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A Waning Battle?


By Laurie Hays

IN ALL THERE ARE ABOUT FIFTEEN active residents of Observatory Hill protesting Radcliffe's proposed athletic facility. Yet only two of the opponents will be able to make it to the City Council meeting tonight to defend their position, and as time goes on, the number of residents resisting the project appears to be falling off. Infact, at last week's meeting of the Quality of Life Committee the disgruntled residents went beyond devising strategy tactics for winning the City Council's support and briefly considered ways of keeping the group from fizzling out before the bulldozers arrive.

The building plans for the gym are finished and are sitting neatly rolled up in a corner of President Horner's office. Radcliffe officials now only await a vote on the down-zoning petition to limit Harvard's building space that over a hundred Observatory Hill residents signed last spring. Yet whether or not the Council passes the petition, Radcliffe could still build the gym, since it fits the strictest zoning regulations.

The council is likely to favor the down-zoning petition, since most councilors favor putting some restrictions on Harvard's rights to Cambridge. However, council approval of another citizens' proposal--that the city take over property by eminent domain, is an entirely different proposition. What's more, the opponents of the gym want the state legislature to change a state law to limit the expansion of all academic institutions in Cambridge, and this move seems to have an even smaller chance of success.

City Councilor Saundra Graham, whose community leadership two years ago blocked Harvard's proposal for constructing the Kennedy Library complex on the MBTA yards, says she does not recall a precedent for Cambridge taking Harvard's property by eminent domain. "I really don't want to raise people's hopes by saying I think the city will do this," she says. However, Graham is more hopeful about a proposal she herself is drafting for next year's legislative session that would give Cambridge residents home-rule on zoning and would require Harvard to consult with the city residents about future building. Graham says she would rather not discuss her proposal at this point, since it is still in the planning stages.

If Cambridge were to approve the proposal that the city undertake eminent domain proceedings on Harvard's Observatory Hill property, the building permit would be held up even longer, Richard McKinnon, administrative assistant to the City Council says. The residents are looking for just this kind of response. They really don't want the city to take the property back, but instead are hoping to stall for enough time until Graham can submit her resolution to the legislature. Additional suggestions, such as sitting down and talking about making Harvard pay more taxes to the city or calling further public hearings to discuss the gym are mentioned in a letter the residents sent to the city councilors last week. Thus while it still seems that stopping the gym is the community group's ultimate objective, the issue is getting confused.

More to the point, however, Harvard is confused. Donald C. Moulton, assistant vice-president for community affairs responds to the community's recent activities by admitting, "to tell you the truth, I don't understand what they are trying to do." He adds, of course, that Harvard will fight any restrictions on its rights to build in Cambridge. And not only have residents made their own work more difficult by skirting the problem and stalling for time, but they have avoided any direct communication with the institution they are battling.

MOST CAMBRIDGE RESIDENTS continue to complain that it's unpleasant to have Harvard building in the backyard. But unfortunately, this community group lacks the kind of energy it needs to stop it. The fight against the Kennedy Library gained momentum as time wore on and finally succeeded in wearing Harvard out, thus breaking a long string of Harvard victories in town-gown fights. But now it looks like old times again.

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