Allston Residents Balk At Proposed Benefits

Allston residents continued to express frustration on Wednesday night about Harvard’s proposal for community benefits, accusing the University of ignoring the suggestions they made at the last discussion of the subject.

Wednesday night’s meeting of the Harvard Allston Task Force continued a deadlocked discussion that began in October about the details of Harvard’s plan to distribute $21 million in community benefits over a 10-year period.

“None of the proposals and suggestions we made have been incorporated into the second draft of the proposal,” said Task Force member Brent Whelan. “Harvard says that they’ve considered them, but I can’t see that there has been any effect of that.”

Construction is scheduled to begin this spring for an Allston science complex—an 589,000 square-foot project expected to cost nearly $1 billion. But before the University can break ground on its first project across the river, it must first sign a legally binding cooperation agreement that includes a plan for how benefits will be distributed to the community.

At the meeting, several community members voiced concerns that not all of the funds would directly benefit the Allston community.

“It seems like some of these dollars do not accrue to our needs, but instead to exactions—mandated payments that don’t filter down to our local community,” Task Force chairman Ray Mellone said.

The University has already committed itself to providing residents with free math and science tutoring through the establishment of an education portal, as well as physical infrastructure improvements to the north Allston neighborhood. Some task force members, however, said that those benefits are a far cry from what community residents had requested.

“The education portal is a tiny fraction of what the task force asked for, which is a community school,” Whalen said.

The University’s chief planner, Kathy A. Spiegelman, dismissed allegations that the school did not take the residents’ concerns into account.

“I don’t think Harvard came to this negotiation saying these are the dollars we have,” Spiegelman said. “We came off the ideas that you told us were most important to you.”

Yesterday’s meeting did not end with any concrete resolutions or changes to the proposed benefits plan, and several task force members said they were dissatisfied with the lack of progress.

“The litmus test really is, how many people in this room have had their life improved by this project we’ve been working all year on?” said Task Force member Harry Mattison. “There’s nothing in that agreement that is anywhere close to the kind of community benefits package that is appropriate for this billion-dollar initiative.”

—Staff writer Nan Ni can be reached at