Two longtime task force members offered their resignations and Allston residents heard the first details about the new Trader Joe’s slated to open on Western Ave. next year in an action-packed meeting of the Harvard-Allston Task Force on Monday night.
“I knew we’d have an exciting meeting,” John A. Bruno, the interim chair of the task force, said of the evening. “I didn’t know it would be this exciting.”
Bruno opened the session by deeming attendees’ “involvement and engagement” his personal inspiration before introducing Joel Sklar, the president of Boston-based real estate developer Samuels & Associates. Harvard chose Samuels & Associates in 2012 to develop its property on the corner of North Harvard Street and Western Ave.
Sklar announced that Continuum—the residential and retail complex Samuels & Associates built on the property—will lease a 13,000-square-foot portion of its ground floor to the grocery chain Trader Joe’s next year, a deal reported by the Boston Globe on Friday.
Bruce E. Houghton, a task force member and the president of Allston-based industrial company Houghton Chemical, had some news of his own.
“I’m doing something different than I’ve done before,” Houghton said. “I am offering you my resignation to this task force... really, I’m offering it to the community.”
Houghton, who was originally appointed to the task force by former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to represent the business community, said concerns over transparency compelled him to resign. A section of railyard owned by his company, he explained, lies directly in the path of the $260 million Turnpike realignment project, which proposes to straighten Interstate 90 over the Harvard-owned Beacon Park Railyard.
Houghton, who also sits on the Turnpike project task force run by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the conflict has been “tearing him apart” over the past year.
“I was sitting through your meetings and Turnpike meetings and realizing that I couldn’t serve you and Harvard and the taxpayers and the Turnpike all at the same time,” he said to the audience.
He approached Harvard to help resolve the conflict, and the two reached an agreement. Houghton Chemical will relinquish all rights to the railyard property in two years, and Harvard will provide Houghton with “a certain amount of financing” to relocate the rail house, most likely to Scranton, Pa., he said.
Turning to face Harvard spokesperson Kevin Casey, Houghton thanked the University, touting the compromise as what he called the first time that “Harvard used its strength as an institution to help out a small business.”
Casey, Harvard’s associate vice president for public affairs and communications, said to laughter that the result was “unique in the community [because] Bruce and I are actually on the same page.”
Houghton said he was offering to resign, subject to the neighborhood’s decision, because he wanted Allstonians to decide for themselves whether or not his independence as a task force member has been compromised by the deal with Harvard.
“If you choose that I shouldn’t continue I totally understand it,” he said. “I will gracefully dance away to... I would say the sunset. I guess Scranton is in the West, isn’t it?”
Later, task force member Jim Montgomery also said he was resigning, though his decision is irreversible. Montgomery and his family are moving out the neighborhood, he said, and he will no longer be able to represent the “Allston community.”
Near the end of the session, Bruno announced that the task force will accept applicants to fill the spots of those members unable to “commit themselves to making the meetings.” Of 11 active task force members, only six were present at Monday’s meeting.
Bruno wrapped up the evening by reminding attendees that the next task force meeting will be held in two weeks. “We had a great time, great pizza,” he said. “[Now] have a great night.”
–Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.