Harvard has made a commitment to the City of Boston allowing residential development on a small parcel of its landholdings in Allston—a rare gesture from a University that has frustrated residents by remaining closemouthed about its plans for certain neighborhood properties.
The commitment, announced last night by Boston Redevelopment Authority Director John F. Palmieri, has yet to be put in writing, but pertains to a 0.7 acre site currently occupied by the Brookline Machine Company that Harvard quietly purchased late last year. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino is now pressing the University to immediately begin exploring the feasibility of initiating residential development on the site, according to Palmieri.
The announcement came at the second of two public review sessions held by the BRA aimed at collecting community input about a plan to relocate the Charlesview Apartments that is slated for City authorization in the coming months or even weeks. In a bid to consolidate its land holdings in Allston, Harvard has signed an agreement with the Charlesview board that would give the University control of the current apartment buildings, which are situated near the Business School, in exchange for development of a new housing complex a half-mile away.
The relocation of the apartments, which is tentatively slated for completion in 2012, represents the first step in a broader community-wide redevelopment of Allston, which many residents say is only possible if the University commits more land to the cause.
City officials framed yesterday’s announcement as an “integral” step in that direction and a chance to ensure a healthy North Allston community around Charlesview, but local residents remained indignant, insisting that the offering of the Machine Company plot is inadequate and characteristically vague.
“Harvard’s attitude is offensively superficial if it thinks a 0.7 acre parcel is enough to make us shut up and go away,” said Brent Whelan ’73, another resident and member of the Task Force.
Conversation remained heated, divisive, and often tense throughout the meeting as BRA planners outlined the Charlesview plan and neighborhood residents provided comments and criticisms.
Some community members reiterated long-standing concerns about the height and density of the proposed new apartments, as well as what they perceive to be an insufficient amount of commercial and open space in the City’s plan to redevelop Allston. Others called on top University officials to address residents personally at future meetings.
But in the end, the meeting’s implications were elusive. Harry Mattison, a long-term community activist and Task Force member, said that he thought the public comment meeting was “unproductive” and “just for show.” He said he believed that the BRA has already made a decision to approve the plan.
A small contingent of Charlesview residents and board members attended the meeting as well, imploring city officials to approve the plans. One Charlesview resident, Raisa Shapiro, angrily denounced the repeated delays and said that the current buildings are in “unlivable” condition. At one point, she presented a plastic bag containing two dead rats that she said she had found in her apartment—drawing gasps and glares from Allston residents.
But many community members seemed unswayed, criticizing Shapiro for exploiting what they said should be a matter of “personal responsibility” and home maintenance.