Post Science Complex, Allston Residents Want More Voice

Residents said they hope to have a greater voice in negotiations with Harvard, as the University transitions from focusing on the long-awaited science complex to longer-term planning, at a Harvard Allston Task Force meeting last night.

Last month, Harvard and Boston officials agreed to sign an agreement that would grant the University permission to begin construction on the 589,000-square-foot science complex, which is slated to house the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

The decision came after dozens of meetings between Harvard officials and Allston residents that were a part of a special review process before the University gains approval on its new institutional master plan, which forecasts development for the next half-century.

“The last few months was all fast-tracking since Harvard needed that building,” said Ray Mellone, who chairs the mayor-appointed task force of Allston residents. “But now that we have time to think about the new phase, we have the opportunity to shape the community.”

Now that the University will begin construction on the science complex this spring, Harvard will focus on its 50-year master plan, which currently includes plans to relocate the Graduate School of Education and the School of Public Health across the river.

Chief Planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) Kairos Shen said that in the coming months communication between the city, Harvard, and Allston residents would be essential.

“What we do with the area, and what Harvard does with their master plan has to be coordinated in a way that facilitates dialogue,” said Shen, whose agency oversees development projects for the city. “If you do these things in independent segments, the final effect will not be as cohesive as when we do it together.”

But some Task Force members said that discussions about the science complex have left them with reservations about the future of the partnership between Harvard and their neighborhood.

“If I look at the previous year, I see it as one of the most difficult things I ever went through,” said Task Force Member Bruce Houghton. “In just meeting BRA’s structural requirements, 98 percent revolved around [those] needs or Harvard’s need to meet deadlines.”

Houghton said that the review process outlined by the city does not give Allston residents enough of a voice in the negotiations.

“In the current structure, I do not believe I have the ability to represent this neighborhood.”

But Task Force member John Cusack said that residents should view the decades-long partnership with the University as an opportunity to revitalize the neighborhood.

“For the first time, I’m hearing that we’re looking at the big picture,” he said. “This really have the opportunity to work, to see it come to fruition is exciting.”

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