Charlesview Planners Defend Their Proposal

Allston residents remain critical of redevelopment plans

The planners of the Charlesview redevelopment project defended their proposal at a public meeting last night, justifying the buildings’ height and the high density of the planned residence by citing local housing demand and space constraints—but Allston residents remained critical.

As part of a land swap finalized in November, Charlesview—a low-cost, five-acre apartment complex currently located next to Harvard Business School—will be moved to a 6.9-acre plot further down Western Avenue.

Sporting stickers that read “I support Charlesview, but not this proposal,” residents expressed frustration over the perceived lack of response from The Community Builders, Inc., the firm that has led negotiations with Harvard on behalf of Charlesview since 2004.

“The comments I hear today are the same as those I heard two years ago when you first presented,” said Allston resident Jane McHale. “My question to you is, what’s different? We’ve been telling you how we feel for a year and a half now, and not much has changed.”

An arts and culture complex is one of the ideas that has been put forth for the site that Charlesview currently occupies.

In addition to relocating the existing 213 units that will be financed by Harvard, the proposal would create additional affordable rental and home ownership units on the new site—making residents concerned about overcrowding, parking, and traffic issues.

At the meeting, representatives from Community Builders and CBT Architects, the firm that designed the Charlesview proposal under discussion, said that their main focuses were alleviating the shortage of affordable housing options and addressing the need to keep buildings compact in light of rising energy costs.

“Those were the things we thought were important, and that was our logic,” said Willie Jones, senior vice president and director of Community Builders. “Whether we got it right is another issue.”

Christopher Hill, a partner at CBT Architects, defended the heights of the buildings, which range from four to 10 stories in the proposed design. However, Hill did say that the space constraint was a major factor behind the decision to build high.

“If we had more land, definitely we would be able to bring the scale down, and we could definitely have more green space,” he said, “but we have to work with the area that we have.”

Several residents said that they were disappointed that Harvard had stepped away from negotiations with the community once the land-swap was finalized, letting Community Builders fine-tune the proposal with Allston residents.

“We would be supportive of the project if it wasn’t so dense,” said Allston resident Tim Schofield. “A lot of us are concerned because Harvard has more space to give.”

Last night’s meeting was the first of two scheduled public meetings, held by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, regarding the Charlesview relocation and expansion.

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