Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus


For Kennedy School Fellows, Epstein-Linked Donors Present a Moral Dilemma


Tenants Grapple with High Rents and Local Turnover at Asana-Owned Properties


In April, Theft Surged as Cambridge Residents Stayed at Home


The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Cambridge Faces Harvard

By Laurie Hays

If there is one issue that officials in the Harvard Planning Office hate to see raised in an election year, it is the charge that Harvard treats the City of Cambridge badly. This is an election year, and already, there are many fingers being angrily waved at the University. Cambridge Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci, in a City Council meeting two weeks ago, declared a symbolic "state of emergency in Cambridge" and proclaimed that there would be no more Harvard buildings constructed in Cambridge. "Finito" Vellucci said, "No more buildings," In a more concrete fashion however, Cambridge residents are taking matters into their own hands, confronting Harvard with a more realistic dillemma than Vellucci's campaign rhetoric.

Down-zoning is the name of the game, and there is more than one piece of property in Cambridge where Harvard is likely to lose some ground. The City Council, the only body with the authority to make such a change in the city's present zoning map, is expected the next month to receive two more down-zoning petitions from Cambridge residents concerned with preventing further massive Harvard construction in their neighborhood.

The most controversial petition was submitted in early September by the residents of Observatory Hill, who requested that the Harvard property in that area be down-zoned to leave the University with less than one-seventh of the building space it now owns. Five of the six members of the Cambridge Planning Board favored such a change in the zoning map at their meeting last week, although it has not yet submitted a formal recommendation to the Council. City councilors have also said they would favor some form of down-zoning.

Another parcel of property--owned by Harvard and Lesley College, bordered by Linnean and Fernald Streets in West Cambridge--is less likely to undergo a zoning change, despite neighborhood residents' efforts to restrict the amount of building space in the area. Officials in the Planning Office, however, say the problem is of greater concern to Lesley, which plans to expand on most of that property.

But down-zoning is only one of the means city residents are hoping to employ to limit the University's expansion.

One of the largest losses Harvard could take in the near future, is a parcel of land near Sacramento Field that the city is presently trying take by its right of eminent domain--if it can raise the money. Although no definite plans for housing construction have been proposed by the University, Russell E. Hill, director of real estate, says the outcome of the city's proposal to take back the land could have a major effect on Harvard's plans to build graduate student housing there.

By changing the zoning map and limiting the amount of building space available on certain Harvard properties, Cambridge citizens have discovered what they consider a useful tool for limiting the construction of large buildings in a city that was heavily zoned for industrial and commercial development in 1961. For the past eight years, down-zoning has emerged as a definite trend, Richard Morgan, junior planner for the city, says. Morgan notes that almost three-fourths of the requests for down-zoning since 1969 have been successful--because, he says, residents and developers have both realized that the city would become overdeveloped if the original zoning regulations were fully pursued.

Opinions of the usefulness of down-zoning vary widely, though. Richard E. McKinnon, administrative assistant to the City Council, says he would prefer to see local residents sit down with Harvard planners to decide what kinds of buildings would be acceptable in their neighborhood.

"Down-zoning is really spot-zoning," McKinnon says. He adds that to down-zone is not the proper way to use the zoning laws. Changing only a small portion of the zoning map, he maintains, is normally considered illegal, although the council has the power to grant special petitions to that effect.

Harvard officials also view down-zoning with a critical eye. Harold L. Goyette, director of the Planning Office, describes the recent trend in down-zoning as "a kind of panacea--a virulent disease for people who see so much change and have no control over it. I think people have latched on to down-zoning as a means of presenting change," Goyette adds.

But what annoys Goyette even more than a down-zoning petition is what he calls "the monolithic view Cambridge residents have of Harvard." He illustrated the point with an anecdote about a neighbor he once had when he lived in Cambridge. The neighbor was carrying on about a car parked in front of his driveway. The car had a Harvard sticker, and the neighbor was furious "at Harvard, not the individual," Goyette says, for blocking his driveway entrance. After Goyette told the neighbor to call the police and have the car towed--as he would in any other similar circumstance--the neighbor exclaimed that this was a Harvard car, so he couldn't do anything about it. Goyette says he told the man to have the car towed, regardless of the sticker it carried, pointing out that it belonged to a careless individual, not the University.

Goyette uses the incident to explain the kind of psychological relationship many Cambridge residents have with Harvard: a view of the University only as an institution, instead of a community of individuals. The philosophy behind Harvard's expansion is its attempt to build a "community of scholars, and inherent in that goal, is the need to supply adequate facilities." Goyette says.

That line is by no means inconsistent with the attitude of many earlier Harvard administrators. In a speech at the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association on June 13. 1957, former President Nathan M. Pusey '28, perhaps best summed up Harvard's future expansion in the city:

We can cope with the problem created by the increased number of students if we will build more small communities within the large community. We should not worry because in the 20th century the small community can no longer be co-extensive with the whole. For experience has shown that a small community set in the large environment acquires by that very fact a richness, and an importance which it could not otherwise have. Harvard can continue to be Harvard for a long time to come.

Of course, describing the ways Harvard has made sure that it will "continue to be Harvard," is like conducting an endless discussion. It is virtually impossible to include all the various properties and buildings Harvard owns in Cambridge. The total amount of Harvard-owned property in Cambridge adds up to well over 200 acres, and ranges from everything to a fruit stand on Putnam St. to Blair Pond in the southeast end of Cambridge. Harvard owns housing for its students, employees and Cambridge residents. In fact, one tenant of a Harvard-owned apartment building, when asked about how much he thought Harvard owned in Cambridge, just sighed and answered, "What doesn't Harvard own?"

Most agree that Harvard is a good landlord but underlying that observation is the knowledge that the University is not in the real estate business as a hobby. Rather, by owning residential buildings. Harvard can practice what is commonly known as "land-banking." "There is no open land available in Cambridge, so we have to acquire buildings to get the land." Hill points out. The most recent acquisiton that may be used this way in the future is the property just behind the Graduate School of Design (GSD) on Summer Road. In the last year, Harvard bought all the apartment buildings on the lot. If the need arises to provide more housing of facilities for the GSD, it would be a good location, Hill says. And, in the event that Harvard builds there, the University will relocate the present tenants, he adds.

A similar project took place when the University built Mather House eight years ago. Harvard owned the buildings on the construction site, and found new homes for the tenants who saw their homes razed to make way for the new dorm. However, residents of Peabody Ave., took matters into their own hands five years ago, and successfully down-zoned the property adjacent to nearby Putnam Ave., thus limiting the space Harvard would have to build another dormitory. But Hill says the University is still considering construction of another dormitory in the vicinity of Putnam Ave. With the possibility of a full-merger between Harvard and Radcliffe and the fulfillment of a one-to-one undergraduate sex ratio in mind. "We haven't yet excluded the possibility of building in front of Putnam Ave.," Hill says. In fact, he adds, if Harvard builds another House, it will probably be on University property near the down-zoned parcel.

Harvard, in fact, is always buying and selling property. "Land is the only thing that matters," says John Rumley of Hunneman Realty Corporation, which manages most of Harvard's real estate. For the past three years, however. Harvard has been following the acquisition boundaries set forth in the Harvard Long-Range Development Plans. The current plans were proposed in 1975; and Hill says that Harvard has not bought any property outside the boundaries they prescribed. He adds, though, that the plan will be reviewed again in 1980, as long-range plans are not good forever.

The first long-range plan was published in 1960 by the Corporation and is, for the most part, similar to the report published in June 1974. The latter document, however, contains the boundary lines that Charles U. Daly, then vice president for government and community affairs, proposed in an October 1972, report to the community.

Drawning up the current plans was a difficult project, according to Supratik Bose, manager of long-range planning, who wrote the report. There are many internal planning issues that have not been stated in the long-range plan because it was a public document, Bose says, citing such minor projects as building renovations and determining where to place bicycle racks on the campus. Bose says that while he was writing the report, he wanted it to be more specific, and also to include an in-house document. Most Harvard officials were not keen on the idea, he says.

City Councilor Saundra T. Graham, who is notorious for her stands against Harvard building proposals such as the Kennedy Library complex--which citizens of Cambridge succeeded in blocking--says the University, has only provided a long-range plan, not a master plan. Although she admits that issues relating to Harvard's development have been comparatively quiet for the past several years, she attributes that to the way the University works. "They just lay low and quietly buy property while people are unaware," Graham says. From her point of view, and that of her constituents in Cambridge-Riverside, Harvard offers little to Cambridge. She says the University, which pays $1.53 million in taxes and $507,000 in lieu of tax payments annually, does not offer enough advantages for the relatively small amount it has to pay.

This is an election year, and politicians will undoubtedly be campaigning heavily against Harvard, because they can get a lot of votes that way. But Harvard is always quietly making plans. It is inevitable that there will be more buildings, because, after all, Harvard will continue to be Harvard for a long time.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.