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‘Grossly Insufficient’: Allston Politicians Claim Poor Harvard Outreach, Call on City Hall to Halt Development

Construction on Harvard's land in Allston in 2018.
Construction on Harvard's land in Allston in 2018. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Maribel Cervantes and James R. Jolin, Crimson Staff Writers

Citing poor outreach by Harvard, several state and local legislators submitted a letter to acting Boston Mayor Kim M. Janey last month requesting a moratorium on “all decision-making processes” related to development of two Harvard-related projects in Allston.

Boston City Councilor Elizabeth A. “Liz” Breadon, State Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico, and State Reps. Kevin G. Honan and Michael J. Moran all signed the letter, dated Aug. 13, which asks for a pause on the review processes for the Harvard’s Enterprise Research Campus and the Western Avenue Corridor Study and Rezoning until after Boston’s November mayoral election.

The signatories wrote they fear the projects are “being rushed” to allow for approval in advance of the election. Postponing the review processes until after the elections will allow Bostonians the opportunity to shape the trajectory of local urban planning through their votes, they argued.

A number of “unresolved issues” — from public transit to affordability to sustainability to equity and inclusion — remain in the development plans, per the signatories.

Harvard’s outreach, the letter alleges, has been “grossly insufficient.” Despite Harvard’s claim to one-third of the land in Allston, the University has “no established plan” for outreach, instead relying on the developer for communication, they argued.

University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard representatives “routinely participate in public meetings,” actions they are “proud” of and believe have benefitted the area. O’Rourke added that the University committed to additional outreach efforts at the ERC public meeting on July 27, during which developers upped affordable housing and sustainability pledges.

Moran, one of the state representatives who signed the letter, said in an interview that the neighborhood should not be “saddled with something” by a mayoral administration that “wasn’t ever really elected by the people,” referring to Janey, who was sworn in after former Mayor Martin J. Walsh became U.S. Labor Secretary in March 2021.

“It’s time to wait for the next administration to come in, and then let them do it,” Moran said. “Right now I just don’t think it’s right to have somebody who’s not duly elected by the people.”

Janey declined to comment on the letter, instead deferring to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, which approves development projects and is spearheading outreach with Harvard.

BPDA spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin wrote in an email the agency will “continue to work closely” with all stakeholders and that, even under the current review, the project would not be brought to a vote by the BPDA board prior to November.

Asked what Harvard, the developers, and the BPDA should do to ensure resident input, Moran said that neighborhood organizations like the Harvard-Allston Task Force “should have more teeth.”

“They should be able to seriously affect development and not in an advisory way,” he added.

This latest political request comes as local residents have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the University’s outreach efforts.

Climate justice activist and elementary school teacher Justin L. Brown said he agrees with the letter’s demand to postpone the development process and believes that Harvard’s outreach has been “spotty” and “insufficient.”

Brown added that Harvard-Allston Task Force members and residents who can attend meetings are “privileged” and that existing outreach efforts miss locals who will be affected by development, but cannot attend meetings. He recommended Harvard engage with residents in concrete ways, such as canvassing and calling.

“Harvard should be finding ways to reach out to those people,” he said. “Making sure that it’s crystal clear that Harvard University has big plans for this neighborhood and needs to hear from everybody to make sure that the process is as transparent as possible, as democratic as possible.”

Anthony P. D’Isidoro, president of the Allston Civic Association and Harvard-Allston Task Force member, said he fears that Harvard development in Allston will turn the area into one like Boston’s Seaport district, which the letter’s signatories suggested perpetuates racial and socioeconomic inequities in the city.

For D’Isidoro, the extent to which Harvard development would transform Allston compels a “proportional response” from Harvard administrators, including University President Lawrence S. Bacow.

“I think we’ll find out that we can agree on a lot more than disagree if we just get the right people involved in the right discussions,” he said.

—Staff writer James R. Jolin can be reached at james.jolin@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Maribel Cervantes can be reached at maribel.cervantes@thecrimson.com.

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