Boston Officials Decry Land Deal

Harvard purchases Allston parcel that includes turnpike, rail yard

Sparking sharp criticism from top state and city officials wary of the University’s intentions, Harvard closed a deal Friday to purchase a 91-acre tract of land in Boston.

The land, known as Allston Landing South, which Harvard bought from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, includes a portion of the pike itself and the bulk of the area’s major rail yard, both of which Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Mass. Secretary of State William F. Galvin say are crucial pieces of Boston infrastructure.

“Harvard should have talked to us,” an irritated Menino told The Crimson, just hours after the sale. “They told us they wanted to do it, yes—but what the future use of it is, we don’t know.”

The negotiated deal includes some guarantees that the rail yard and pike will not be affected. These guarantees including pre-existing permanent easements owned by the CSX corporation on its rail lines and by the Turnpike Authority for the pike, as well as the new easements granted to the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA) during the sale’s negotiation.

But officials in both the city and the state governments said those guarantees are not enough.

Menino and Galvin cited uncertainty about Harvard’s intentions for the land—as well as concerns that any changes to the pike or rail yard could hurt the area’s economy—as their main reasons for opposing the deal.

Turnpike board member Christy Mihos, who stood alone in voting against the sale in April, questioned the Turnpike Authority’s motivations in selling the land.

“We’re in the business of running a turnpike, not selling turnpike assets,” he said. “This could have some very serious effects on the turnpike. In the long term, the sale is not in the interest of toll payers or taxpayers.”

Secretary Galvin, who had originally postponed the deal on Thursday upon discovering that promised concessions for the MBTA were missing, protested that the deal would give Harvard unusual control over the land, including the potential to literally move the turnpike.

“I’m not satisfied with the deal,” Galvin declared on Friday. “It’s clear that Harvard has a very ambitious development plan for this site, and the Massachusetts Development Commission will be scrutinizing the developments as they happen.”

After Galvin postponed the deal Thursday, lawyers for Harvard, the MBTA, and the Turnpike convened overnight to seal the deal by adding the missing protections and concessions from Harvard, including space for a future MBTA track.

Nevertheless, Galvin worried about how the University’s as-yet-unannounced plans for the land could obstruct or prevent any future efforts by state officials to add a lane or make any changes to the pike.

“I remained concerned from a development point of view as to what the intentions and implications are,” Galvin added. “Harvard has said they have very long term plans but I find that hard to believe. This is not just surplus land the university is adding to its inventory for the long-distant future.”

The agreements also allow for Harvard to petition the Turnpike Authority or the MBTA to move parts or all of the roadway or the railways—although only after clearing a number of bureaucratic hurdles and gaining the approval of other state agencies.

But the University’s construction can not obstruct or complicate the activity of the turnpike or the rail yard, according to the agreement as filed at the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds.

For months, officials have challenged the sale, maintaining that the rail yard is a crucial route for freight and commuters.