Vote Hinges on Allston Plan

As Allston residents head to the polls today to narrow the pool of candidates vying to be their next city councillor, Harvard’s much-anticipated expansion into the area has emerged at the center of the debate.

Today’s preliminary election features five contenders, including a Brighton lawyer and the director of a volunteer organization, competing to fill Jerry P. McDermott’s seat on the Boston City Council. Two of the candidates will go on to the next round of voting.

“The successful candidate will have to respond with incredible verve and fortitude to forge our way through this challenge with Harvard,” said Tim McHale, the president of the Allston Brighton Community Planning Initiative, referring to negotiations over the University’s planned expansion. “There’s no greater issue on their plate. This is not an election about potholes or parking.”

McDermott said in May that he would not seek reelection this fall, citing a desire to spend more time with family. The announcement coincided with significant progress by Harvard in its steps to break ground on its first project in Allston—a long-awaited 500,000-square-foot science complex. In June, the University filed its draft impact report for the project, slated to house the Harvard Stem Cell Initiative, with the Boston agency that oversees development projects. The University is expecting to receive approval by the agency, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, in early October.

Now, however, all of the candidates are expressing concern about how the University will continue to forge ahead with its plans to develop its 215-acre Allston campus—Harvard’s biggest single territorial expansion in its history. Those concerns include the environmental and noise impact of the massive construction projects that are looming.

Timothy N. Schofield, who leads the pack of candidates in campaign contributions according to campaign finance documents, said that uniting the neighborhood will give residents more negotiating power in the planning process.

“As a community, we’re facing a lot right now, and it’s important to have a city councillor who can build consensus so that we can speak with one voice,” he said. “Our city councillor resigned so we have no one playing that role with respect to the city.”

Another candidate, Rosie Hanlon, said that she would use her past experience as a member of the Boston College community task force to revitalize Allston.

“We need to take a strong look at Western Avenue: it’s barren, and this is the gateway to our city” Hanlon said. “We need to bring activity in there...that will serve the people of the community as well as the students and employees of Harvard.”

Harvard’s director of community relations for Boston, Kevin A. McCluskey ’76, said the University welcomes the involvement of community representatives in the planning process, but “physical planning is driven by academic planning.”

Harry Mattison, a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force appointed by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino in 2006, said that whoever eventually wins the council seat in the general election in November would give the community power that was sorely lacking in previous months.

“I’m sure that whoever is elected will really make sure that this is not just about what’s good for Harvard but also what’s good for Allston,” he said. “When the field is narrowed to two on Tuesday night I think those issues are going to continue to...have much more discussion and debates over the next month and a half.”

In addition to Hanlon and Schofield, candidates in the city council election include Mark Ciommo, Alessandro Alex Selvig, and Gregory Glennon.

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