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After Land Rights Deal, Harvard Continues Allston Expansion

Constuction halted on Harvard's Allston Science Comlex in December 2009. The vast construction site (above) is hidden from traffic, pedestrians, businesses, and resindets by a wall surrounding its entire perimeter.
Constuction halted on Harvard's Allston Science Comlex in December 2009. The vast construction site (above) is hidden from traffic, pedestrians, businesses, and resindets by a wall surrounding its entire perimeter.
By Jonah S. Lefkoe and Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard and railroad company CSX Transportation completed a deal that gave the University full rights to more than 19 acres of Allston land, one of several recent Allston land deals between Harvard, CSX, and the Massachusetts state government.

In 2000, Harvard bought a 47-acre parcel of land known as Allston North Landing for more than $150 million, within which the recently negotiated 19.6 acres are located. A new complex for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the most ambitious development in Harvard’s current Allston plans, will also be located on the 47-acre parcel.

CSX retained easement rights on the 19.6 acres and on a neighboring 91-acre plot Harvard bought in 2003, allowing the company to continue railroad operations in the area. At the time of purchase, the properties held train tracks, personnel and mechanical buildings, and other structures, all south of Harvard’s current construction sites in the neighborhood.

Construction on the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences's new complex, pictured, halted in 2009.
Construction on the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences's new complex, pictured, halted in 2009. By Daniel M. Lynch

Harvard now possesses full rights to the Allston North site and can develop on all land formerly used by CSX, according to Kevin Casey, Harvard’s associate vice president for public affairs and communications.

The recent deal, made on Wednesday, marks the last step in the cleanup and acquisition process begun in 2007, Casey told the Boston Globe. In 2007, Harvard and CSX finalized plans to phase CSX facilities out of the area, as the company’s rail operations relocated to nearby Westborough and Worcester, Casey said.

Harvard has laid out a 10-year plan for its Allston expansion in a blueprint, the Institutional Master Plan, approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 2013. The plan designates Allston Landing North as the site of both a $1 billion SEAS building and a new park. The park would comprise part of a “greenway” of parkland envisioned to connect Harvard’s Allston developments.

Allston resident Harry E. Mattison said he believes Harvard’s decision to use some of its Allston property for parkland will aid in the area’s development.

“I think a great analogy to this area is how the Back Bay was developed,” Mattison said. “When the Back Bay was created, the first thing they did is they built the public garden, and they created the plan for...the linear park that was then going to go through the whole rest of the Back Bay and bring people to the public garden.”

Mattison said he thinks the evolution of the Allston site could follow a similar path. In particular, Mattison advocates the construction of what Allston residents term the “People’s Pike,” a proposed recreational path for walkers, joggers, and cyclists that would connect Harvard campus, the Charles River, and the Allston neighborhood.

“[A] People’s Pike...would...make the entire area such a nicer place to be and such a better place to live or work or travel through,” Mattison said.

Galen M. Mook, another Allston resident, said that the construction of the new SEAS complex would also constitute a positive step. Two-thirds of the school’s faculty members are slated to move across the Charles in 2020.

“Frankly, the spot was used for heavy industry for so long,” Mook said, adding that new sciences building would be “a net plus for the neighborhood.”

As Harvard continues its Allston expansion, Mook emphasized the importance of developing open, productive communication between Harvard administrators and Allston residents.

“Historically, there has been a lot of distrust between Harvard and Allston residents,” Mook said. “We need to get over that, have Harvard be as good a neighbor as possible, and work with them to encourage the best kind of development possible.”

–Staff writer Jonah S. Lefkoe can be reached at jonahlefkoe@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @JonahLefkoe.

–Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at hnatanson@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

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Harvard in the CityFASFAS AdministrationSEASAllston