HBS Lab Worries Allston Residents

Allston residents expressed frustrations about feeling cut out of the planning process for Harvard’s development in the neighborhood at a Harvard-Allston Task Force Meeting last night.

At group’s first meeting since June, the University formally informed the community about its plans to build an Innovation Lab—a space where people from across the University could discuss and realize their business plans through collaboration—and Tata Hall, an executive education building on the Harvard Business School campus. The projects were originally announced at a press conference on Oct. 14.

The University is hoping to gain approval for construction on the intended site for the Innovation Lab—125 Western Ave., a building that housed the radio station WGBH until 2007—before the holiday season, which would require a fast tracking of the permitting process, according to Boston Redevelopment Authority Senior Project Manager Gerald Autler.

Residents voiced concerns that speeding-up the permissions process would limit the opportunity for meaningful community input on the project, which residents hoped would allow entrepreneurial Allston residents to participate.

“Will [the lab] feel as though it is Harvard only—don’t come in unless you have an ID?” asked Task Force Member Brent Whelan. “Or will it feel like part of the community?”

Residents also referred to the hope that Western Avenue would become a bustling “main street” in Allston, and questioned how the Innovation Lab would fit into that plan.

“Western Ave. is supposed to be the main street of our neighborhood and the center of reactivating our neighborhood,” said Task Force member Harry Mattison, adding that the building should be in line with this vision for the street.

The Innovation Lab, if approved, will sit almost directly across from the now paved-over five acre plot that was intended for Harvard’s Allston Science Complex, a $1 billion construction project that was halted in Dec. 2009 due to financial constraints.

Some Allston residents expressed frustrations that although Harvard halted construction of the Science Complex, it now plans to engage in these two new development projects.

“How can the city of Boston give this developer another permit when they haven’t completed the Science Complex?” asked Allston resident Paul “Chip” Alfred.

The Innovation Lab is estimated to cost the University between $15-$20 million.

At the meeting last night, Harvard also introduced its real estate consultants to the community, and Allston Work Team Co-Chair Bill Purcell presented on the group’s preliminary investigations into the possibility of developing land in Allston with a partner institution.

The Work Team was created in Dec. 2009 and is tasked with drawing up recommendations for the University’s presence in the neighborhood.

—Staff writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at segroopm@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu.

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