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BRA Eyes Allston Railyard Planning in Shadow of Harvard

Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and several transportation officials announced on Tuesday afternoon plans to build a new commuter rail station at the Harvard-owned Beacon Park Rail Yard in Allston.
Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and several transportation officials announced on Tuesday afternoon plans to build a new commuter rail station at the Harvard-owned Beacon Park Rail Yard in Allston. By Shunella Grace Lumas
By Jonah S. Lefkoe and Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writers

The Boston Redevelopment Authority gave a public presentation Wednesday night to discuss plans for Harvard-owned land in Allston, soon to be a site of tumultuous activity as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation straightens the portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike running through the land parcel.

“What we’re producing here is not a plan, it’s a planning study,” Tad Read, a senior official at the BRA, said. “[We want] to determine what some planning goals are for this district.”

Steven G. Cecil and Joshua Fiala of the Cecil Group, a local urban design and architecture firm, led the presentation. The BRA, Boston’s urban planning agency, selected the Cecil Group to conduct a neighborhood development study on the proposed reconfiguration of the Massachusetts Turnpike in September 2015.

Announced in October 2013, the $260 million Turnpike realignment project will straighten Interstate 90 over the Harvard-owned Beacon Park Railyard. The three-year construction project is slated to begin in 2017, and will be accompanied by the erection of a new commuter rail station.

The project will straighten Interstate 90 over the Harvard-owned Beacon Park Railyard.
The project will straighten Interstate 90 over the Harvard-owned Beacon Park Railyard. By Shunella Grace Lumas

During the meeting, Cecil and Fiala discussed the potential for rising seas and hurricanes to flood residential districts located near the banks of the Charles River. Attendees voiced frustration with what they called the BRA’s lack of action to combat these effects of climate change.

“Put ten more feet on the [Charles River] dam,” said Frederick P. Salvucci, a civil engineer and senior lecturer at MIT who attended the meeting. “I mean, the idea that [the BRA is] just going to say this is God’s will, I think is pretty devastating for the neighborhoods and for all this land.”

Allstonians also expressed concern about the planned width and slope of streets leading to the realigned highway.

“For the new streets I would think that we would want to aim for [a slope] that is accessible for a person in a wheelchair,” said Jessica B. Robertson, an Allston resident and member of the task force advising MassDOT on the realignment project.

Allston resident Galen M. Mook argued that a gentler slope would be beneficial to the neighborhood.

“The livability of a street does depend on the grade, the accessibility does depend on the grade,” he said. “What you’re encouraging drivers to do with [a steep] slope is to speed dangerously.”

As the meeting drew to a close, Bruce E. Houghton, president of Allston-based Houghton Chemical, expressed skepticism about the functionality and effectiveness of the discussion.

“Right now, we’re talking about hopes and dreams and slopes,” Houghton said. “But right now, the way Allston is being developed is not this way at all. It’s really building by building.”

Houghton called on the BRA to take a bolder stance on development planning in Allston. Specifically, he asked the city to develop a master plan for the neighborhood and to require Harvard’s adherence to specific zoning rules on its hundreds of acres of Allston property.

“What we’re trying to do here is really lay down some solid principles that will guide development,” Gerald Autler, a BRA official, said in response.

Houghton joked that he would likely be dead before the BRA finalized its plans.

–Staff writer Jonah S. Lefkoe can be reached at jonah.lefkoe@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonahLefkoe.

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

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