude of the project, the negotiation procedure among the task force, the BRA, the city of Allston, and the University—in addition to the relative amounts of leverage that the parties will have—is going set an important precedent.

Ray Mellone, who chairs the task force, proposed that meetings take place twice a week to complete the review by the deadline.

“We have to try to get through this thing by the time we are supposed to, in 75 days,” Mellone said.

However, Whelan objected to Mellone’s plan for the review, citing the hardship of attending meetings so frequently.

He said that the proportion of meetings with full attendance will fall because of the volunteers’ vacations and other summer commitments, reducing the effectiveness of the discussions since people will be likely to fall behind.

“By speeding up the meetings, we do Harvard a service, and we do ourselves and the community a disservice in attempting to cover the material in half the time, faster and less well.”

Given that the reviewing and negotiating aspects of the DPIR will be inseparable processes, task force member Harry Mattison expressed concern that “more focused meetings” and the necessity of going back and forth on negotiating key points will protract the review-time.

“On construction, for example, we are going to have at least a page of questions, to be conservative,” Mattison said. “Then we will need time for Harvard to present their response, and us to review the response. The question is, will Harvard respond quickly to the dialogue? That is the only way we will have the opportunity to encourage Harvard to make some changes that will benefit the community.”

Autler, however, said that it is more important that all parties involved collaborate effectively and thoroughly review the plans.

“Getting a great project comes before whether it is 75 days or not,” Autler said.

WORKING WITH THE NEIGHBORS

In outlining a plan for the topics of the meetings for the next few weeks, Mellone cited the well-being of Allston residents as a primary concern.

“To me the most important aspect is the quality of life,” Mellone said. “This project begins with digging a hole, and it’s not going to be easy, especially for the people who live nearby.”

The task force called to attention recent events that give some troubling indications of what might happen once construction begins.

According to audience members, a pavement compressor was working between 2:30 and 5 a.m. on a weekday morning last week on Rotterdam Street—a street belonging to Harvard University near Western Avenue in Allston. No parking signs were posted on the chain-

link fence to ensure that cars would not ruin the paint.

“[The contractor’s actions] completely violated our confidence,” Whelan said. “It will take a hell of a lot of work to do to win our confidence back.”

It was unclear, however, whether the contractor involved in the incident was the one Harvard hired, though Spiegelman promised to investigate the issue.

Mattison said that Harvard should take steps to ensure that instances like this are not repeated.

“Neighbors are already feeling uncomfortable in their homes,” he said. “That only shows the road down which we’re headed. When the construction gets greater, the impacts get greater. We have not built anything yet, and already look how concerned people are.”

Some members of the audience also expressed concern that rat traps were installed on their fences, and the workers doing the installation were unwilling to explain their actions.

According to Spiegelman, a company was hired to install rat traps to prevent the rodents that will be displaced by construction from fleeing to residential areas.

It was suggested by the task force, therefore, that a hotline be established so people could ask questions about the construction.

Given that the DPIR has nine sections and three appendices, perusing and negotiating all relevant aspects in a timely manner will require collaboration among the task force, the University, and the BRA, as well as a conscientious effort to keep all parties up to speed.

“The city is also going to have a hand in this,” Autler said. “This will not be a negotiation between the task force on one side and Harvard on the other.”

—Staff writer Yelena S. Mironova can be reached at mironova@fas.harvard.edu.