Questions Linger For BC Expansion Plan

Just weeks before the Boston Redevelopment Authority votes on whether to approve Boston College’s 10-year master plan, city officials remain critical of the Jesuit university’s approach to building support for its expansion.

But neighborhood residents have expressed support for one of the major parts of BC’s plan—its acquisition of a 16-story apartment building on Commonwealth Avenue, which would bring the school closer to its goal of housings all of its undergraduates.

City officials say they are displeased both with the loss of tax revenue that will result from BC’s acquiring the apartment building, and with the university’s aggressive manner of achieving its expansion goals.

“It’s not just about taxes, although we absolutely think they should pay more,” said Dorothy Joyce, a spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “It’s more about the fact that the people who live around Boston College deserve more respect and consultation about their expansion plans.”

Joyce characterized relations between BC and the city as “strained.” She pointed to BC President William P. Leahy’s call for university alumni and employees to encourage city officials to support the expansion as an example of BC’s mistaken approach to winning over the community.

“If they’re going to be lobbying anybody, it should be their neighbors who live close by, not their supporters who are not directly affected by their expansion plans,” she said.

Several BC representatives declined to comment for this story.

Despite the criticism from city officials, BC’s effort to construct housing for all of its undergraduates has won plaudits from its Brighton neighbors, who often complain about boisterous groups of students who squeeze into single-family homes for the year, hastening the deterioration of the housing stock and pricing some families out of the neighborhood.

“All the neighborhood residents have wanted is for the kids to be put into supervised housing that is more appropriate for college students,” said Tim Burke, a member of BC’s community task force. “I think they’ve gained a lot of community favorability lately, especially those families who live near houses occupied by students.”

Task force member Denis Minihane, a longtime Brighton resident and a BC alumnus, said he thought that BC was taking the community’s concerns seriously, citing frequent task force meetings as evidence.

“Overall, I do not think there is a tremendous amount of objection to BC,” he said. “Sometimes people just fear any kind of change and are looking for some reason to object.”

In addition to the acquisition of the 16-story apartment building, which will cost $67 million, BC has also proposed constructing dorms on the east side of Commonwealth Ave as part of its $1 billion campus expansion plan.

The move, which would use land the university purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, would mark a historic departure for BC, which has always confined itself to the west of Commonwealth Ave.

In June, BC filed its 10-year institutional master plan that details the structures and timeline of the expansion. The master plan is currently under review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which will either approve the plan or ask BC to make further revisions. A decision could come as soon as early November, according to BRA Senior Project Manager Gerald Autler.

Autler said that the city does not expect to approve a 350-bed dorm on the east side of Commonwealth Ave. until further study. He added that approval of the master plan does not constitute a blanket authorization for every project that the BC has proposed, and that each building will have to undergo a separate review process before ground can be broken.

But although some city officials have reservations about BC’s expansions plans, the city seems to have backed off its earlier insistence that the college build its new dorms on its current Chestnut Hill campus, on the west side of Commonwealth Ave.

“We’re not in the position to force BC to build things that are not in their interest,” Autler said. “But we now have an opportunity to see BC house 100 percent of its students, and that is a goal that we all support.”

—Staff writer Nan Ni can be reached at nni@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION

The Oct. 21 story, "Questions Linger For BC Expansion Plan," said that the Boston City Council will soon vote on Boston College's 10-year master plan. In fact, approval is only needed from the Boston Redevelopment Authority.