Harvard, Allston-Brighton residents continue to debate ‘how a good neighbor

Harvard University is getting closer to moving into Allston — and many residents seem no less displeased with their new neighbor.

A recent meeting of the Boston Planning and Development Agency kicked the yearlong skirmish back into high gear, allowing the university and community another chance to debate development plans.

Harvard, the largest landholder in Allston-Brighton, owns 360 acres in the region, 170 acres of which is available for development, according to a City Council release.

Phase A, the topic of Thursday’s meeting, will start the development of a new Enterprise Research Campus on 900,000 square feet off Western Avenue. The construction, contracted out to the firm Tishman Speyer, will contain Harvard labs and offices, along with residential areas, businesses and open space.

“We will be a part of this neighborhood for a long, long time to come,” said Michelle Adams, a Tishman Speyer senior managing director overseeing global public affairs. “We take our commitments to this community very seriously.”

Harvard has sought city approval for these first-phase plans over the last year, sparking blowback from residents and local officials.

Residents’ concerns largely narrow in on the inclusion of affordable housing, green space, transportation access and equitably distributed economic opportunities. Several have expressed the fear that the area could become “another Seaport,” pushing out the current community in favor of a less diverse, wealthier populace.

The Coalition for a Just Allston-Brighton, a collection of 42 organizations and groups, has previously outlined priorities for the development, including a commitment of one-third of all housing be affordable housing and one-third of all retail space designated for small, local businesses.

“Harvard, to date, has not shown commitment to our community. They have not been transparent with their plans, and they have dismissed our concerns,” said Cindy Marchando, chair of the Allston-Brighton Task Force. “This is not how a good neighbor behaves.”

Despite the continued critique at the latest meeting, Harvard has made progress in assuaging some community member’s concerns. One noted compromise was a commitment to keep 25% of housing units affordable, up from 20% in the last draft.

Harvard advertised a long list of other commitments for the phase A plans, including keeping 20% of the area open space and 25% of retail areas designated to small, local and/or minority/women owned businesses.

Still, community members noted, many of these promises were vague or insufficient.

Open space, some critics said, is not necessarily the same as the green space the community wanted, pointing to the concerns submitted to the BPDA by the Boston Parks Department.

And despite the bike route construction and Harvard shuttle service in the plan, others noted, the public transit is not poised to take on the projected population growth.

“We have no confidence infrastructure growth will keep pace with development — we were assured of that by an MBTA representative,” said Anna Leslie, director of the Allston-Brighton Health Collaborative. “You only need to look at the Seaport to know that developing permits are granted frequently without adequate transit infrastructure in place.”

For their part, Harvard and Tishman Speyer representatives said they have been and continue to be interested in working with the community, noting a slew of community surveys and outreach events over the last year.

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