Charlesview Plans Too Vague for Residents

Allston residents criticized Harvard’s “nebulous” development plans for the current Charlesview Apartments site at the Harvard-Allston Task Force meeting on Tuesday evening.

At the meeting, Kevin Casey, associate vice president for Harvard public affairs and communications, said that the University will reserve the site for “institutional use” but would provide no further details.

His lack of specifics drew ire from many residents. Task Force members called for more information on the University’s vision for the six-acre site, which will be vacated once construction on the new Charlesview Complex is finished in 2013.

Harvard acquired the site that currently houses the public housing complex after a 2007 land-swap agreement with the Charlesview’s Board of Directors which consolidated the University’s Allston holdings.

Task Force members said that as the University begins an open planning process for the resumption of its development in Allston, more information on Harvard’s plans for the Charlesview land is crucial to them.

“It’s worrying that we don’t have more information about the Charlesview site when it’s so integral to the plan,” said Task Force Member John A. Bruno. “It’s tough to know how to proceed with such a big unknown.”

Many residents said that they thought the University’s decision to reserve this land undercuts its stated intention to create a thriving commercial district in North Allston.

Task Force member Bruce E. Houghton felt that the proposed Barry’s Corner Housing and Retail Commons—slated to sit on a two-and-a-half acre plot across the street from Charlesview—should incorporate land from the Charlesview site.

“I’m objecting to the fact that you are reserving a large portion of land that could really contribute to the health and viability of the Barry’s Corner project,” said Houghton at the meeting.

Task Force member Harry E. Mattison expressed similar concerns, saying that two-and-a-half acres may not be enough for Harvard to transform Barry’s Corner into a “entertaining and exciting” destination.

“I don’t see how [Harvard’s] vision is going to create that on only 2.5 acres,” Mattison said. “I think we need that extra room if we really want to make this development a viable plan.”

Several Task Force members have since expressed a desire for an art or cultural complex near the Barry’s Corner and Charlesview area.

“When we’re talking about what brings people to an area or what are the things the neighborhood wants, I think that an art and cultural center could be very important,” said Task Force member Millie H. McLaughlin.

Prior to halting construction in Allston in 2009, the creation of an art and cultural complex was one of the oft-repeated proposals for the Charlesview land. However, the University did not make any official plans for the development of the site.

Casey defended the University’s decision to reserve the Charlesview land in an email on Wednesday.

“The proposed institutional uses can be consistent with goals of activation for Barry’s Corner,” Casey wrote.

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

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