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Building Proposal Sparks Opposition

Residents Want Park

By Miriam A. Pawel

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) may lease some land from Harvard for its national headquarters, but the proposal has run into opposition from community residents who use the lot as a park.

The academy must secure community approval before it can construct a building on two acres of the lot bordering on Cambridge and Somerville because it would have to seek a change in zoning regulations.

John Voss, executive director of the AAAS yesterday termed the possibility of building on the lot "very attractive," but he said the academy would not proceed without community agreement.

Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the lot, called the Sachs estate, successfully fought all Harvard's efforts to build on the estate for the last 15 years, but community reaction to the academy proposal has been somewhat more favorable, Ellen Reiser, a resident of the area who opposes the academy proposal, said yesterday.

Approval of the academy's request hinges on Harvard's plans for the estate's other three acres, Kenneth Basler, a member of the Agassiz Neighborhood Planning Group, said yesterday.

The residents will only approve the proposal if Harvard makes a long-term commitment to upgrade and maintain the rest of the tract as a public park, Basler said, adding that since the University acquired the land 18 years ago, it has kept the plot fenced off and overgrown.

However, several residents said yesterday the land has always been used surreptitiously as a park.

Basler said that without a firm commitment from Harvard to maintain and protect a three-acre park the residents will refuse to agree to the zoning variance the academy would need to build.

Donald Moulton, assistant vice president for community affairs, said yesterday the University has "no plans at all for the rest of the land."

Moulton said he did not foresee making any such plans in the near future.

Back to the People

Academy and community representatives have discussed the AAAS proposal at a series of meetings that Harvard officials did not attend because the University "thought it would be appropriate for the academy itself to take its idea to the community," Moulton said.

The Agassiz Neighborhood Planning Group will meet with academy officials for the second time next week, and Basler said he expects residents to present their demands for a three-acre park in return for agreeing to the proposed three-or four-story building.

Prudence Alfaro, a neighborhood resident who opposes the building, said yesterday she believes residents have responded favorably to the proposal because they are weary of fighting perpetual battles with Harvard over the land.

"Because they've gone through so many worse proposals, they feel this is better, so it's O.K.," she said.

Other residents have objected to possible parking and sewage problems surrounding the building proposal. Although Voss said yesterday the academy would hold only eight conventions annually, Reiser said some residents are also concerned about traffic and parking overflow.

Anibal Alfaro said yesterday he would not approve the proposal until the residents see concrete plans for the structure, because he said "one cannot O.K. plans one doesn't know."

Voss said the academy is still considering "several other locations" and will not reach a final decision until some time next fall.

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