The City of Boston on Thursday approved the first phase of Harvard’s Allston campus expansion project, a major step forward in the university’s efforts to build a sprawling development complex in the neighborhood, where it has come up against vocal opposition.
The Board of Directors of the Boston Planning and Development Agency has unanimously approved the Phase A proposal for 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 a deal between Harvard, local officials and neighborhood officials – a rare breakthrough in talks between the University and residents, many of whom have long been skeptical of to Harvard’s expansion plans.
The approval is a significant step forward for Harvard, which has struggled for years to expand its real estate holdings in Allston, a neighborhood in northwest Boston where it owns more than a third of the land. Residents and elected officials in the area have hit back at his expansion plans, calling for more affordable housing and green development.
Harvard first launched its plans for the ERC in 2011 after previous plans stalled during the Great Recession. The BPDA approved a framework for the expansion in 2018.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow welcomed the approval in a statement late Thursday.
“Our vision for an enterprise research campus grew out of deep engagement with the Allston community, the City of Boston, and many other stakeholders over many years, and our work together will be stronger for that.” , said Bacow. “The ERC will be for everyone.”
In the deal approved by the city on Thursday, Harvard pledged to complete a quarter of the residential units it builds in Phase A of ERC Affordable Housing. He has also pledged $25 million over 12 years to a new dedicated affordable housing fund for Allston and Brighton.
Phase A will create 345 housing units, including 86 low-income units, according to plans presented by Tishman Speyer at the meeting. The development – which will include a hotel, conference centre, office and retail space and residential housing – is expected to create around 2,000 construction jobs and 2,300 permanent positions upon completion.
The newly approved proposal also includes three acres of open space that will be publicly accessible to residents, including a “greenway” through the center of the development that will consist of a public plaza and lawn.
Harvard government relations representative Mark Handley presented the University’s commitments to the board, including those to improve public transit in Allston and Brighton. Handley said Phase A will include building two miles of bike lanes in the neighborhood. The school also plans to create a new Harvard shuttle line that will be free for Allston-Brighton residents, he said.
The University has also agreed to help fund urban planning in Allston and Brighton, pledging up to $1 million for a planning and rezoning study on the ERC’s 22 acres outside of Phase A, as well as up to $1 million for a community needs assessment. for neighborhoods – a process that many local activists have been calling for.
Several union representatives supported the Phase A proposal at the meeting. Jaimie McNeil, a member of Local 26 – a union representing hospitality workers in Boston – said the proposal was a “huge win” for residents, citing her numbers on affordable housing and job creation .
“This is proof that the BPDA is listening and leading the way when it comes to affordable housing,” McNeil said. “We really have a precedent, we have something to report now. I mean, it’s a huge, huge win for the city of Boston.
However, development still has its opponents. 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”.
“ERC Phase A replicates many of the Seaport District’s problems, including insufficient housing (including affordable housing), green space and public transportation,” Carragee wrote. “In Phase A, Harvard acts entirely consistent with a business seeking to maximize its profits and in doing so abandons its commitment to social justice.”
In a press release immediately after the vote, Boston City Councilwoman Elizabeth A. “Liz” Breadon, who has previously criticized Harvard’s involvement in the neighborhood, said she was “grateful” to residents who pleaded during the examination of the project.
“Our collaborative efforts have helped produce a much improved project that better meets the needs of residents of Allston, Brighton and Boston,” Breadon wrote.
Cindy Marchando, chair of the Harvard-Allston task force, said in an interview that she was pleased to see the project moving forward and added that it was important that Harvard “continue to be a good neighbor” in future discussions. .
“Over the past few weeks they have shown us that they can do that, and be a good neighbor and fair progress,” Marchando said. “I hope they will continue to listen to us.”