University Proposes $13-15 Million Community Benefits Package for Allston

Harvard officials proposed an approximately $13-15 million community benefits package to members of the Harvard-Allston Task Force at the group’s meeting Monday evening as part of an ongoing conversation about the University’s Institutional Master Plan for Allston development.

The proposed improvements, which center around the public realm and community programming, represent the University’s suggestions for projects it plans to fund alongside its proposed construction in Allston. Harvard filed its 10-year master plan for Allston with the Boston city government at the end of last month and hopes to have it approved in October.

The projects proposed by Harvard Monday night included funding the construction of additional pedestrian crossings over Soldiers Field Road, the extension of Telford Street, streetscape improvements, and funding extensions for several current community programs. Those community programs, the funding for which would be extended through 2024 under Harvard’s proposal, include workforce development classes, initiatives at the Harvard Allston Education Portal, and grants and scholarships for neighborhood residents.

The task force has been charged with determining the community’s priorities for the benefits package, which will be finalized with the assistance of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

“We know you’ve been looking at your own ideas about priorities,” Kevin Casey, Harvard's associate vice president for public affairs and communications, told the task force members. “We think that the things that we’re mentioning can tie back to many of the things that we’ve heard of, so we hope it’s a constructive contribution to your discussions.”

In addition to the proposed $13-15 million plan, Casey said Harvard could also fund additional benefits, possibly related to housing and employment, using associated linkage payments. Casey estimated that the linkage payments, the additional money that the University is required to pay for its construction, could total between $11-13 million if all the square footage of construction proposed in the master plan is carried out. He said “it would be best” if those linkage payments were devoted to benefit the Allston-Brighton community specifically.

Task force members and residents in attendance reacted to Harvard’s presentation both by praising the University’s efforts to engage in the benefits conversation and by raising additional questions. Some residents questioned whether the proposed Soldiers Field Road crossings will be safe if they do not come in the form of overpasses. Task force chair Ray V. Mellone also expressed general concerns about the long-term impact of the construction, questioning whether the community benefits package set forth a long-term vision for the neighborhood.

“[The fact that] the front end of the community benefits is such that it ends and begins with a 10-year cycle but [includes] nothing further to enhance the ability of the community to sustain its own vision is a mistake,” said Mellone, who is an Allston resident.

At Monday’s meeting, task force members and residents in attendance also discussed potential housing benefits to be included as part of the package. In a short presentation, the task force’s housing working group suggested several potential housing improvements that Harvard could fund, including the creation of a “revolving loan fund” to help individuals seeking to buy a home in the neighborhood.

The task force also voted to name Tim McHale, a Brighton resident, project chair of the task force. McHale has helped Mellone lead the task force’s discussions throughout much of the summer.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

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