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Agassiz Neighborhood to Vote Today on Deal With Harvard

By Jessica R. Rubin-wills, Crimson Staff Writer

After a full year of negotiations, residents of the neighborhood north of Harvard Yard are set to vote tonight on a multimillion dollar, 25-year agreement for University development in one of Harvard’s final frontiers in Cambridge.

Joel Bard, one of the lead negotiators from the Agassiz neighborhood, said last night that he expected the neighborhood to vote for the deal.

“I’m confident that the vote will be overwhelmingly in favor if not unanimous,” said Bard, one of four representatives of the Agassiz Committee on the Impacts of Development (ACID) who have been meeting with Harvard officials to hammer out the agreement.

The deal on the table will allow Harvard to construct 1.6 million square feet of buildings in the area, a total that includes the combined expansion of Harvard Law School, Harvard Divinity School, and the science facilities of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In exchange for their support of these construction projects, the neighborhood will receive a guarantee that Harvard will build no more than 1.6 million square feet in the next 25 years.

Harvard will also work to limit the negative impacts of construction and provide the neighborhood with millions of dollars worth of benefits, including landscaping and money for community funds.

As part of the agreement, University officials and neighborhood representatives will meet regularly in a working committee to discuss specific Harvard building projects as they come up.

The agreement comes after neighborhood residents voted unanimously last December to support ACID’s ongoing negotiations with the University—based on a “wish list” of goals identified in a neighborhood survey—rather than trying simply to block Harvard’s expansion plans.

If the deal passes successfully today, it would be the second time this year that Harvard and Cantabrigians have come to the table and successfully hashed out a plan for University development.

In October, after nearly a half-decade of sparring with residents over its building rights on its property along the Charles River, Harvard struck a deal with the city for its future expansion in the Riverside neighborhood.

Under that deal, Harvard can build taller buildings than the original neighborhood-backed plan had called for.

In return, the University agreed to provide a public park and affordable housing for city residents.

But the deal with Agassiz would represent an unprecedented agreement between Harvard and a neighborhood group without the formal involvement of city government.

Cambridge’s Planning Board, which recommends new zoning and approves building projects, raised concerns at its Dec. 2 meeting about its lack of involvement in the planning process between Harvard and Agassiz, the Cambridge Chronicle reported this week.

According to Bard, the discussion of the Agassiz agreement was not on the planning board’s agenda and no neighborhood residents were present for the meeting.

Bard and ACID member William Bloomstein met with three planning board members this week. Bard said they agreed to set up a formal meeting to discuss the agreement, probably in January.

Bard said he thought the planning board members would have preferred to meet before the vote, but that the vote would continue as planned tonight.

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

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