Harvard-Allston Task Force Debates Community Benefits Priorities

Members of the Harvard-Allston Task Force continued to debate their priorities for community benefits at their meeting Monday evening as part of an ongoing discussion about Harvard’s Institutional Master Plan for Allston development.

Harvard plans to file its master plan with the Boston city government on July 25, according to Kevin Casey, Harvard’s associate vice president for public affairs and communications. Representatives from Harvard and the city have said that task force members will help inform the plan’s community benefits package, which is expected to set forth proposals for education programs and transportation improvements, among other services.

At Monday’s meeting, Harry E. Mattison, an Allston resident who sits on the task force, called for further discussion about what form the community benefits package should take.

Mattison proposed that rather than outlining specific projects that Harvard will finance, the community benefits package could take a “more general” form with the option of determining at a later date how residents would like to use money from Harvard to improve the neighborhood. Mattison said this solution might allow for some shorter-term projects while factoring in what he described as a “lack of information” about the costs and impact of other possible longer-term benefits—a concern that has been raised by task force members at past meetings.

Mattison proposed that the benefits package could “[dedicate] a certain fraction to short-term quality of life things like what we’ve been discussing, and then [take] the vast majority of it and [say] that more planning and study is needed.”

Gerald Autler, senior project manager with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said that he does not think that the two approaches Mattison described are “mutually exclusive.”

“Inevitably, we’re going to all have to continue working to define the programming in conjunction with the people who know more about those subjects than we do,” Autler said. “I think it would be a mistake not to pick some really meaningful projects right now that can be carried out in the shorter term.... But that doesn’t exclude the idea that we’re not going to define every single detail of these benefits right now.”

The task force also heard a presentation from the BRA that featured the results of a survey about residents’ priorities for community benefits as part of a recap of a recent community meeting about public realm and open space improvements. Autler said there were “a few priorities,” including improvements to Smith Field and Soldiers Field Road crossings, that “really rose to the top” at the previous meeting.

Monday’s meeting also featured a presentation from Harvard about transportation improvements to be included in the master plan, as well as an analysis about the impact the projects, if approved and built, will have on traffic.

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