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A plan to relocate several University facilities on Harvard’s property in north Allston came under fire Tuesday evening at a meeting of the Harvard-Allston Task Force. Task Force members said that the changes would diminish the scenery, vitality, and safety of the residential area surrounding 28 Travis Street.
“There must be some consideration about the wants and needs of the community,” said Ray V. Mellone, Task Force chair and Allston resident, who said he thought that the process was “broken.”
“So far, this flies in the face of anything that looks cooperative,” he said.
For two hours, residents took issue with the plan, which came in the form of an amendment to the University’s Institutional Master Plan submitted in October.
If approved, the amendment, which Harvard submitted to the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Friday, will bring the University one step closer to starting its 28 Travis Street project and Bright Hockey Center renovation.
The University, according to the amendment document, needs to move facilities currently located at 219 Western Avenue to 28 Travis Street in order to move forward with another Allston project, the residential and retail complex proposed for Barry’s Corner. The facilities which would be moved include mail services, the University IT Department, a Harvard police training site, lanscape services, and storage space.
Members of the Task Force criticized Harvard for a proposal they said would be detrimental to the community, citing the sounds and traffic created by trucks backing into loading docks among other concerns. Residents also said that the University was trying to move forward without sufficient community input.
Task Force member and Allston resident Bruce E. Houghton said that Harvard seemed to be using Allston as a place to keep its less dynamic properties.
“Here we are being presented with a vibrant neighborhood,” Houghton said with a note of sarcasm in his voice. “A vehicle maintenance area? ... That’s just scandalous.”
Allston community members also took issue with the way the University has carried out development in general. Several residents criticized Harvard’s attempt to use at-risk permits, which allow renovation to go forward without occupancy permits. If a property with an at-risk permit did not eventually receive occupancy approval, it could be used for its original intent—the risk that the permits’ name suggests.
Task Force member and Allston resident Brent C. Whelan ’73 said that once renovations began, it was unlikely they would be reversed, regardless of the type of permit that the University had received.
“Letting it go without approval is a slap in the face to this community,” Whelan said. “You’ve raised the level of chutzpah a notch or two with this at-risk permit.”
Gerald Autler, a BRA senior project manager, said that Harvard’s plans need to be vetted further. “There’s a lot of decisions that haven’t been made,” he said.
Harvard’s Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Kevin Casey said that Harvard has listened to the community’s concerns in several public meetings. He added that renovations to buildings with at-risk permits would be useful even if they did not receive occupancy certification and were deemed unfit for their originally intended use.
Concluding the meeting, and a year of others like it, Casey said that the meetings had been productive as Harvard revises plans for its long-stalled projects, halted in 2009 due to financial constraints. “I do feel...we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress together.”
The next meeting of the Task Force is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 23.
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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