Thursday, February 14, 2008

BC Task Force and Elected Officials Comment on BC's Master Plan

Allston-Brighton and Boston city-wide elected officials submitted public comments last week in response to the December 5, 2007 filing by Boston College of its Institutional Master Plan Notification Form.

Letters were sent to the Boston Redevelopment Authority by Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor Mark Ciommo, Boston City Councilors-At-Large John Connolly, Michael Flaherty, Steve Murphy, and Sam Yoon, State Representatives Kevin Honan and Michael Moran, and State Senator Steve Tolman. Councilor Ciommo and Representatives Honan and Moran wrote a joint letter.

The BC Task Force also submitted an extensive, 12-page letter. The task force usually meets monthly, but met weekly during January in order to gather additional community input prior to writing their letter. Their letter is phrased in terms of summarizing the issues on which there is broad community consensus; they then made recommendations which directly follow from the consensus they identified.

As described below, one letter -- from Senator Steve Tolman -- appears to differ substantially from the others.

The other letters struck common themes, which I summarize here (although slightly different language was sometimes used on a given issue among all the letters):
  1. No undergraduate housing on the former St. John's Seminary land, referred to by BC as their Brighton Campus (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Connolly, Murphy, Yoon; Flaherty called for BC first to "exhaustively show" that they cannot house the students on their main campus before allowing any Brighton Campus dorms);
  2. BC should have the goal to provide on-campus housing for 100% of their undergraduate students (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Connolly, Murphy; Flaherty called for housing more, but without a specific target);
  3. Buffer zone from the Chestnut Hill Reservoir for Shea Field housing (Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Murphy; BCTF noted a diversity of community opinions about Shea Field dormitories, requesting scoping of several alternative options);
  4. Building taller dormitories (than four stories) on the Lower Chestnut Hill Campus, and explore construction on Upper and Newton Campuses (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Connolly; Flaherty called for BC to "exhaustively" investigate options like this on the main campus);
  5. Exploring options other than just demolishing Edmonds Hall, such as renovation or on-site replacement (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran);
  6. BC should top purchasing residential houses in Brighton, and divest themselves of past purchases (Murphy; BCTF called on BRA to "carefully evaluate the consequences" of the practice);
  7. Study alternate siting options for the baseball stadium, further away from neighboring houses (BCTF, Connolly, Murphy; Ciommo/Honan/Moran asked for an alternative);
  8. Mitigate impacts on the neighborhood of athletics fields and stadiums (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Tolman);
  9. Artificial turf for the Brighton Athletics Fields (BCTF, Connolly opposed; Ciommo/Honan/Moran ask about environmental impacts);
  10. Nighttime lighting for the Brighton Athletics Fields (Connolly opposed; BCTF opposed lighting for multi-purpose fields; Ciommo/Honan/Moran questioned the need for the lights);
  11. BC should assess alternative locations for the recreation center (BCTF);
  12. Guarantee beyond 10-years that the Foster Street housing will have only theological student/faculty uses (Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Murphy; BCTF called for scoping of several alternative options including such a guarantee);
  13. Preserving, rather than demolishing, the three Foster Street houses (Murphy; BCTF called for scoping of an alternative option);
  14. BC should stop purchasing Brighton houses, and divest themselves of past purchases (Murphy);
  15. Requiring an independent, peer reviewed traffic/transportation/parking study paid for by Boston College (BCTF; Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Tolman; Flaherty called for "comprehensive traffic studies" but without specifying who should pay for review of them);
  16. Questioning the idea of moving the MBTA B-line BC Station to the center of Commonwealth Avenue (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Connolly);
  17. Not closing St. Thomas More Road, even if a newer extension is built alongside the Evergreen Cemetery (Connolly, Murphy; Ciommo/Honan/Moran question the idea; BCTF opposed re-alignment altogether);
  18. Improved Transportation Demand Management program at BC (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Connolly);
  19. Oppose footbridge over Commonwealth Avenue (BCTF);
  20. More parking spaces are needed to match anticipated demand (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran; Flaherty called for BC to meet the anticipated demand for parking, but was unspecific as to whether or not the proposal did so);
  21. Use Articles 51 and 29 of the zoning code, which describe underlying zoning at the Brighton Campus, as specific guidelines for assessing the IMP's proposals (BCTF); and
  22. Including a permanent conservation easement on part of the Brighton Campus buffer zones to protect against future development (BCTF, Ciommo/Honan/Moran, Connolly).

Senator Tolman's Letter Differs From the Others

Inspecting the itemized list above, it is immediately apparent that the content of Senator Tolman's letter differs substantially from the others. A few examples illustrate the differences:

The hot-button issue in BC's IMP is undergraduate housing. Should BC move all their undergraduate students on-campus (#2)? All of the elected officials except Senator Tolman (and Councilor-At-Large Yoon) agree that BC should provide housing for 100% of their undergraduates on campus; Senator Tolman's letter was silent on this issue, neither supporting nor opposing it.

Where should the new dormitories go? All the elected officials except Senator Tolman stated that none of the new dormitories should go on the Brighton Campus (#1). Senator Tolman's letter was nearly silent on the issue, only stating, "New and reconfigured housing and its occupants must respect the quietude that the surrounding area residents have come to expect." The positions of all but one elected official on this issue are consistent with their positions as of a previous post on December 4, in which Senator Tolman chose not to take a position. (Councilor-At-Large Murphy has now taken a position; his letter indicates that he has now come out in opposition to the Brighton Dorms.)

How tall should the dormitories be? Councilors Ciommo and Connolly, and Representatives Honan and Moran, all indicate that BC should accomplish the on-campus housing goal by building dormitories taller than four stories on their main Chestnut Hill Campus (#4); Senator Tolman's letter is silent on this issue.

How about the siting of the Brighton Athletics Fields? Councilors Ciommo, Connolly, and Murphy, and Representatives Honan and Moran, all requested, at a minimum, studies of alternate siting for the highest-impact athletics use, i.e., the baseball stadium (#7). Senator Tolman's letter only said that "the effects of new athletic fields [on surrounding neighborhoods] must also be minimized."

Should open space on the Brighton Campus be preserved in perpetuity through a conservation easement? Councilors Ciommo and Connolly, and Representatives Honan and Moran, say yes in their letters (#22); Senator Tolman is silent on the issue in his letter, writing instead that "to the greatest extent possible this open space [on the Brighton Campus] should be maintained and accessible to the neighborhood."

These are significant differences among the elected officials representing Allston-Brighton residents both at the city and state level. Senator Tolman indicated in his letter that he was well-aware of the differences, but was not prepared to sign onto the positions taken by the other elected officials, presumably Councilor Ciommo and Representatives Honan and Moran. In his letter, Senator Tolman writes:
I am well aware of the opinions expressed by my colleagues in their letter and I am supportive of the principles contained therein. However, further review is necessary for resolution of appropriate uses of the Brighton Campus.
It appears as though Senator Tolman wants to leave open, at least for the time being, all of the proposed uses for the Brighton Campus -- which would include dormitories, a baseball stadium, etc.


hynespb said...

I do not understand the opposition to the footbridge over comm ave?

Michael Pahre said...

Re: pedestrian footbridge

Some people object over aesthetics, others that it wouldn't be used by students (who would use the quickest possible route -- at-grade, rather than overpass), etc. The footbridge would be constructed over public property (Commonwealth Avenue), which puts the additional burden on the proponent that it should contribute a public benefit.

The public comment letter by Fred Salvucci, currently of MIT and formerly Secretary of Transportation under Governor Dukakis, gave some specific language on the issue:

"The pedestrian overpass should also be deleted. More fundamentally, pedestrian overpasses often become the location of crime and poor maintenance, and represent an unnecessary and inappropriate expense. Safe, at-grade pedestrian crossings were recently substituted for overpasses by the T at Charles Street Station on the Red Line, with general approval."