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University President Drew G. Faust wrote in a letter to Allston residents last week that Harvard continues to make progress on a three-phase plan outlined in her last letter, adding that Harvard continues to lease land in the neighborhood, extend short-term lease contracts, and make plots more attractive to buyers.
But residents also continue to express frustration about the pace of progress and what they say is a lack of transparency in the planning process.
After the halt on construction on the $1 billion Allston Science Complex in December 2009, administrators said that Harvard would focus on property stewardship and community engagement, planning and greening, and campus development.
Faust wrote in her letter last week that the number of properties available for leasing has increased and the length of short-term contracts has been extended. Over the past year, 11 new leases have been signed. Harvard also anticipates that the opening of two new restaurants—Stone Hearth Pizza and Maki Maki—and a new retail and commercial bakery, Swiss Bakers, which recently signed a lease with the University will create 90 new jobs in the neighborhood.
“Ours is a common future,” Faust wrote. “We are working toward that future, and along the way, we will be investing in the health and well-being of this unique, historic neighborhood and the City of Boston.”
But residents said that while the University has made progress on some issues in the community, it has remained mum on long-term plans about its large property holdings.
“The letter didn’t say a whole lot about the questions everyone in Allston have, which are ‘What is Harvard going to do with the Science Complex site? The Charlesview site? The dozens of acres of properties that Harvard has?’ We’re still waiting for answers to those questions,” Allston resident Harry E. Mattison said.
Faust wrote that the Work Team—created shortly after the University announced that it would halt construction indefinitely on the Allston Science Complex due to financial constraints—is currently gathering information to determine the most effective ways of expanding into Allston and reinvigorating Western Ave. The team’s recommendations are due this summer and will be delivered to Faust.
The University is also working alongside the Boston Redevelopment Authority on putting together a series of public discussions that will focus on how to best provide benefits for the Allston community in the next two to five years while the University determines how to move forward on its plans to develop property in Allston.
The discussions will also cover what standards should be included in leasing guidelines and what types of properties should be pursued.
Allston residents said yesterday that they found the proposed dialogue between the University and the community an encouraging sign.
“What we need is some strategic thinking, so I applaud Harvard for finally coming to the table with that,” Tim McHale said.
The University also has plans to build an Innovation Lab—a space where residents and University affiliates could meet to discuss business plans—which Faust has said she hopes will spur economic innovation and generate jobs in the community.
“We believe that these discussions ... will provide tangible near-term results while being consistent with any longer-term path to a comprehensive revitalization of Western Avenue and key locations where campus and community will intersect in the future,” Faust wrote.
But Mattison said that community members had sent a letter that included a list of features that they hoped to see in the I-Lab but that University administrators had ignored their suggestions.
“It shows that it’s a Harvard project for Harvard people. But the project is and always has been for Harvard people to start great businesses,” Mattison said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s certainly not a project creating local businesses in Allston.”
—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at email@example.com.
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