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Riverside Building Plan Moves Forward

By Jessica R. Rubin-wills, Crimson Staff Writer

Six months after the City Council approved a compromise agreement with Harvard over the development of the Riverside neighborhood, the University cleared the first official hurdle last night to beginning construction on its property in the area.

After making some changes to the language of the agreement in response to residents’ concerns, the council granted Harvard yesterday an easement to build a parking garage that will extend underneath a city street.

While it will be months before Harvard breaks ground on the faculty and graduate student housing planned for the site along Memorial Drive, the granting of the easement represents the first stage of the long-term agreement that was hammered out by Harvard officials, neighborhood residents and councillors last October.

Under the terms of the deal, Harvard’s ability to build on its property—by receiving the necessary easements and city permits—is contingent on delivering benefits to the community, including affordable housing and a park.

The council’s approval of the easement was pushed back from last month while councillors and residents worked with Harvard officials to clarify some of the language of the agreement.

According to the new wording approved by the council last night, the city will be able to revoke the easement if Harvard fails to live up to its end of the deal.

The University has also promised in writing that any affordable housing units constructed on the site will not be converted to other uses later on, said Thomas J. Lucey, Harvard’s director of community relations for Cambridge.

Under the original terms of the agreement, the University was not required to make such a promise, but the new stipulation gives the residents a sense of security that these units will continue to be available for low-income residents, Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio said last night.

Galluccio is a member of the committee composed of councillors, residents, University officials and city staff that is overseeing the implementation of the agreement.

“[The committee] was concerned that approving the easement [without the new language] was going to waive some of their checks and balances in the process,” Galluccio said after last night’s meeting.

In their 8-0 vote in support of the easement and the amended language last night, the councillors praised the agreement and said they hoped all sides would continue to work together as the committee moves on to the next stage in the process—discussing plans for the buildings on the site.

“We have the foundation of what will be a very good faith exchange of ideas and responses,” Galluccio said.

Lucey said the new language reflects the University’s original intentions in making the agreement.

“We’re working cooperatively with the residents, the city council, and the city administration,” Lucey said. “Everybody’s still proud of this deal.”

The agreement that Harvard and the city struck in October represented an attempt to forge a better working relationship after decades of tense battles between the University and Riverside residents.

Resident Alec Wysoker ’84, a member of the committee, said over the weekend that he felt the process of implementing the deal was hampered by a “complete lack of trust on both sides.”

But others expressed hope that the agreement, with yesterday’s approval of the easement, could usher in a new era in town-gown relations.

“[The deal] has the potential of really breaking new ground between the community and the University,” resident and committee member Phyllis Baumann said after the meeting.

“I just could not be more pleased that what was lemons could become very good lemonade,” said Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72.

The council avoided a potential delay in granting the easement last Friday when a Middlesex Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Riverside resident Cob Carlson against the nine councillors and City Manager Robert W. Healy.

Carlson—a resident of Hingham Street, the street affected by the easement—said the city did not follow the necessary procedures, including holding public hearings and conducting an appraisal of the land, before granting the easement.

In an interview last night, Carlson said the easement was part of a deal that was unfair to his section of Riverside because it would allow Harvard to block his street off from the river with new buildings.

“The people in my neck of the woods...were offered up as sacrificial lambs for that deal to occur,” he said.

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

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