Friday, July 06, 2007

Harvard Agrees to Deed Restriction on Arnold Arboretum Project

Harvard University, owner of the Arnold Arboretum, is proposing a 875-year deed restriction on a 14.2 acre parcel adjacent to the Arboretum property in exchange for approval of their plan to build a 45,000 square foot research facility. These kinds of deed restrictions protect property against future development, and can only be over-ridden by a 2/3 vote of the State Legislature. Harvard's agreement will allow them to build only 185,000 square feet of buildings over the next 875 years, according to today's Boston Globe.

There are some questions, however, about whether or not the institution -- or the City of Boston -- obey the deed restrictions. As I previously posted, the Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association claims that the City violated 1973 deed restriction on Joyce Kilmer Park on Centre Street by allowing an expansion of the Rehab Center and paving of parkland for parking. Parkland vs. parking -- aren't those almost the same words?

A similar deed restriction was recently agreed to right here in Brighton: the EF International School agreed to an open space deed restriction on the bulk of their property, known as The Cenacle, in exchange for a modest expansion of their facilities (to include a business school) at 200 Lake Street, Brighton.
"The reason we are offering an easement to the community," said Lori van Dam, executive vice president of Information and Communication at EF, "is that we also have a significant stake in seeing the property preserved. We feel strongly that it is an important natural resource, and it is a large part of what our students, teachers, and administrators enjoy about the location."
The Cenacle agreement is a model that many people in the neighborhood would like to emulate, particularly as a means to protect portions of the former St. John's Seminary grounds from future development by Boston College. The seminary grounds comprise more than 10% of all of Allston-Brighton's unprotected open space.

Now that Harvard has shown that an old institution with big expansion plans of its own has nothing to fear from agreeing to a deed restriction, we'll be watching Boston College's next moves. Do they agree that they "have a significant stake" in seeing the former seminary land (Brighton Campus) property preserved? Do they recognize it as "an important natural resource" that its own students and employees might "enjoy about the location"?

Harvard clearly sees an open space deed restriction as a win-win for both the community and the institution. Will Boston College see it the same way, too?

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