Barry's Corner Plans Worry Allston Residents

With planning for resuming development in Allston underway, Harvard asked for resident support and participation in selecting a developer for the proposed Barry’s Corner residential commons and retail center at the Harvard-Allston Task Force meeting Monday evening. But community members expressed apprehensions about the University’s proposal, explaining that they felt Harvard failed to adequately address the question of what type of tenants will reside in the building.

Residents at the meeting were mainly concerned that Harvard will use the new housing in Barry’s Corner primarily to house graduate students.

“We don’t want a dorm,” Task Force member and Allston resident Ray Mellone said during the meeting.

Mellone later said that the University’s inability to provide specifics on the kind of residents it will seek for the new housing center undermined its claim that it is dedicated to ensuring residents feel “comfortable” with the new project.

“If they want to be open and clear about it, they have to give us more than just the barest bone,” Mellone said. “If they’re going have a building and they don’t know who they’re going to put in it, it’s unclear whether those tenants will be in line with the goals of the community.”

In a 2005 planning document, Harvard laid out a vision for a “main street” on Western Ave., Lower Allston’s main throughway. Barry’s Corner is located at the intersection of North Harvard St. and Western Ave.

But relations between Harvard and Allston residents grew tense when the University placed this vision on hold and halted construction in Dec. 2009 after the economic recession dealt a significant blow to its endowment.

In Sept. 2011, the Harvard Corporation and University President Drew G. Faust approved recommendations for the University’s path forward in Allston that the Harvard Allston Work Team developed in the year and a half following the construction halt. Since then, Harvard has begun planning for resuming large-scale development in the neighborhood across the Charles.

During the meeting, a Harvard administrator assured residents that the housing development would not serve as an undergraduate dorm and said that their goal moving forward was to pursue a project that the “community can feel comfortable with”.

“The intent of these meetings is to engage the Task Force so we can get feedback from you as to what matters to you as a community,” University vice president of communications and public affairs Kevin Casey said at the meeting.

Despite Casey’s assurances, some residents said that the University’s vague language was a tactic to evade committing to building housing that would be open to the larger community as well as Harvard affiliates. According to Task-Force member Brent Whelan ’73, residents are not against any Harvard affiliates moving into the building, but would prefer faculty members and their families rather than graduate students.

“We want professors, etc. who would integrate with their community,” Whelan said. “Graduate students don’t integrate with their community, they integrate with their library.”

Task Force member Paul Berkeley said that the University’s discussion of the design of the building seemed to indicate already that the University will not target the kind of tenants Allston residents would hope for.

“The University was describing one and two bedroom units,” he said. “Anyone who has had kids knows that two bedrooms is kind of small for a family.”

Nevertheless, Berkeley said that the neighborhood might welcome the construction of such apartment units if they are available to individuals who are not necessarily members of the Harvard community.

“It wouldn’t be a bad thing if people in the Allston neighborhood could find a place to live where they grew up while they begin to build a life after school,” he said.

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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