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The city of Boston on Thursday approved the first phase of Harvard’s proposed campus expansion in Allston, a major advancement in the University’s efforts to build a vast development complex in the neighborhood, where it has run into vocal opposition.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency’s board of directors unanimously approved the proposal for Phase A of Harvard’s proposed Enterprise Research Campus, which will be built by its development partner, Tishman Speyer.
The vote came two days after the mayor’s office announced an agreement between Harvard, local officials, and neighborhood representatives — a rare breakthrough in talks between the University and residents, many of whom have long been skeptical of Harvard’s expansion plans.
The approval is a significant step forward for Harvard, which has struggled for years to develop its real estate holdings in Allston, a neighborhood in the northwest portion of Boston where it owns more than a third of the land. Residents and elected officials from the area have fought back against its expansion plans, calling for more affordable housing and green development.
Harvard first debuted its plans for the ERC in 2011 after previous plans were stalled during the Great Recession. The BPDA approved a framework for the expansion in 2018.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow lauded the approval in a statement Thursday evening.
“Our vision for an Enterprise Research Campus emerged from deep engagement with the Allston community, the city of Boston, and many more stakeholders over many years, and our work together will be stronger for it,” Bacow said. “The ERC will be for everyone.”
In the agreement approved by the city on Thursday, Harvard committed to making a quarter of the residential units it builds in Phase A of the ERC affordable housing. It also pledged to give $25 million over 12 years to a new affordable housing fund dedicated to Allston and Brighton.
Phase A will create 345 housing units, including 86 income-restricted units, according to plans presented by Tishman Speyer during the meeting. The development — which will include a hotel, conference center, office and retail space, and residential housing — is projected to create roughly 2,000 construction jobs, and 2,300 permanent positions following its completion.
The newly-approved proposal also includes three acres of open space that will be publicly accessible to residents, including a “greenway” at the development’s center that will consist of a public plaza and lawn.
Harvard’s government relations representative, Mark Handley, presented the University’s commitments to the board, including those intended to improve public transit in Allston and Brighton. Handley said Phase A will include the construction of two miles of bike lanes in the neighborhood. The school also intends to create a new Harvard shuttle line that will be free to Allston-Brighton residents, he said.
The University also agreed to help fund city planning in Allston and Brighton, pledging up to $1 million to a planning and rezoning study on the 22 acres of the ERC outside of Phase A, as well as up to $1 million to an accompanying community needs assessment for the neighborhoods — a process many local activists have pushed for.
Several union representatives endorsed the Phase A proposal at the meeting. Jaimie McNeil, a member of the Local 26 — a union representing hospitality workers in Boston — said the proposal was a “huge victory” for residents, citing its affordable housing and job creation numbers.
“It’s proof that the BPDA is listening and they’re leading on affordable housing,” McNeil said. “We really have a precedent, we have something to point to now. I mean, this is a huge, huge victory for the city of Boston.”
The development still has its opponents, though. Kevin M. Carragee, a Brighton resident who has long opposed the school’s plans, wrote in a letter to the agency that the current proposal is still “deeply flawed.”
“Phase A of the ERC reproduces many problems of the Seaport District, including an inadequate amount of housing (including affordable housing), green space, and public transportation,” Carragee wrote. “In Phase A, Harvard acts in ways fully consistent with a corporation seeking to maximize its profits and, in so doing, abandons its commitment to social justice.”
In a press release immediately following the vote, Boston City Councilor Elizabeth A. “Liz” Breadon, who has previously criticized Harvard’s engagement in the neighborhood, said she is “grateful” to residents who advocated during the project’s review.
“Our collaborative efforts have helped to produce a much-improved project that better serves the needs of Allston, Brighton, and Boston residents,” Breadon wrote.
Cindy Marchando, chair of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, said in an interview she was excited to see the project advance, and added that it was important that Harvard “continue to be a good neighbor” in future talks.
“In the past few weeks, they have showed us they are capable of doing that, and being a good neighbor, and equitable progress,” Marchando said. “My hope is that they will continue to listen to us.”
—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.
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