City of Boston Approves BC Expansion Plans

In an unanimous vote, the City of Boston gave Boston College the green light to proceed with its $1.6 billion campus expansion in Brighton, but deferred decision-making on a controversial dormitory that BC proposed to build on property purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

The Institutional Master Plan for BC’s ten-year expansion—approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority at a meeting last Thursday evening—currently proposes athletic facilities as well as dormitory space for about 800 students.

The 150-bed dormitory that remains in question has recently been approved by the Allston Brighton BC Community Task Force, but still faces strong opposition from Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, as well as some local residents.

Jessica Shumaker, a spokeswoman for the BRA, said that “after hearing the testimony of both sides, [the BRA] just thought it would be best to further study the location of the 150 beds.”

She added that although BC’s master plan had been approved, the university cannot break ground on individual construction projects without approval by the Zoning Commission.

BC officials had hoped that the Brighton expansion would allow BC to become the first major college in the city of Boston to house all undergraduates on campus, a move that they say will reduce neighborhood complaints of disruptive student behavior.

Currently, BC offers on-campus housing for roughly 85 percent of its student body.

The expansion plans, filed in June 2008, have encountered significant resistance from some Brighton community members, who say that they are wary of universities such as BC and Harvard encroaching on their neighborhoods.

While Harvard has attached a $25 million community benefits package to its planned four-building science complex in Allston, BC currently has no comparable fund for the community outlined in its plans.

Long-time Brighton resident Theresa Hynes—who is also a founding member of Brighton Neighbors United, a community organization dedicated to “preserving the residential character of Brighton”—said she would prefer that BC utilized its existing property holdings more efficiently.

“I feel there is enough space on campus to house [all the students],” Hynes said. “All that is necessary is to increase the height [of dorms] and have some moderate high rises on campus.”

She added that college students tend to be “boisterous” by nature and keep late hours, which she said she feared would be “disruptive for the neighborhood.”

But Denis Minihane, a Brighton resident and a member of the BC Task Force, said that a dormitory expansion would bring economic benefits and “young, inquisitive minds” to Brighton. He added that concerns about neighborhood disruptions were overblown, and that “some of the most vocal [opponents of BC’s expansion plans] don’t even live close to the neighborhood.”

Minihane said he predicted that Menino would eventually give his complete support to the Brighton dormitory plans.

“The Mayor will review it and come out at a quiet date and approve the dorms,” Minihane said. “That’s my feeling.”

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.harvard.edu.
—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.