Thursday, August 02, 2007

Letter to A-B TAB About Harvard from City Council Candidate Ciommo

A-B District City Council candidate Mark Ciommo had a letter-to-the-editor published by the Allston-Brighton TAB in last week's issue. I am glad to see the first newspaper volley by a candidate in this year's election, because writing effective letters will be a key part of our next City Councilor's job. Roll the presses!

In his letter, Ciommo rails against Harvard's North Allston "buildings partially painted, locked gates with fencing peeled back, overgrown weeds and asphalt sidewalks with unsafe ditches." How true, absolutely.

But he refers to the site of Harvard's proposed Science Complex -- which Harvard is hoping to break ground on ASAP -- not the countless properties further west along Western Avenue in North Allston and North Brighton. The community is virtually unanimous that Harvard should clean up their properties, particularly the vacant commercial ones, but methinks the attention shouldn't be on one particular site that Harvard is poised to excavate. Anyway, the more general point Ciommo makes is one the community is already behind.

Everyone I've spoken to is bewildered at the odd idea, put forward by Harvard Allston Task Force chair Ray Mellone, of postponing discussion of community benefits until after Harvard begins construction of the science complex. Ciommo joins this chorus, but he then suggests a bizarre alternative:
This process to review community benefits should start when Harvard repairs and completes the work promised in 1997.
He is referring to streetscape improvements -- replacement of the rusting chain link fence, repaving sidewalks, and planting trees -- Harvard promised a decade ago for North Harvard Street near the football stadium, but never delivered. Why should we, the community, wait until Harvard gets their tush moving to discuss community benefits?

Given that Harvard hasn't made these improvements in the past ten years, I suspect that Ciommo's timeline could postpone discussing community benefits far past the date on which construction begins on the science complex. Harvard would even be motivated to delay making the streetscape improvements so that they could further delay committing to additional community benefits.

The more logical suggestion is to discuss community benefits within the review of the science complex DPIR. That's what neighbors who have been attending recent Harvard Allston Task Force meetings have told me.

And, in my opinion, don't think too grandly at this stage; rather, seek practical ways to address direct transportation, traffic, noise, and health impacts of Harvard's project in a way that makes the community more, not less, livable.

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