Harvard Embarks Upon Revision of Campus Expansion Plan

After the city of Boston issued its 50-page scoping determination last month for Harvard’s forecasted development in Allston for the next half-century, some residents say the document raises concerns about the University’s ability to adequately incorporate the city’s suggestions over the next few months.

The scoping determination—the longest issued in the city’s history, according to Boston Redevelopment Authority officials—is a compilation of suggestions and comments from city officials and community members for the University as it revises its 50-year master plan.

The document focus on ways in which Harvard’s development over the next few decades can create a campus that enhances Allston by creating open spaces, improving transportation, and ensuring permeability and connections between Harvard’s existing campuses in Cambridge and the Longwood Medical Area and the neighborhood.

Harvard officials say they plan to re-submit the master plan for approval in early 2009.

BRA Senior Project Manager Gerald Autler said the unique nature of Harvard’s expansion justified the detailed nature of the scoping document and would provide the University with a lot to think about over the coming months.

“It’s certainly an ambitious agenda, and there is a lot of material to absorb and comment on,” said Autler, whose agency is responsible for overseeing development projects in the city.

Harvard has the additional challenge of building and planning alongside other community development plans, such as the 2004 North Allston Strategic Framework Plan, a document that came out of a series of meetings between University officials and Allston residents that calls for an increase in the rate of home ownership and more pedestrian connections to the river, in addition to other improvements.

Harvard Allston Task Force Chair Ray Mellone said the University’s challenges were compounded by the fact that they must keep in mind both the development of a neighborhood as well as the expansion of a campus.

“Harvard has to see with a sort of double vision,” he said. “This is a brand new kind of planning challenge that has not been done in the past, but I am optimistic that they can figure out the issues.”

Although the University plans to submit the master plan later than its original projection of this fall, some residents say they still worry that Harvard officials are not affording themselves enough time to absorb the detailed suggestions of the scoping determination.

“If they’re really going to submit it in a few months, then it precludes any sort of meaningful input from the neighborhood at all,” said Task Force member Harry Mattison.

But according to Autler, moving this process along quickly would mean that Harvard would be able to implement benefits to the community sooner than previously anticipated.

“If we get this master plan to the finish line in a reasonable amount of time, the benefits that the neighborhood is looking for can start to materialize,” he said.

He also said that neighbors will have three to four months in which to vet the master plan during public hearings before the city would approve it.

The University’s chief planner Kathy A. Spiegelman said that Harvrard is committed to keeping the concerns of the city and Allston residents in mind as they revise the master plan.

“Although everyone’s definition of ‘good’ is different, we are going to put a lot of energy and effort into making our response to the scope the best it could possibly be,” she said.

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