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Allstonians, City Officials to Decide Future of Harvard-Owned Land

By Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writer

Allstonians and Boston officials will face competing pressures for housing and open space over the next few months as they debate the future of a Harvard-owned land parcel commonly known as Brookline Machine Site.

Harvard announced its decision to donate the site, located on Antwerp Street in Brighton, to the City of Boston in November 2013 as part of its community benefits package for Allston and Brighton. Nearly a year ago, Harvard signed a contract with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Boston’s urban planning agency, to make the land available for a use of the agency’s choosing.

The agreement stipulated that the BRA engage in a “community process,” consulting task force members, neighborhood representatives, and residents living nearby to determine the future of the 29,700-square foot land parcel.

“We look forward to hearing the outcome of those conversations, and to the eventual transfer of the property so that the entire community can enjoy the benefits,” Harvard spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an emailed statement.

The contract further specified that this “determination period” should end no later than Sept. 26, 2016—roughly seven months from now.

“We need to come up with something [because] we have a limited amount of time,” said John A. Bruno, interim chair of the Harvard-Allston task force. “Harvard owns it until we come up with plan, so we need to come up with a plan.”

Gerald Autler, the BRA’s senior project manager, agreed. Autler said he held a task force meeting last May to discuss the future of the Brookline Machine Site, but the conversation “didn’t yield the results” he was hoping for. He added that he intends to use a portion of the next few task force meetings to determine the best use for the land parcel.

“I would hope that we can do it in a short series of meetings,” Autler said. “There’s not an endless universe of possible uses there.”

Allston residents and task force members have so far suggested two potential options for the lot, proposing that it contain either new housing or parks and open space.

Those who advocate for the construction of housing units emphasize the need for more market-rate homes in Allston and Brighton, citing concerns over rising prices in the area.

“I think it will bring great opportunities for younger families or younger professionals, people who want to raise their families or start a family in a nice neighborhood,” Jim Montgomery, task force member and proponent of the housing option, said. “This is a great place to raise a family.”

Supporters of the open space proposal argue that, with the recent completion of apartment buildings like Continuum, a retail and residential complex located on Harvard-owned land in Allston, the neighborhood is becoming too densely populated.

“People need a good quality of life, people need to breathe, people need to have a place to go to relax,” said Tim McHale, task force member and advocate for open space. “It’s getting kind of cramped.”

Neither Montgomery nor McHale expressed much enthusiasm for a proposal, mentioned by Autler, that Brookline Machine Site hold some combination of housing and open space.

Both, however, expressed certainty that their respective proposals are backed by a majority of Allston residents, leaving Bruno, the task force chair, with a potentially delicate balancing act to perform in coming task force meetings.

“If you have open space you’re not creating stabilizing housing, if you’re stabilizing housing then you’re neglecting an opportunity to create open space,” Bruno said. “So now you’re caught in the middle.”

He could have been describing himself.

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

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