Allston Task Force Questions Development Plan

The Harvard-Allston Task Force criticized Harvard’s North Allston development plans in a letter sent to the Boston Redevelopment Authority last week and later obtained by The Crimson.

The letter was sent on the last day of a 30-day public comment period mandated by the BRA after Harvard filed a draft of its Institutional Master Plan for Allston Development on Oct. 18.

In the letter, the Task Force characterized Harvard’s plans as ambiguous and criticized what the Task Force described as a lack of promised community benefits. In addition, the letter raised concerns about the construction and relocation of buildings including the new basketball venue and the Health and Life Science Center.

“All these are issues that need to be taken seriously by the BRA and Harvard,” said Task Force Chair Ray V. Mellone. “I don’t know what the answers are. I just know what the questions are.”

The BRA, which reviews plans for real estate development, will consider the Task Force’s letter alongside others before asking Harvard to revise its IMP draft.

BRA senior project manager Gerald Autler, said that the BRA will outline its demands for changes and clarifications to the Harvard plan in early December. While the BRA will make all of the letters public, the Authority alone will determine how Harvard will be required to modify its plan. According to Autler, it is unlikely that the BRA will ask for more than clarifications.

“I wouldn’t expect that we are going to say in our determination to Harvard that, ‘You need to change this,’” Autler said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities to give Harvard feedback already.”

Harvard halted its original 2007 Allston development plan in 2009 because of the recession, a move which enraged many Allston residents.

In 2011, the University announced that it was resuming its development in Allston, and Harvard filed a new draft of its Institutional Master Plan Notification Form—the draft of its Master Plan for Allston development—on Oct. 18 of this year.

The Task Force letter also complains that Harvard has not yet fulfilled its original commitments to the Allston community with its new plan.

Autler explained that the University signed a cooperation agreement before the recession and has followed through on some—but not all—of its promises. He said that a new agreement would need to be drafted to fulfill benefits consistent with the new master plan, he said.

“We’re very conscious of the fact that there’s a set of benefits that was negotiated, and I think Harvard is fully committed to delivering those or their equivalents,” Autler said.

Brent C. Whelan ’73, an Allston resident and member of the Task Force, said Harvard already should have fulfilled the commitments that it made in the original cooperation agreement.

“Harvard has not taken any steps to fulfill that promise, even though the cooperation agreement said they would move forward with it before filing the master plan,” Whelan said. “Their approach to that promise to engage in community planning has been to ignore it.”

Whelan said that he expected the BRA to represent the Task Force’s concerns to Harvard, but worried that the University would not feel compelled to ameliorate them.

“They don’t feel like they’re obligated to anyone to do anything,” Whelan said of Harvard. “It would really depend on the goodwill of Harvard rather than any coercive mechanisms. I think Harvard puts its head down and does exactly what its internal constituents want to do.”

In an emailed statement, Associate Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications Kevin Casey wrote that Harvard’s IMPNF promises a “robust discussion” of community benefits.

—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at jacobfeldman@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

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