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Agassiz, Harvard Discuss Deal

By Jessica R. Rubin-wills, Crimson Staff Writer

Members of the neighborhood just north of the Yard will vote next month on an agreement that would lay the groundwork for long-term cooperation between Harvard and the community.

The Agassiz neighborhood will agree not to oppose Harvard’s construction of 1.6 million square feet of buildings in the area over the next 25 years, according to a draft of the proposed agreement presented at a community forum last night. In return, the University will pledge that this figure represents the upper limit of Harvard’s development over that time period.

Harvard will also promise to limit the impacts of construction and provide amenities for the community.

To help both sides realize the benefits outlined broadly in the agreement, Harvard and the neighborhood representatives will meet regularly in a working committee to discuss specific Harvard building projects as they come up.

Last night, negotiators presented plans for the first stage of University expansion in the North Yard, which includes three science buildings.

The community will likely receive $7 million to $8 million worth of benefits, including Harvard-funded traffic improvements and money for community programs.

Later stages of expansion will include the Harvard Law School, the Harvard Divinity School and additional science facilities of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—schools which have only recently begun to coordinate their planning in order to present the community with a unified vision for future growth.

“We have been able to talk about long-term build-out in a way we haven’t before,” said Harvard’s Senior Director of Community Relations Mary H. Power.

Representatives of the University and the Agassiz Committee on the Impacts of Development (ACID), who have been meeting for over a year to hammer out the details, hailed the agreement as a way to establish an open dialogue about development of the area while providing both sides with assurances that their goals would be met.

“The idea is that we’re all going to be working through this as partners,” said Joel Bard, one of the ACID representatives on the negotiating team.

At last night’s meeting, a few residents of the neighborhood raised questions about the specifics of the plan, and several said they had not been given enough chances to provide input in the negotiating process.

“People are not informed well enough,” said Thomas Frank ’44, who, along with his wife Kate, presented a written document outlining concerns with what they described as the “vague” language of the agreement.

The ACID representatives said the agreement reflects the priorities shown in a community-wide survey conducted last year. They also said there had been many opportunities for public comment, including monthly neighborhood forums and two small-group meetings held last week to explain the finer points of the proposed agreement.

“I think the neighborhood’s largely on board,” Bard said after the meeting.

One resident last night urged the ACID negotiators to ask Harvard for the use of parking facilities during snow emergencies and for free museum admission for community members.

But he added that his overall impression of the agreement was positive.

“The agreement represents a wonderful improvement on the relationship between Harvard and the community,” he said.

The Fine Points

Last night, the negotiating team presented a draft of the first specific “implementation agreement” covering the three science buildings that are next on Harvard’s development agenda.

The three buildings will together make up about 670,000 square feet, most of which will be underground.

In return for the community’s support of these projects, Harvard will agree to a construction mitigation plan, fund several traffic improvements along Oxford Street and provide new landscaping along the campus edge

The University will also establish a new science education partnership with the Cambridge Public Schools at an estimated cost of $1.45 million, and make a $1 million contribution to a new fund for city-wide youth programs that will be administered by the Agassiz Neighborhood Council (ANC). Harvard will also donate an additional $50,000 for planting trees in the area.

The benefits will be delivered in increments linked to the approval and completion of the three building projects.

Last April the community agreed to support the Biological Research Infrastructure, a 75,000-foot underground structure that will house laboratory mice.

Designs for the second building, the 135,000-square-foot Laboratory for Interface Science and Engineering, have also been presented to the community, and the project received the approval of the city’s Planning Board last month.

A new 436,000-square-foot science building on Hammond Street is still in the planning stages. In its meeting Monday, the Harvard Corporation told FAS adminstrators that they enthusiastically supported the project, University President Lawrence H. Summers told The Crimson after the meeting.

Future phases of the agreement between Harvard and the Agassiz neighborhood will establish specific community benefits linked to the expansion of the Law School and the further growth of the sciences and the Divinity School.

“The goal is for the relationship to extend well beyond the immediate projects,” Power said.

The broad agreement and the first specific implementation plan will come up for a vote at the next ANC meeting on Dec. 16.

Friedman, who works at Boston College and said she has not always trusted institutions to deal with their neighbors fairly, told the community members last night that the agreement with Harvard was a “pleasant surprise.”

“These negotiations can often lead to nothing,” she said.

—Stephen M. Marks contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Jessica R. Rubin-Wills can be reached at rubinwil@fas.harvard.edu.

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