Harvard presented its most detailed plan yet for the Barry’s Corner Retail and Housing Commons in Allston at the Harvard-Allston Task Force meeting on Wednesday evening.
Allston residents expressed support for several of the goals laid out by the University but said they were skeptical of Harvard’s ability to implement that vision within the “limited” space the University has proposed for the Barry’s Corner complex.
At the meeting, Gerald Autler, a senior project manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, listed many of the projects the University has said it will consider undertaking as it proceeds with development: expanding sidewalks, increasing vehicle and foot traffic flow, decreasing speed limits, constructing buildings with ground floors meant to engage passersby, and concentrating retail properties in a small, walkable area.
Autler compared Harvard’s vision for Barry’s Corner to several nearby urban centers, including Davis Square and Coolidge Corner.
According to Autler, the University will select a real estate development partner in June and create a planning document for Barry’s Corner by September “at the earliest.”
“The goal of this meeting was not to lay out solutions but to ask the question: ‘How do we make Barry’s Corner the place we want it to be?’” Autler said.
Autler also tried to clarify the meaning of the “institutional use” for which Harvard officials have said that several plots adjacent to Barry’s Corner will be reserved.
The vague designation caused confusion and incited criticism from several Allston residents at previous meetings.
Autler said that institutional uses can include, but are not limited to, laboratories, classrooms, departmental support spaces, and cultural spaces. He added that he thinks these uses can support the retail development of the Barry’s Corner area.
The University’s development of Barry’s Corner, which sits at the corner of Western Avenue and North Harvard Street in Allston, aligns with Harvard’s long-touted goal of creating a “main street” environment along Western Avenue.
The University first proposed this vision in 2005, but the project was delayed in 2009 when Harvard, compelled by financial constraints, put its plans for Allston on ice.
Matt Poe, a consultant from Ayer Saint Gross, the group that Harvard has contracted to help with Allston development, emphasized the University’s commitment to creating an environment that balances Harvard’s needs with those of the community.
“We need to find out a lot about the University, and we need to understand just as much about Allston,” Poe said. “We’re dedicated to preserving and strengthening the unique character of this place.”
Several Harvard-Allston Task Force members and Allston residents repeated concerns they have voiced earlier about the feasibility of the University’s vision for Barry’s Corner within the amount of space the University has currently allotted for the project.
Task Force member Brent C. Whelan ’73 said that he thinks that the University needs to dedicate more space in order to transform Barry’s Corner into a thriving “main street” environment.
“If we’re ever going to have any kind of a livable square, the parcels the University has reserved for ‘institutional use’ are going to have to be for citizens of that square—and not just portions of the University that happened to find their way across the [Charles] River,” Whelan said.
Allston resident Tim McHale said he thought that the University should consider devoting more land to the Barry’s Corner Commons.
“I’m hearing the area shrink, but I want it to be expanded out,” McHale said. “I think that there is a lot of potential to move beyond these current boundaries for Barry’s Corner. I think it would really contribute to the creation of the vibrant and lively space that we’re talking about.”
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at email@example.com.