Tuesday, January 29, 2008

BC Task Force Meeting Today at 6:30 pm: Open Space and Academic/Administrative Buildings

BC Task Force Meeting
Tuesday, January 22, 2008, 6:30-8:30 pm
Brighton Marine Health Center, 77 Warren Street, 3rd floor, Brighton MA 02135

For more information, contact: John Fitzgerald, Project Manager, BRA, 617-918-4267

Public comments on the IMPNF: Due February 5, 2008 to the BRA

Note: The BC Task Force has requested that attendees, if possible, provide them with written comments at their meetings. It doesn't have to be a formally-written letter, etc., but anything to help them assemble information in addition to verbal comments at the meetings. Address letters to Jean Woods, Chair, BC Task Force.

Agenda: The following elements of BC's 10-year institutional master plan
  • Open Space
  • Academic Buildings and Usage
  • Administrative Buildings and Usage
  • Summary
BC's master plan website with electronic version of their project notification form. Current summary of their campus is in Chapter 2; proposed new projects in the 10-year IMP are in Chapter 3; sustainability issues are in Chapter 8.

Open Space. In 2004-7, Boston College acquired approximately 65 acres of land (the former St. John's Seminary land, now referred to by BC as their "Brighton Campus") from the Archdiocese of Boston. This land has been previously inventoried by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department as part of the privately-owned open space in Allston-Brighton (see, for example, the previous master plan by the department). The Brighton Campus comprises more than 10% of all the open space in Allston-Brighton.

The Brighton Campus has an underlying zoning of Conservation Protection Subdistrict under Article 51 of the city's zoning code. (Article 51 defines the zoning for Allston-Brighton.) BC's Institutional Master Plan Amendment of 2006 put an institutional master plan overlay onto portions of the Brighton Campus. Their IMPA of October 2007, which is still undergoing Article 80 review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, might seek to extend the IMP overlay to the entire site; alternatively, the IMPNF of December 2007 might do the same. (Article 80 defines the review and re-zoning process for large developments and institutional master plans.)

While the Article 80 IMP review allows re-zoning of the site, the underlying zoning is not ignored in the process. As Gerald Autler, Senior Project Manager of the BRA, wrote in April 2007:
"We certainly take aspects of the underlying zoning into account during the IMP process -- for example, the goals of the Conservation Protection Subdistrict would not be forgotten, even if the zoning provisions of the CPS do not literally apply."
According to Article 51, development in a CPS-zoned property should cluster buildings at the interior of the site an avoid impacting natural features of the property. As in any zoning, there are a series of permitted, conditionally-allowed, and forbidden uses for a CPS-zoned property under Article 51.
  • Allowed uses under Article 51 include: museum; open space; "group residence, limited", single- and multi-family houses, or townhouses; "accessory parking" (connected to another lawful use); "accessory cafeteria"; and "accessory dormitory".
  • Conditionally-allowed uses include: art gallery; auditorium, concert hall, or theater; conference center or bed-and-breakast; office space (except for retail); grounds for sports; open space recreational building; "outdoor place of recreation for profit"; research laboratory; and lodging house.
  • Forbidden uses include: stadium; "dormitory not accessory to a use"; hotel, motel, or "executive suites"; restaurants and other retail uses; outdoor storage of junk, scrap, fuel, minerals, etc.; trade shops (carpenter, electrician, machine, etc.); and parking garage or lot (unless an ancillary use connected to another lawful use).

Conservation Restriction. A conservation restriction is a legally-binding document, operating outside of the zoning process, that can preserve open space in perpetuity. A public agency is typically charged with monitoring compliance, and the restriction can only be overturned by a 2/3 vote of the State Legislature.

A number of private developers have seen these conservation restrictions as good for both themselves and the surrounding community. The EF International School, for example, has worked with the Brighton community to development a pair of conservation restrictions on their Lake Street property to preserve open space in exchange for an expansion of their facilities. Harvard University has also entered into an 875-year conservation restriction on a parcel connected to the Arnold Arboretum, in exchange for a proposed development project.

Boston College has not included a conservation restriction in their IMPNF or presentations to the community.

A number of Brighton residents have proposed particular sites for conservation restrictions that could be part of the Article 80 community benefits related to BC's IMP:
  • Wooded hillside along Lake Street;
  • Athletic fields on the Brighton Campus; and
  • Orchard near the southeast corner of the Brighton Campus (i.e., bordering Greycliff Road).
The Boston Globe's editorial board has already weighed in on this issue:
BC’s president, the Rev. William Leahy, points to a buffer zone of trees between the two proposed dorms and homes on Lake Street. But he is unwilling to pledge that the buffer zone will remain a permanent fixture. Such a stiff-necked approach is likely to invite the same inflexible attitude on the part of neighbors.
Preserving Natural Features. Many aspects of the Brighton Campus proposed development follow these CPS guidelines in clustering the buildings in interior locations and avoiding (or preserving) natural features of the land: the athletic facilities use existing flat field space; the parking garage avoids the steep, hillside meadow nearby; all the development avoids the wooded hillside along Lake Street; and the Foster Street development does not modify the Foster Rock or the ledge near Portina Road houses.

Other aspects of the development do not appear to preserve features (or at least require clarification): the undergraduate dormitory site on or near a rock outcropping along Commonwealth Avenue; and the removal of a substantial length of the stone wall on both sides of Commonwealth Avenue.

Academic and Administrative Buildings and Uses.
Three new buildings (possibly connected together as only one or two buildings) are proposed along the Brighton Campus's southern edge on Commonwealth Avenue as part of this 10-year IMP:
  • Department of Fine Arts, 4-5 stories, 60-70 feet tall, 30,000 square feet;
  • Art Museum, 3-story, probably also 60-70 feet tall (e.g., compare with Harvard's proposed HUAM at Barry's Corner, which is also very tall even though only three stories), 21,000 square feet; and
  • Auditorium, 1200 seats, 25,000 square feet.
Uses for the auditorium are unclear in the IMPNF; possibilities could include academic conferences and seminars, musical concerts, rock concerts, theater plays, etc. On-site parking related to some of these uses might be an issue to be raised.

Renovations are also planned for number of buildings on the Brighton Campus purchased from the Archdiocese. The Chancery, Creagh Library, and part of St. John's Hall (?) are listed as being converted to administrative use, while Bishop Peterson Hall would be converted to administrative and academic use. Note that Bishop Peterson Hall's renovation and subsequent use is currently in question: the IMPNF states that the IMPA's proposed use is infeasible for office and academic uses of the School of Theology and Ministry, such that St. William's Hall will be used for the STM instead.

Those many administrative office buildings in the Brighton Campus may house a potentially large number of employees who would presumably move from their current offices elsewhere at BC. No indication is given in the IMPNF as to which offices would be moving, or what the employees' previous offices would be used for after they are vacated.

The 10-year IMP for BC's campus in Newton contains many academic projects. On the main Chestnut Hill Campus, five projects are proposed:
  • Academic building for the Humanities;
  • Academic building for Graduate School of Social Work and Connell School of Nursing;
  • Stokes Commons, a student center and dining facility;
  • New Science Center (first phase) replacing Cushing Hall; and
  • Renovation of Carney Hall (academic and administrative).
Two academic and administrative projects are proposed for the Newton Campus (i.e., Law School site):
  • Replacement of Smith Wing; and
  • Renovation of Stuart Hall.

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