Thursday, February 21, 2008

BRA Calls on BC to House More Undergraduates on Main Campus

The Boston Redevelopment Authority today called for Boston College to house more of their undergraduate students on their traditional campuses in Boston and Newton, but not on the formerly St. John's Seminary land purchased since 2004 from the Archdiocese of Boston. The BRA also directed BC to explore other siting, size, and configuration options for its proposed 1500-seat baseball stadium, which had been proposed for a location close to neighborhood houses in Brighton.

The BRA's direction came in a document called a Scoping Determination, which was issued by the city in response to BC's December 5, 2007 filing of BC's proposed Institutional Master Plan Notification Form.

BC's master plan had proposed to add 610 beds of undergraduate housing to their campus, but to do so by putting 500 new beds onto their new "Brighton Campus" -- the former seminary land. BC acquired the 65 acres of land from the Archdiocese in a series of purchases between 2004 and 2007.

Many letters from local elected officials, civic leaders, members of the public, and the BRA's BC Task Force, that were submitted during a public comment period which ended February 5, 2008, expressed opposition to BC's proposal for undergraduate dormitories on the Brighton Campus. Mayor Thomas Menino expressed his opposition to the Brighton Dorms earlier this year, which was probably the final indication that BC's dorm proposal was doomed.

The BRA's SD issued today reflected that neighborhood opposition, writing that:
Given widely stated concerns about the placement of undergraduate housing on the Brighton Campus, BC shall study and present alternative housing proposals, including proposals to restrict undergraduate housing to the existing campus areas in Boston and Newton while still increasing the number of undergraduates housed in BC-controlled housing.
The document further identified locations on BC's main campus that were candidate sites for additional undergraduate housing:
  • "Increased housing density on the areas currently proposed for undergraduate housing on the existing campus areas (e.g. the “Mods” site).
  • Full build-out of the “Mods” site with new, denser housing during the course of the 10-year IMP.
  • Retention of housing on the Edmonds Hall site (in the existing structure or a replacement), with alternative siting of the proposed Recreation Center.
  • Alternatives on the Shea Field site, including non-residential uses, decreased housing density, and setbacks or buffer zones."

Athletics Facilities

The BRA called upon BC to look into revised size and configuration of their proposed baseball stadium, as well as to look at alternate sites. BC proposed a 1500-seat baseball stadium for the Brighton Campus at a location that appears to be within 100 feet of neighborhood houses on Lane Park and Anselm Terrace.

The SD reads that BC should:
Present alternative sizes and seating configurations for the baseball facility at the proposed location, as well as a discussion of potential alternative locations for this facility, including the Shea Field site.
The BRA also called for study of the environmental and health impacts of proposed artificial turf fields. BC proposed three such fields on the Brighton Campus in a location that currently contains grass playing fields and has underlying zoning of "Conservation Protection Subdistrict" under Article 51 of the zoning code.

The SD did not give clear instruction as to whether or not the proposed athletics fields should have lighting for nighttime use. Instead, the BRA asked for the "rationale" for the proposed lighting for each facility (i.e., the four athletics fields), "assess the impacts of lighting and noise," and mitigation measures, "including agreements regarding hours of use," for minimizing the impacts.

Transportation, Traffic, and Parking

The BRA called upon BC to create an "aggressive transportation demand management program," in order to minimize the use of cars for commuting to and from campus. Currently, 80% of BC's staff and faculty commute to work in automobiles. The SD text wrote:
The transportation system should be designed to minimize the use of private automobiles and maximize the transportation alternatives for both Boston College affiliates and neighborhood residents. Improved shuttle service, enhanced public transportation, bicycle infrastructure, car-sharing, and other elements should all be considered. This goal should be supported by aggressive transportation demand management programs.
The BRA did not, however, call upon BC to fund an independent peer review of their transportation, traffic, and parking plans in their master plan. This peer review had been called for by many elected officials, transportation experts -- notably Fred Salvucci, former state Secretary of Transportation, and Frank Trantomozzi, Chief Engineer of the Massachusetts Highway Administration -- and members of the public. Harvard University has already agreed to fund such independent peer review as part of their new science complex's review with the state's Environmental Protection Act office.

Open Space Protection and Zoning

Many of the public comment letters submitted to the BRA called upon BC to provide conservation easements to protect buffer zones of their campus in perpetuity as open space.

The BRA did not explicitly call upon BC to provide such conservation easements, but provided softer language:
Buffer Zones and Preservation Areas. Identify possible areas where land could be used as “buffer zones” for the community, such as the outer edges of the Brighton Campus along Lake Street and between the proposed dorms on Shea Field and the Reservoir, and/or areas that could be preserved in an undeveloped state in order to mitigate the impact of new development on the existing character of the Brighton Campus.
The master plan was submitted by BC as part of a re-zoning process under Article 80 of the zoning code. The BRA's SD clarifies how some parts of the zoning code will be considered as part of this re-zoning process.

The BRA is explicity that the Greenbelt Protection Overlay District (Article 29) for the areas along Commonwealth Avenue "must be taken into account" as part of this Article 80 master plan process.

The Brighton Campus has an underlying zoning of Conservation Protection Subdistrict (CPS; Article 51), which the BRA indicated:
BC’s proposed development should preserve key elements of the character of the former Archdiocese land consistent with the goals of the underlying Conservation Protection Subdistrict (“CPS”) zoning, including preserving key areas of green space on the Brighton Campus.

The BRA's Scoping Determination can be found here (PDF format). If that link has problems, those with access to the BC_Neighbors_Forum google group can find another link here.

The Boston Globe has already come out with a quick article, available at

UPDATE: The Boston Globe's full article can be found here. And here is a comparison between Suffolk University and Boston College's responses to BRA opposition to their dorm proposals.

UPDATE: The Boston Herald has an article on it. It's one of the last opportunities to see Bob Van Meter quoted in his current employment position at the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation.

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