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Bacow Defends Harvard’s Engagement in Allston as Residents, Officials Criticize Development Plans

Allston residents and government officials have accused Harvard of insufficiently engaging with locals as the school continues to build in the neighborhood.
Allston residents and government officials have accused Harvard of insufficiently engaging with locals as the school continues to build in the neighborhood. By Ryan N. Gajarawala

University President Lawrence S. Bacow on Tuesday defended Harvard’s engagement with residents and officials in Allston, where the school has received forceful pushback from elected leaders and civic organizations about its lofty development plans in the area.

Harvard owns roughly one-third of the land in Allston, ​​a neighborhood in the northwest part of Boston that sits across the Charles River from Harvard’s Cambridge campus. In recent months, the University has received pushback for its plans to build a 900,000-square-foot mixed use development called the Enterprise Research Campus, with prominent local officials calling on the city of Boston to halt the approval process until after the November mayoral election.

On Tuesday, Bacow rejected the claim leveled by some residents and civic groups in the neighborhood that top officials from the school have not been sufficiently engaged in the planning process, leaving Harvard’s long-term vision for the area a mystery to its residents.

“There’s only one me, and I try and spread myself around,” Bacow said after rattling off a laundry list of current and former officials he has met with during his presidency — including Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 and the last two Boston mayors.

But four prominent elected officials from the area called for a moratorium on “all decision-making processes” related to the development in a letter to Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey last month, writing that Harvard’s “participation in community outreach efforts in our neighborhood have been grossly insufficient.”

The officials — Boston City Councilor Liz Breadon, State Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, and State Representatives Kevin G. Honan and Michael J. Moran — wrote that the ERC proposal, along with a rezoning process taking place in an adjacent area where Harvard also owns land, “cannot be rushed to an arbitrary finish line” given their potential to shape the neighborhood’s future.

“It’s rare that a week goes by in which the University is not engaged in some discussion, either with representatives of the city or the state or the neighborhoods,” Bacow said. “My own view is that one would be pretty hard-pressed to say that we’ve rushed into things.”

Harvard employs staff who work full-time on government relations, Bacow noted in response to concerns about his lack of involvement with the Allston projects.

“They call me in when they need me,” he said. “And I’ve never said no.”

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at kelsey.griffin@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

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