Friday, February 22, 2008

Brighton as Hyde Park's Backyard

The Boston Globe ran a full article about how the Boston Redevelopment Authority is calling on Boston College to house more undergraduate students on their main campus, instead of building new dormitories on the St. John's Seminary land purchased by BC in 2004-7. (I summarized the contents of the BRA's "Scoping Determination" in a previous post.)

In the Globe article, Jack Dunn, Director of Public Affairs at Boston College, hurled a charge at opponents of BC's proposal to build dormitories on the former seminary land:
Dunn said neighbors' complaints about the location of student housing, in light of longstanding demands to house more students on campus, amounted to "a question of NIMBYism." NIMBY is the acronym for "not in my backyard."

"Everyone wants to see college students live on campus, unless they happen to live close to campus," Dunn said.
As the article also notes, however, Mayor Thomas Menino also expressed his opposition to the dorm proposal -- both last month and yesterday:
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday that BC should limit new dormitories to the traditional campus.

"I say to them, why can't they build the new dorms on the campus they already have?" he said. "We want to see more housing on the present campus."
Mayor Menino is a resident of Hyde Park. For Dunn to call opposition to the dorm proposals "NIMBYism" would require Brighton to be located in the backyard of Hyde Park, a geographically-challenged proposition.

It is not often in city politics that the spokesman for a large developer accuses the Mayor of NIMBYism; in fact, I can't recall a single time. Given the Mayor's effective power over agencies such as the BRA, which has the statutory authority to approve or reject any proposed development on BC's land, it would also seem unwise.

I can't imagine the look on the Mayor's face when he opened the newspaper this morning and read Dunn's remark.

Comparing Suffolk and BC

Suffolk University proposed in 2006 to build a 22-31 story dormitory on Beacon Hill, but Mayor Menino killed that proposal when he changed course in December 2006 to oppose the project.

Suffolk University officials responded to Mayor Menino's opposition:
Bowing to the city's opposition to its plans, Suffolk University is giving up on the idea of putting a new dormitory tower on a Beacon Hill site.

But the university wants to work with Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Boston Redevelopment Authority to find a suitable new location as quickly as possible, said John A. Nucci, vice president for government and community affairs...

Instead of expressing disappointment, Nucci said Suffolk was focused on moving forward. "Suffolk wants to peacefully coexist with our neighbors," Nucci said.
Suffolk and the city quickly found common ground, and the city backed a new plan for a dormitory in the Downtown Crossing area within three months.

When the BRA yesterday called on BC to put their proposed dormitories on their main campus, instead of the land recently-purchased from the Archdiocese, BC officials responded:
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said the college would work to address the city's concerns. But he said the Chestnut Hill campus is already "exceedingly dense" and cannot handle 500 additional undergraduates. Building dorms on the Brighton property, he said, is the only way the college can add student housing.
While BC spokesman Dunn provided similar sentiment that BC would work with the city, by telling the Globe that the main campus cannot accomodate additional dormitories he already appears to be rejecting any such compromise with the city and the neighborhood.

Suffolk VP Nucci expressed no such rejection of alternative dormitory locations -- nor did he insist that Suffolk's original proposal was the only possible solution -- after the city killed Suffolk's dorm proposal, in contrast with BC spokesman Dunn's comments.

Suffolk VP Nucci expressed the sentiment that "Suffolk wants to peacefully coexist with our neighbors"; in contrast, BC spokesman Dunn made no such gesture, instead attacking the neighbors (and the Mayor) by accusing them of "NIMBYism."

Let's hope BC can try to follow Suffolk's lead by actually working with the city to come up with better locations for their dormitories, rather than insisting that there is no other possible way to house more students. And let's also hope that BC's officials can also follow Suffolk's lead by showing more politeness towards the community and the Mayor.

UPDATE: Harry Mattison has a few comments on this over at the Allston Brighton Community Blog.
UPDATE: Dunn appears to have been gentler in comments to the Boston Herald.


Adam said...

"Suffolk and the city quickly found common ground, and the city backed a new plan for a dormitory in the Downtown Crossing area within three months."

You sure about that?

"Under an agreement with the city to build 10 West St., the school has agreed not to seek any more housing for its students in Downtown Crossing. While many residents have insisted that students be moved from the community into dormitories, fights often erupt when schools make plans for dorms in the neighborhoods."

That sounds like the opposite of what you're suggesting.

Christopher said...

It doesn't appear that Jack Dunn accused Menino of NIMBYism. In fact, if you read the quote you are using he doesn't attribute it to Menino at all. If I am missing something please clarify for me, but it looks like the quote mentions the neighbors opposition and how that is NIMBYism. I also don't believe Jack Dunn is "attacking" the residents. He's making a statement.

Otherwise, I'm glad the BRA has listened to the Brighton Residents and I hope everyone, the BRA, BC, and the residents can come to a decent decision that will benefit everyone involved.

Michael Pahre said...


I think you may be mixing up two different projects at Suffolk.

A 274-bed dormitory was approved by the BRA in July 2007 and was expected to be opened within a month after a December 2007 Globe article:

"Suffolk recently established the precedent for such a compromise in Downtown Crossing, where a new dorm for 274 Suffolk students is expected to open next month on [10] West Street."

The dorm actually opened on January 20, 2008. (I think people are arguing about whether it lies in the Downtown Crossing neighborhood or is in the Ladder District...)

Suffolk put forward a new master plan in January 2008, which is the subject of your link and quotation, and which talks about additional housing at Downtown Crossing. Apparently, the agreement for the 274-bed facility already approved and occupied at 10 West Street include some kind of language about future dormitories in the Downtown Crossing area.

Ross Levanto said...

Hey everyone--

I am actually quite familiar with the Suffolk situation, and the premise of the original post is correct.

In response to the city, Suffolk looked off of Beacon Hill for new dormatory space, and they settled on the 10 West Street Dorm, which is now open. To earn approval from 10 West Street from neighbors, Suffolk agreed to no further expansion within an area around the 10 West Street location in Downtown Crossing.

I think what is confusing people is that Suffolk and BC are both responding to neighborhoods that have stressed town-and-gown relationships. In the case of Suffolk, the University learned from its mistakes on Beacon Hill and worked very carefully with neighbors in Downtown Crossing. And that is the lesson BC had better learn.

Rob said...

Jack Dunn accused the Mayor of NIMBYism? No, he was talking about the neighbors opposed to their plans.

As for Suffolk, when they dumped the Beacon Hill plans and went with Downtown Crossing, a group of "neighbors" there popped up to oppose their dorm plans as well. Thankfully the city ignored those complaints.

Ross Levanto said...

@Rob: Your comment is not accurate in spirit. The concerns of Downtown Crossing were listened to by the BRA and Suffolk. Suffolk responded by offering a number of concessions-- most notably establishing a non-expansion zone in Downtown Crossing. So the point of the original post is correct-- B.C. should learn from Suffolk and work with neighbors, rather than flooding the media with rhetoric.