Monday, June 30, 2008

Mayor Menino Calls BC's Purchase of 2000 Comm Ave "Double Speak"

Mayor Thomas Menino has called BC's purchase of the 17-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue "double speak" because their plan to house 100% of their undergraduates does so by purchasing an off-campus building rather than building an on-campus dormitory.

Mayor Menino's statement today implies that he rejects BC's careful word parsing which sought to equate "100% university-controlled housing" with "100% on-campus housing."

Focus on Terminology

Today's statement was the first time Mayor Menino has spoken on the topic since the story was broken six weeks ago by that BC was pursuing purchasing the apartment building for $67 million. He told Banker & Tradesman:
“BC is double speaking here,” Menino said. “They’ve said they’re going to have beds for all of their undergraduates on campus, but 2000 Comm. Ave. is not on their campus. I’d rather see them live up to their commitment to house all of the students on campus.”
Mayor Menino has aggressively pushed for a number of years for the city's colleges and universities to house increasing numbers of their undergraduates. Prior to BC's announcement that they wanted to purchase 2000 Comm Ave, it was unclear whether he meant "on-campus housing" or "off-campus, university-controlled housing."

The statement quoted by Banker & Tradesman makes it clear that Mayor Menino wants universities to build new housing rather than purchasing and converting existing housing stock in order to address his city-wide plan for additional student housing.

BC officials have been quite careful in their use of the term "university-controlled" or "university housing," rather than "on-campus" housing. Jack Dunn, Director of Public Affairs at BC, used the term "university housing" with the Boston Globe. Thomas Keady, Jr., Vice President of Governmental and Community Affairs at BC, was quoted in the Allston-Brighton TAB as calling it "Boston College housing"; elsewhere in the TAB's article they correctly called it "university-controlled dorms." The Boston Herald heard the talking points clearly in story two on the topic, while in their first story they mistakenly thought BC was actually proposing to build 1280 new beds. (The correct answer is 720 new beds and 560 converted beds added by buying 2000 Comm Ave. The Boston Globe made the same mistake.) WBZ's two reporters were both mixed up by incorrectly using the term "on-campus" for the dormitories, as did the Boston Bulletin.

Mayor Menino has seen through the carefully-parsed wording coming out of BC. Today's statement reflects that he thinks the appropriate term is "on-campus housing" -- and that BC's plan doesn't achieve it.

Implications of Today's Statement

The Boston Globe's editorial board wrote recently that BC should actively pursue options more agreeable with the neighborhood in order to "smooth the permitting process with the city." That Mayor Menino has problems with BC's plan for using 2000 Comm Ave as an undergraduate dormitory indicates that the potential threat of denying various occupancy and/or construction permits has just increased in its probability. It was Mayor Menino's indication to the BRA on the permitting issue that killed Suffolk University's proposed dormitory on Beacon Hill in December 2006:
Suffolk needed city permits for the 22-story building, but at Menino's request, Maloney yesterday told Suffolk University vice president John A. Nucci the city's support would not be forthcoming -- which means it is all but dead.
Mayor Menino previously announced his opposition to BC's proposal to build several dormitories totalling 500 beds of housing on the former St. John's Seminary land purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004-7. BC refers to that housing as the "Brighton Dorms." He is now on record opposing two key elements of BC's proposed undergraduate housing plan.

The Brighton neighborhood and BC are currently locked in an argument over the location of undergraduate housing as part of BC's proposed 10-year institutional master plan. The most recent public meeting on the topic, held by the Boston Redevelopment Authority's BC Task Force, was a raucous affair in which the proceedings were interrupted often by protesters both over BC's planned purchase of 2000 Comm Ave and BC's desire to build the Brighton Dorms.

BC's Dunn appears not to like having a public discussion of BC's proposal to buy 2000 Comm Ave and convert it into a dormitory. Dunn told the Banker & Tradesman that he welcomes having the discussion "in private with the Mayor." The Boston Bulletin reported that the audience laughed at Dunn's comments at the June 14th public meeting.

Another public meeting on the topic is scheduled for tonight, which is an opportunity for neighborhood residents to discuss the issues of the university's expansion amongst themselves.

Residents and Non-Residents Write About About BC's Plan

The Boston Globe last week published several letters-to-the-editor on the topic. Neighborhood resident Lisa Lieberman in which she spoke of BC's plan to purchase 2000 Comm Ave:
It is disingenuous of Boston College to suggest that it is getting students out of our neighborhood when in fact it is just shuffling students from one place to another within our community.
Joseph Zadella of Cambridge sees it differently, suggesting that the 33-student building at the corner of Greycliff Road and Commonwealth Avenue has already eliminated any buffer between campus and student dormitories.

Framingham resident Craig Carlson thinks that all the disagreement is caused by "paid community activists and residents," though he didn't seem to have figured out who had all this money to pay them. While I haven't requested pay stubs from BC, my understanding is that BC officials like Keady and Dunn are the ones getting paid in this process -- not the neighborhood residents. I wonder if Carlson would mind if his letter were rewritten to state that all the disagreement is caused by "paid BC officials and employees"?

Brighton residents: is your check in the mail? Quick, look!

Image of Mayor Menino by Dan4th provided through a Creative Commons license.

BC Neighbors Forum: Public Meeting Monday Night at 7:00 pm

Boston College Neighbors Forum:
Public Meeting to Discuss BC's Master Plan

Monday, June 30th, 7:00 pm
Brighton Elks Lodge, 326 Washington Street

Brighton residents are invited to attend a community meeting to analyze and discuss the details of the Boston College institutional master plan. The meeting will take place on Monday, June 30th, 7:00 pm, at the Brighton Elks Lodge, 326 Washington Street, Brighton Center.

The Boston College Neighbors Forum is an unaffiliated, independent grassroots discussion group. The goal of the meeting is to build a consensus in the community on issues of common concern, and to prepare formal community feedback to BC and the City of Boston.

Public participation is strongly encouraged and all residents will be afforded an opportunity to speak as time permits. Possible topics for future meetings will be discussed.

For more information, contact Michael Pahre at 617-216-1447 or; or visit the BC_Neighbors_Forum Google Group (membership required).

Parking is available at the rear of the building, accessed from Winship Street.


BC's housing presentation to the 6/16 task force meeting can be found here (PDF), while their presentation to the 6/4 meeting (athletics) can be found here. Their full master can be found here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Editorials on BC's Revised Housing Proposal

The Boston Globe's editorial page is pushing for Boston College to build denser housing on the Mods site as part of their revised institutional master plan -- and as a potential compromise with the neighborhood:
There should be room to resolve such issues within the 10-year construction schedule of dorms, new academic buildings, and recreation facilities — as long as BC remains flexible. One such opportunity is on the northeast section of the lower campus, where BC wants to replace 22 dreary modular housing units with a 175-student dorm and a swath of greenspace. Enlarging the dorm and moving up the schedule for its construction could postpone the need to build dorms on the contested former archdiocese site. Such compromises would also smooth the permitting process with the city.
The Boston Herald's editorial board, however, thinks BC's plan is fine just the way it is, quoting Eva Webster from the Boston Globe's news story to support their argument.

The Allston-Brighton TAB editorial sides with the Globe, arguing that BC should consider taller dorms on its main campus to minimize housing near residential areas, but is more positive about BC's purchase of 2000 Commonwealth Avenue.

Earlier: Boston Globe editorial in December 2007 that BC has not made a "convincing case" for the Brighton Dorms on the former St. John's Seminary land; adding a few stories to proposed dormitories on their main campus and "maximizing the use of land now occupied by outmoded modular housing units" were suggested.

Mayor Thomas Menino told the Globe's editorial board in January that he wants to see the dorms built south of Commonwealth Avenue. (The Brighton Dorms would be north of Comm Ave.)

Walk for Open Space Saturday

The Allston Brighton Green Space Advocates and the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation are hosting a "Walk for Open Space" this Saturday, June 21st at 10 am next to the Veronica Smith Senior Center.

While the walk is a fund-raising event for the ABGSA, there is no requirement to collect donations in order to participate.

There are many little "pocket" parks and urban wilds scattered across Allston-Brighton. Visiting all of them in a single walk would amount to a death march, so it is fortunate that the ABGSA has trimmed the route down to a manageable four miles. Charlie might, however, still choose to do the scenic route.

Watch Out Driving on Nonantum Road or Soldiers Field Road

The Allston-Brighton TAB reports that thirteen allegedly drunk drivers were caught last Friday night during a roadblock sting operation between 11 pm and 3 am on Nonantum Road. One driver was not just drunk but also drinking.

The roadblock was presumably on the Watertown/Newton end of the road because the arrests were made by Watertown Police, Newton Police, Middlesex County Sheriff's Department, and State Police.

A previous sting on Nonantum Road took place in July 2007, and police say that they will continue periodically to setup similar roadblocks.

Discussions are underway for a rebuild of Nonantum Road that would narrow it to two lanes and thereby institute some "traffic calming". The State Legislature last year allocated $250,000 towards initial design studies. That stretch of road will have an additional new wrinkle: the intersection for the new entrance and exit for the Community Rowing Inc.'s boathouse, currently under construction east of Daly Field.

Further east on Soldiers Field Road, at least four motorists caught speeding -- one at over 70 mph -- appeared this morning in Brighton Municipal Court, according to a Brighton resident who sat through the morning's proceedings. Not the smartest thing to do: speed on a stretch of road close to the State Police barracks in North Brighton.

UPDATE: Boston Globe article about the redesign, including an image of the fatal 2004 car crash.

Image of Thai drunk driving sign by nathansnostalgia provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Animated and Angry Crowd Confronts Boston College's Revised Master Plan

"No dorms on Brighton Campus! Change this plan, please!" [Referring to proposed dormitories on the former St. John's Seminary land purchased by Boston College in 2004-7.]

"You're taking your problem and making it our problem!" "It's not on-campus!" [Referring to BC's purchase of the apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue, which they intend to turn into an off-campus undergraduate dormitory.]

"That's blackmail!" [Referring to attempts by Jack Dunn, BC's Director of Public Affairs, to withhold more popular elements of their master plan unless the entire plan would be approved by the city and neighborhood.]

"Build them higher!" [Referring to five-story dormitories proposed to replace the two-story Mods dormitories on BC's main campus in Chestnut Hill.]

These were repeated shouts from the audience that time and again interrupted Boston College's presentation of their revised institutional master plan Monday night at the Yawkey Center on BC's campus.

Neighborhood meetings can often be total yawners, where residents argue for hours over the smallest details of setbacks, zoning variances, brick color, and window design.

Not so on Monday night. The meeting was nothing short of a raucous affair. The air was theatrically punctuated by rapid-fire flashbulbs from two news photographers.

Thirteen months ago, Thomas Keady, Jr., Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs at BC, said at one such meeting that he didn't enjoy getting his "head kicked in." There was little question: Monday night was more than just another head-bashing.

BC officials, Boston Redevelopment Authority project managers, and BC Task Force members struggled to keep order in a room crowded with 200-250 people who kept shouting out their anger, frustration, exasperation, and profound disagreement with the undergraduate housing proposals that BC presented as their response to the Scoping Determination on their 10-year IMP issued in February by the BRA.

The university passed a significant milestone Monday by embracing the concept of providing university-owned housing for 100% of their undergraduate students.

University officials insisted that the neighborhood's price for this achievement would be accepting conversion of an off-campus apartment building into a dormitory and construction of new dormitories for the former St. John's Seminary land. Many neighborhood residents disagreed strongly with both premises, insisting that the solution lies in constructing more and/or taller dormitories on BC's main campus in Chestnut Hill.

BC Proposes 100% Undergraduate Housing -- But Some Will Be Off-Campus in the Neighborhood

Keady explained to the audience that there were two major changes to their undergraduate housing proposal.

First, he confirmed that approximately three weeks ago BC entered into a purchase and sale agreement to buy the 17-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue. While Keady claimed the purchase was "one of the worst-kept secrets in Allston-Brighton," many residents of nearby buildings spoke -- or shouted -- that they knew nothing about it until the last few days. "I haven't heard anything about it," said a resident of nearby 1988 Comm Ave.

The obvious reason why they hadn't heard about the purchase? The story broke a month ago online, but was not picked up by the mainstream media -- in part because BC officials refused to speak about the topic at two neighborhood meetings earlier this month.

Second, BC was now presenting a plan that would house 100% of their undergraduates in university-controlled housing -- some of which would be that new building at 2000 Comm Ave. "It's not on-campus!" came the audience replies.

It was this second point that was met with repeated, yet measured, praise from many in the task force and audience.

"The fact that this is now BC's goal is a huge achievement, because it has been the neighborhood's goal for about 15 years," said task force member Paul Berkeley.

"I applaud the 100%" target for undergraduate housing, said task force member Kevin Carragee. He gave his biggest praise to the residents, however, who kept pushing for the goal. "I want to thank the people who have been at these meetings for 15 years," he said.

Radnor Road resident Bruce Kline summarized the meeting at the end, saying that, aside from the addition of 2000 Commonwealth to their plan as a new undergraduate dormitory, the plan "is basically the same" as before.

Kline appeared accurate in his observations. In this revised plan, BC only added 110 additional beds to their main campus -- while many in the neighborhood wanted them to add between 500 (to move all the beds in the Brighton Dorms to the main campus) to 1450 (to house all their undergraduates in on-campus, rather than in off-campus, university-controlled housing).

The BRA required BC to explore two alternate studies for housing 500 additional undergraduates on their main campus, which would eliminate the need for dormitories on the former seminary land. BC's presentation offered no fundamental impediments uncovered by either study, yet rejected both in favor of a plan that was only slightly changed from the IMPNF -- and kept the Brighton Dorms in nearly the same configuration and size as before.

"I'm a little perplexed about the consideration of options," said task force member Tim Schofield. "It did sound like [the other two options] were feasible."

2000 Comm Ave: BC Official Tries Unsuccessfully to Play One Neighborhood Against Another

A significant number of residents in buildings near to 2000 Comm Ave attended Monday's meeting and expressed their displeasure with BC's pending purchase of the property.

"It's going to lower the quality of life in the neighborhood," said Lamya Shahabuddin, a board member of the building at 1933 Comm Ave. "When we bought those condos, we didn't sign up to live on campus."

Even BC Professor of Mathematics Mark Reeder, also a board member at 1933 Comm Ave, expressed his opposition to the purchase. "BC is trying to transfer their problem [to be] Brighton's problem," he said, in apparent reference to the difficulties in controlling student behavior.

One of BC's explanations for the basis of their housing plan was to create more open space on their main campus by moving some uses, such as student dormitories, further away onto the Brighton Campus -- or now at 2000 Comm Ave. "Not enough wild grass [for students] to play in?" said Reeder. "That's BC's problem, not Brighton's problem."

Keady had suggested earlier in the evening that converting the building to undergraduate dormitories was something that the neighbors of the Radnor Road, Lane Park, and Kirkwood Road area were supporting.

Lane Park resident Sandy Furman only partially backed him up. Furman said that, if faced with competing options of students in houses versus students in 2000 Comm Ave, he would choose the latter. "But it doesn't have to be that way," he said, indicating that BC had other options available, such as taller buildings on their main campus.

Shelby Marshall, Furman's Lane Park neighbor, indicated that the apartment building is already 40% occupied by BC students, which Nick Fondas, another Lane Park resident, speculated might otherwise tip over to 75-80% student-occupied within a few years. "I would rather it be a supervised than unsupervised dorm," said Marshall.

Other residents wanted nothing of Keady's attempts to pit the Radnor Road/Lane Park neighbors against those on Commonwealth Avenue. "I resent that BC would play the Radnor Road neighbors against 2000 Comm Ave," said Kirkwood Road resident Lisa Lieberman to audience applause.

"We Are Now in a Question Of How"

Task force member Kevin Carragee said these words to describe how the debate between the neighborhood, BRA, and BC was no longer focused on whether or not BC should house 100% of their undergraduate students. The discussion has now switched to where those dormitories should be located -- i.e., "how" to achieve the agreed-upon goal of full housing.

In short: location, location, location.

Repeated Neighborhood Proposals for a Tall Dormitory on Mods Site

Carragee continued with his proposed solution: "Why not go high on the Mods site?" He referred to the location of the two-story Mods dormitories, constructed as temporary housing in the 1970s -- yet eleven of those buildings would still be standing in 2019 in BC's proposed plan.

In the strangest recurring theme of the evening, Keady didn't answer Carragee's question. When asked if he was going to answer it, Keady simply replied, "No."

Shouts from the crowd requested him to answer, but more silence followed. Later questions by the audience repeatedly brought up the same question, demanding an answer -- any answer at all -- but still drew no response from Keady.

Jack Dunn, BC's Director of Public Affairs, eventually stood up out of his front-row seat, grabbed a microphone, and answered the question. "The issue for us is an issue of density," he said. "Our conclusion was that 4700 students in 40 acres [on the main campus] was the limit."

Dunn remained standing next to the podium. Every time the same question resurfaced, he repeated the same answer, and Keady stood by watching. Dunn's stock answer began to be met by laughter from the crowd.

Falkland Street resident Donal Carroll offered a comeback, noting that BC has paid its consultants probably hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of dollars to draw up the designs for the master plan. "If you're unable to house 12 extra individuals per acre on a 40-acre site," he said, then BC probably needs to find some different consultants, you know, to get their money's worth. Laughter ensued, drowning out Carroll's words.

One resident went to the projected map on the screen and demonstrated how small a footprint the 17-story building at 2000 Comm Ave would form if an exact, duplicate copy were constructed on the Mods site.

A version of his visual is displayed here to the right. The 2000 Comm Ave apartment building footprint is the small, gray, L-shaped building above and to the right of the proposed, new recreation center (building #19).

The implication is clear: very little green space on their main campus would be sacrificed to put 560 beds of undergraduate housing in such a building. BC could still have their wide-open main campus.

Are BC Officials Themselves Exhibiting NIMBY-ism?

In watching the meeting unfold, I couldn't help but think: if BC would agree to build such a dormitory at the Mods site on their main campus instead of the Brighton Dorms, they might very well be able to convert heavy neighborhood opposition against their housing proposals into broader support.

But, for some reason, at least one BC official on Monday night was persistently refusing to consider the option of constructing such a building on their own campus.

Several months ago, BC's Dunn resorted to name-calling by labelling neighborhood opponents of the Brighton Dorms as holding a position that amounts to "NIMBY-ism" (Not In My Back Yard).

Have the tables now turned?

When BC decided to pursue purchasing 2000 Comm Ave, they probably viewed it as a tactical victory that would curry favor from the city and quiet down neighborhood opposition to their plans in the near term.

Once BC showed their hand by expressing interest in purchasing 2000 Comm Ave -- with the intention to convert it into an undergraduate dormitory -- they stumbled into what I can only see to be a vast, strategic blunder on their part.

If such a tall building is a perfectly acceptable dormitory for their students off-campus, then they have implicitly accepted the proposition that it is an equally acceptable model for a dormitory on-campus. But BC officials are racked by inconsistency. They want the tall dormitory in the neighborhood, but they don't want an equally tall dormitory on their own campus.

Is the rejection of a tall dormitory on the main campus an act of NIMBY-ism on the part of BC officials?

The Silent Type

While Keady's silence on the issue of a tall dormitory was noticeable, somebody else's silence probably escaped the notice of most Brighton residents.

Patrick Keating, BC's Executive Vice President, who is in charge of long-range planning for the university, attended Monday's meeting of the BC Task Force. It is the first time I have ever seen him in attendance at a meeting of the task force.

I have long wondered how the neighborhood opposition to key elements in BC's undergraduate housing plan filters through the usual attendees from Governmental and Community Affairs (and Public Affairs) to the top university officials in charge of making decisions on the long-range plan, i.e., Executive VP Keating and Fr. William Leahy, S. J., President of BC. Do the intermediaries down-play residents' opposition? Do the absent executives not believe in the neighborhood opposition because they don't hear it first-hand?

Even though Keating was completely silent throughout the meeting, there was no filtering of the neighborhood's positions on the issues. Keating heard every shouted word himself.

Leahy, however, did not. He issued a press release instead, saying that the plan is:
“a manifestation of BC’s desire to be a good neighbor by taking students out of the neighborhood and providing increased stability for local residence [sic], while also addressing Boston College’s most pressing needs.”

Mainstream Media Pick Up the Story

The Boston Globe has a brief story up about BC's revised plan; a longer story is here. Monday's meeting occurred after their deadline, so it is not mentioned. WBZ radio has an audio story on the revised proposal which quotes Dunn but fails to pursue any alternative viewpoints. Boston Herald reporters have now been seen in Brighton for the first time covering the BC student housing story; they appear to have later deadlines than the Globe.

UPDATE: Allston-Brighton TAB makes reference to the mayhem. The Herald had a second story the following day which focused on the meeting. (The first article focused on BC's press release.) Expect a story from the Boston Bulletin later this week.

UPDATE: Here's the Bulletin story.

Image of shouting woman from ronsho provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, June 16, 2008

brighton neighbors carefully avoid bloomsday events

those brighton neighbors who are planning on attending the bc task force meeting would be well advised to exercise caution attending todays meeting so that they not get mixed up in the bloomsday events at boston college which occur not too far away at the bapst library particularly since the time would overlap with chapter eighteen of the story

BC Task Force Meeting 6/16 to Consider Undergraduate Housing -- Note Change of Venue

BC Task Force Meeting
Monday, June 16th, 2008, 6:30-8:30 pm
Location: Yawkey Center, Murray Conference Room on BC's main campus in Chestnut Hill
NOTE: This is NOT the usual venue

Agenda: BC Revised Institutional Master Plan -- Undergraduate Housing

PARKING: Visitors should park at the Beacon Street parking garage [E3 on map at right]. Entrance to the parking garage is off Beacon Street, west of St. Thomas More Road.

After parking, exit the garage north towards Yawkey Center. The Murray Conference Room is on the fourth floor of the Yawkey Center.

Will the Revised IMP Accomodate Neighbors' Concerns?

In the public comment period after BC's initial filing of their IMP notification form, hundreds of Brighton residents either wrote letters or signed onto petitions focusing on two main positions related to BC's undergraduate housing:
  1. BC should provide on-campus for 100% of the undergraduate students; and
  2. None of those dormitory beds should be on the former St. John's Seminary land (Brighton Campus).
In order to accomplish this, many letters, including a petition circulated here at the Brighton Centered Blog, noted that there is sufficient space on BC's main campus in Chestnut Hill in order to locate the housing.

Will BC accomodate either of those two neighborhood goals? Likely not.

University-Controlled Housing vs. On-Campus Housing.
Word leaked out last month that BC had secretly won the bidding to purchase the 16-story, 188-unit apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton. BC later confirmed their interest in the building, and that it would be considered for undergraduate housing. Estimates vary, but the building could likely hold 500-600 undergraduate students with two per bedroom.

All signs indicate that BC will present a plan on Monday evening that will house 100% of their undergraduate students, but that will not house all of them on-campus. Instead, 500-600 would be housed in what is off-campus, university-controlled housing at 2000 Comm Ave. No one would claim that 2000 Comm Ave is located on BC's campus, would they?

There are trade-offs associated with using 2000 Comm Ave as part of the housing package. The neighborhood has pushed for many years for BC to house their undergraduates, and hence, symbolically, BC will have crossed a major philosophical threshold by agreeing to the goal now for the first time. At previous meetings, BC officials have said that they will absolutely, never house 100% of their students; Monday night, they will likely backtrack on that position.

Using 2000 Comm Ave as a dormitory, however, means that 188 units of housing stock in Brighton will now be permanently unavailable to city residents. For a city whose leadership prides itself on increasing housing stock, converting the apartment building into a dormitory goes backwards. When city leaders regularly tout the numbers for the increase in housing units in Brighton, will they also subtract these 188 units from the balance sheet? Unlikely. Calls for the city's universities to house their students always assumed that the universities would build new housing, not convert existing housing. On top of that, buying this building is, by definition, institutional expansion further into a residential neighborhood.

Brighton Dorms Will Remain.
The visuals for the Fine Arts District presentation at the June 4th meeting of the BC Task Force were cropped versions from their master plan map -- but not cropped closely enough. In the corner of the visuals the Brighton Dorms could still be seen, indicating that they will continue to push for these dormitories that are enraging many in the neighborhood. These dorms housed 500 students in the previous version of the IMPNF; will they still?

Additional Housing on the Main Campus?
While the neighborhood pointed out that many hundreds of additional beds could be constructed on the main campus -- particularly by not razing 790-bed Edmonds Hall, adding stories to other planned dormitories, and making the replacement to the Mods housing more dense (rather than less so) -- indications are that, at most, only 100-200 additional beds would be added to the main campus compared to their December 2007 IMPNF.

BC has 7330 beds of undergraduate housing, and 8681 full-time students requiring housing. (9081 students in the 2007-8 school year, minus 400 students BC has identified who study abroad or are commuters living at home with parents.) The difference is 1351 required beds to accomplish 100% housing.

Since (1) the IMPNF added a net of 610 additional beds, (2) the Brighton Dorms appears still to be in their plans, and (3) 550 more beds are provided by 2000 Comm Ave, the result is that, at most, BC will likely be proposing only to add 100-200 beds to their previous proposal for their main campus. Such an outcome will not be a significant response to neighborhood input which looked for many hundreds more beds to be built on the main campus.

Abandoning the Argument Against Tall Dorms.
By purchasing a 16-story apartment building to be occupied as an undergraduate dormitory, BC is implicitly accepting the premise that there is absolutely no problem with housing undergraduate students in tall dormitories.

Such a position is an about-face from previous claims that their students behave unacceptably poorly in such tall dormitory buildings. Little or no reason now remains why the university cannot build a signature dormitory on their main campus following the model of their newly-purchased, off-campus building. Alternatively, they could add a couple of stories to their already-planned buildings.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kidnapping Victim Escapes From Car in Oak Square

The Boston Herald has the story of a kidnapping victim, after being beaten and forced into prostitution in New York, who escaped from her captives' car early Wednesday morning while in Oak Square, Brighton:
[Michael A. Smith, Jr.,] 38, of Flushing, N.Y., and Jasmine A. Williams, 21, of Manhattan were held without bail in Brighton District Court yesterday on kidnapping and other charges. Denise Jackson, 28, was held on $50,000 bail for a default warrant in Boston for prostitution and other charges.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Apparent Homicide Near Oak Square; Suspect to be Charged With Murder

Boston Police report an apparent homicide in Brighton at 73 Nonantum Street, just up the hill from Oak Square:
About 2:31 pm today, officers from District D-14 (Allston and Brighton) responded to 73 Nonantum St. to investigate a report of a deceased individual inside that location.

On arrival, officers were directed to a specific apartment. Inside that apartment, officers located the body of a 56 year-old white female, believed to be the victim of an apparent homicide suffering from multiple stab wounds. The suspect of that homicide, who was still on scene, was placed under arrest and transported to the district station for booking.

The suspect has been identified as Louis A. Marquez, 26, of Brighton. He has been booked and charged with Murder and will be arraigned at Brighton District Court tomorrow, Wednesday, June 11, 2008.

Preliminary investigation indicates that the victim and suspect were acquainted with each other. This incident remains under investigation and the suspect’s apartment has been frozen pending the issuance of a search warrant.
The Boston Globe has reported that the suspect is blind. Booking photo from WBZ. (UPDATE: full Boston Globe story. Boston Herald story.)

BPD crime statistics for January 1 - June 1, 2008 indicate 25 homicides in the City of Boston and none since then; this apparent homicide thus marks the 26th for the year. As of June 1, there had been one more homicide in the city this year than at the same time last year.

UPDATE (Wednesday morning): House on Nonantum Street still taped off, two police cruisers parked there, presumably gathering evidence. Several news crews at Brighton Municipal Courthouse, presumably for his arraignment and "live at noon" coverage.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Globe Sees Parallels Between Beacon Hill and Brighton

An editorial in today's Boston Globe draws a parallel between the recent agreement between Suffolk University and the Beacon Hill Civic Association over the university's institutional master plan. The agreement will result in a no-expansion zone in Beacon Hill and a cap on Suffolk's (daytime) undergraduate enrollment, but will also allow four building projects to go forward unopposed.

Writes the Globe:
A similar process could reduce tensions between Boston College and its neighbors, especially concerning BC's plans to build student housing in the Lake Street area of Brighton on land purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston. Neighbors make strong arguments that there is no need to encroach on open space when there is adequate room to build dorms on the main campus.

BC is revving up with a master plan to transform its campus. But the slow route through the neighborhood is often the best.
Harry Mattison also compared the Suffolk agreement with Harvard University's expansion into North Allston, noting that the agreement with a civic association was the key to the solution for Suffolk -- bypassing the Boston Redevelopment Authority's task force, which is hand-picked by the Mayor.

Mattison is likely on-target for town-gown agreements in contentious subjects like undergraduate housing and non-expansion zones. The BC Task Force historically was a civic association which chose or elected its own members and therefore was in the position to negotiate on behalf of the neighborhood. The current task force, however, is anything but, as last week's meeting with BC officials demonstrated.

One Brighton resident remarked after the meeting about the members' apparent lack of engagement on the issues while BC proceeds to purchase a 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue and make only small changes to their IMP despite strong neighborhood opposition. "Is the task force fiddling while Brighton is burning?" asked the resident.

The contrast between last Wednesday's meeting of the BRA's BC Task Force and the meeting of the Brighton Allston Improvement Association (a civic organization) the following night couldn't have been more different.

Thomas Keady, Jr., Vice President of Governmental and Community Affairs at BC, told the task force at their meeting that BC was not interested in talking about the apartment building; instead, he said, "we will discuss 2000 Commonwealth Avenue as part of a comprehensive housing [presentation]" at a later date, after more is finalized. The task force dropped the issue without further comment.

When the BAIA invited Keady to their meeting and he declined to attend, giving the same reason, the BAIA kept the issue on their agenda and had a full, passionate, and frank discussion on the issues. Many of the same people were in attendance at both meetings.

"The recent moves by BC," that resident continued, "gobbling up the neighborhood, would appear to be a direct insult to the task force. How long can they sit by while this sort of institutional encroachment continues? Look to Beacon Hill for inspiration!"

Mayor Thomas Menino appears to agree, at least to some extent, supporting the Suffolk agreement and telling the Globe that "institutional expansion needs to be done in a way that is in harmony with our great neighborhoods."

Harvard's neighbors are already looking to Beacon Hill's residents as part of a model for planning their own future. As the Globe has now editorialized, it is clearly time for Brighton's residents to do the same.

There's no rush to cement a deal, either. Suffolk took 18 months to reach an agreement.

Image of Suffolk University's Sargent Hall by wallyg provided through a Creative Commons license.

BC Continues Buying Spree With Two-Family House on Lane Park

Boston College continued its recent buying spree with a purchase on Friday of the two-family house at 26 Lane Park for $740,000, a property that is one lot away from being a direct abutter to the eastern side of the former St. John's Seminary land purchased by BC in 2004 (map).

The difference between this purchase and previous ones is that neighbors on Lane Park requested that BC purchase this house because it was an student-occupied, absentee-landlord house that in the last few years had gotten completely out-of-hand.

The university's pursuit of housing stock, however, worries other Brighton residents about BC's further encroachment into the residential neighborhood.

Hard Partying Ruining Life For Lane Park Residents

What might drive those Brighton residents to ask BC to buy the house?

According to several Lane Park residents contacted for this story, the 10-12 students who had been occupying the house in each of the last few years were hard partyers who regularly ruined the quality of life for the street. They received a full-house warning from the university, yet kept on with the parties on Wednesdays-Sundays. The students regularly climbed over and damaged a neighbors stone wall in order to pass through his yard on their shortcut to Greycliff Road. They drove the wrong-way on one-way Lane Park. It looked like some students were living, presumably against code, in both the basement and attic. And, despite all the Lane Park neighbors attempts, they say they couldn't get the property manager, Jamie Lebowitz, to control the students.

When this year's students moved out recently they not only dumped their furniture on the sidewalk but also left all the house's doors open. At least when a fire alarm inside went off last week the responders had no difficulty gaining access to the vacant house to shut it off.

Those Lane Park residents joined with the rest of the neighborhood earlier this year to push for BC to house 100% of its undergraduates in on-campus dormitories. Even if BC decided to build sufficient dormitories, however, it would be many years before the buildings would be complete -- and the Lane Park residents wanted to be able to sleep at night before then.

Early in 2008, the neighbors approached Thomas Keady, Jr., BC's Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs, asked that BC consider purchasing the house, and gave BC the owner's phone number. Their reason was that the house was so perpetually out-of-control that the neighbors were desperate for some relief. Ownership by BC -- along with faculty or graduate student tenants -- would be preferable to the student partying. BC subsequently made owner Craig Lebowitz an unsolicited offer on the house.

As the Lane Park residents see it, when BC agreed to purchase the house they were "actually providing a solution, not just generating the problem."

Not all Brighton residents see it that way. "The [neighborhood's] plan has always been to get the students onto campus," said Theresa Hynes of Hatherly Road. "BC is now getting the residents onto their campus by extending their campus to Lane Park and other stable neighborhoods."

The BC Task Force has, in the past, expressed similar opposition to BC's practice of purchasing residential housing stock in the area. The task force wrote a letter to BC in 2004 asking the university to stop:
Given the continuing housing crisis influencing the community, the Task Force is opposed to expansion that would result in losing residential housing stock. For example, we do not want a repetition of College Road and Hammond Street in Newton (where the college has purchased many homes) to occur on Lake Street and Foster Street in Brighton.
The house at 26 Lane Park is the only one on the long, looped street that is absentee landlord and fully occupied by only students. While a number of other houses along the street house students, they are owner-occupied -- whose owners choose their tenants carefully, maintain order, and therefore don't cause problems with the other neighbors. Number 26 stuck out on a relatively quiet street. (Two houses at the intersection with Foster Street, having Foster Street addresses 249 and 251, are also among the list of 39 "problem houses" whose tenants' behavior has been extensively tracked by the Radnor Neighborhood Association.)

BC's new house on Lane Park has apparently been well-maintained by the owner prior to Craig Lebowitz, and the few years of student rentals appear not to have damaged the house substantially. The neighbors do not appear to have a firm commitment from the university to who will reside at the house, but they say they have been told that junior faculty or visiting faculty are likely, while graduate students are also possible.

The unfortunate outcome of BC's recent house purchase, however, is that this fall those 10-12 off-campus students will have to live somewhere else -- presumably along the street of some different Brighton residents.

Is BC's Pattern of House Buying Continuing Into Brighton?

BC has been steadily acquiring residential housing stock in Newton, particularly on College Road, Hammond Street, Old Mayflower Road, and Mayflower Road. The College Road properties are slated for demolition and re-development in the university's long-range plan of 2006-7.

Is this practice of buying residential housing stock now being replicated in Brighton?

In the last several years BC has purchased three houses at 18-24-30 Wade Street [30 at right] and conducted extensive renovations last summer in order to use the properties for faculty housing. The manager of 26 Lane Park also owns at least one house on Wade Street, which is listed as owner-occupied.

In 2004-6 they also acquired three 19th-century houses at 188-192-196 Foster Street -- all listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- which the university proposes to demolish (rather than preserve) to make way for Jesuit seminarian and theological graduate student housing. Lane Park is a side street off of Foster Street to the south of these properties.

More recently, BC appears to have won the bidding at around $68 million for the 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue, which contains approximately 190 apartment units.

With BC's most recent purchase on Lane Park, there appears to be no end in sight for their buying spree.

All of these purchases are remarkable in that, with the exception of two of the Foster Street houses, they are in addition to the $173.400001 million that BC spent in 2004-7 to purchase 65 acres (and many buildings on them) of the St. John's Seminary land from the Archdiocese of Boston. Last year BC took out a $177 million tax-exempt bond to fund part of the land purchase and the construction of academic buildings on the main campus. But BC also has to figure out a way to pay for all the new buildings and athletics facilities they want to build on the new land, which they estimate at $800 million in construction costs over the next 10 years.

These expenditures constitute a large fraction of their $1.75 billion endowment. BC looks to be maxing out their credit cards. A good question for the banking industry is whether or not all this spending might impact their bond rating thereby making their borrowing more expensive.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Boston Magazine Sees Dead Bodies in the Seminary

The latest issue of Boston Magazine carries a story ("Over His Dead Body") about Boston College's recent institutional expansion -- and the bodies that might be buried underneath. Reading the story is worth it just for the amusing artwork showing a cutaway of William Cardinal O'Connell's grave with his skeletal hand reaching up out of the ground. Melrose Place, anyone?

The hook for the story is the supposed problems that BC might have with Cardinal O'Connell's buried remains in their massive expansion plan into 65 acres of former St. John's Seminary land that they purchased in 2004-7, which was previously reported in the Boston Globe.

Yet in neither BC's 10-year proposed institutional master plan nor their 20-50 year long-range plan do they show any plans for construction at the site of Cardinal O'Connell's mausoleum; moving his remains is not really necessary for the other plans to go forward. Why BC officials insist on moving the remains is another issue, and is bound to stir up animosity from its Catholic constituency who look fondly upon the Cardinal.

Other graves on the site, however, may pose a more immediate problem, as was first reported here at Brighton Centered based on a letter written by the Massachusetts Historical Commission to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. A number of Sulpician priests were buried on the site and subsequently disinterred for reburial in Maryland, but the records of the disinterment are apparently either too vague or missing altogether.

Result: there might be unmarked graves somewhere on the site, but you don't know exactly where, so the Massachusetts Unmarked Burial Law may apply and therefore require an intensive search for the remains. That's a far worse problem than the remains of Cardinal O'Connell's at a location not currently slated for development.

Writer Paul McMorrow spells out the steps from graveyard to courthouse:
The college will likely try to tap some form of public funds in its quest to build out the chancery grounds, and if it does, that will give the historical commission a) statutory oversight, and b) standing in court. This means [Secretary of the Commonwealth William] Galvin can reserve the right to sue BC.
I'm not sure if there is a legal distinction between using public funds for purchasing the property and developing it, but BC has already tapped state support in the form of tax-exempt bonds issued last year by MassDevelopment, the state's finance and development authority, to the tune of $177 million for the express purpose of purchasing 18 acres of the former St. John's Seminary land. And I would also be surprised if there would be any problem getting standing when the Massachusetts Unmarked Burial Law applies to possible graves of the Sulpician priests. But those are questions for the lawyers and the courts, which just supports McMorrow's thesis that the graves constitute one way that opponents of BC's expansion could tie up their plans in court for quite some time.

The Boston Magazine story spins a good yarn, although the references to graves, and most of the other content, is not new. BC officials wouldn't speak to McMorrow on the record, and "one prominent alum" would only talk anonymously and on the condition that he be considered not to speak on behalf of the university. (I'd place a bet at Deval Patrick's Suffolk Downs Casino that he's talking about a well-to-do member of BC's Board of Trustees, but I could be wrong.)

Trying to Convert Beer Can Hill Into BC Flatland

There is some new content, however, in the continuation of the story about BC's longstanding attempts to purchase "Beer Can Hill," a four acre plot of state-owned land adjacent to Edmonds Hall:
According to a source close to the talks between Boston College and the MWRA, the school has said it wants to level the hill and use it for nothing more than soccer fields. A bit cavalier, considering that if Beer Can Hill collapsed, some 2 million people would lose water for days, if not weeks, says one MWRA [Massachusetts Water Resources Authority] source.
I would be surprised if anyone in the neighborhood believes that BC only wants to build soccer fields there; one BC student even reported after a 2006 planning session with Sasaki that BC wanted to build dorms on the site. In 2005 BC was unsuccessful in their attempts to gain ownership of the parcel in exchange for a promise to maintain the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. McMorrow continues:

BC knew that it would face opposition to its plans, so it hired an engineering team that told the MWRA's engineers, "We could do it safely." When the agency's board disagreed, the college brought in some political muscle: Jack Brennan, a lobbyist, former state senator, and close ally of ex–Senate President (and BC alum) William Bulger. Brennan's 2007 filings with the state show him performing work on BC's master plan and other unspecified "property issues."

McMorrow seems to have missed the point about why Brennan filled out paperwork registering as a lobbyist for BC. The answer would've helped tie together his story... but, alas, that tale is best left for another day. McMorrow continues:
But those efforts notwithstanding, his firm's lobbying of the MWRA board on BC's behalf—"It was some heavy stuff," the MWRA source says—didn't work. Last November, the board passed a resolution condemning the proposed plans, citing the potentially dire consequences of any damage to the water lines.

Still, no one thinks that setback will really stop BC. Asked whether the college is still interested in buying Beer Can Hill, Moran replies, "I haven't asked, but I don't have to ask that question to get an answer. They were interested in it 30 years ago, and they'll still want it 30 years in the future."

The MWRA's Advisory Board's minutes for the November 2007 meeting spell out concerns not narrowly concerned with Beer Can Hill, but with their general development plans in and around "Shaft 7", which supplies 2/3 of the drinking water for 2.1 million people in the Boston area:
Whereas, there is currently inadequate redundancy for Shaft 7; and

Whereas, any failure of Shaft 7 would have catastrophic consequences;

Therefore, be it resolved that on this 14th day of November, 2007, the MWRA Board of Directors, reaffirms its prior opposition to proposals by Boston College to develop a portion of MWRA-controlled property in and around the vicinity of Shaft 7 at Chestnut Hill unless and until redundancy is first constructed and fully operable...

Chairman [Ian] Bowles stated that he visited the site of Shaft 7. He noted that he felt less comfortable with Boston College’s proposal after the visit.
Bowles is not just the chairman of the MWRA's Advisory Board; he's also Governor Deval Patrick's Secretary of the Executive Office Of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

That is a damning development: that the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs is increasingly concerned the more he learns about BC's development proposals near that water main.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Gatehouse Media in Financial Trouble: Is the A-B TAB At Risk?

Earlier this year the Allston-Brighton TAB had to cut its only full-time reporter position as a result of the budget woes of GateHouse Media, the parent company of the TAB and the owner of more than 100 newspapers (mostly community weeklies).

Now Dan Kennedy reports on the Media Nation blog that Gatehouse Media is descending rapidly into financial turmoil:
GateHouse Media may be in deep trouble. According to the blog, the chain — based in suburban Rochester, N.Y. — is doing so badly that you might be able to get some furniture and computers cheap in a few months. After turning itself into a publicly traded company several years ago, the stock price has tanked, falling 80 percent over the past year.

247's Douglas McIntyre writes: "Watch for GHS to be broken up before the end of the year or to enter Chapter 11." (GHS is GateHouse's symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.) Wow.

What's more, the Motley Fool recently listed GateHouse as one of "5 Deathbed Stocks." [some hyperlinks added]
Before you decide not to renew your subscription to the TAB lest the money be lost in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Kennedy thinks the community papers won't die even if the parent company goes belly-up:
GateHouse may or may not survive, but its papers should probably be all right in the long run. Community newspapers are in a better market position than major metros these days. Providers of quality local news don't face a lot of competition either from other papers or, with a few exceptions, from the Internet.
While some in the neighborhood periodically complain about poor reporting here or there in the paper, the A-B TAB fulfills a valuable role in the community by keeping the neighborhood informed of news, activities, and interesting people among us. So send in those renewal checks to try to keep the paper afloat.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Brighton Lowe's Redivivus

Last year Lowe's proposed a 200,000 square foot box store for Brighton Landing -- a location next to the Massachusetts Turnpike, yet about as far from a turnpike exit as it could possibly be.

The traffic study they conducted as part of the Boston Redevelopment Authority's review of their proposal showed so much added traffic on nearby streets that Mayor Thomas Menino opposed their proposal. Brighton Landing neighbors like New Balance opposed the proposal, too, based on the excessive traffic it would generate on shared Guest Street.

Now Lowe's is back with a proposal that looks very similar to the previous one: same location (albeit with 1.1 extra acres from a newly-available adjacent lot); slightly reduced in floor space (by around 20%); and the same traffic data.

What gives?

Switching Traffic Metrics

The proponents have decided to toss out the traffic metrics in the previous study, which was an increase in traffic volume of up to 150% on nearby streets. Lowe's engineering consultants are now focusing on a new traffic metric, the reduction in the trip time along major streets in the neighborhood.

They claim that construction of their proposed, big box store will reduce average trip times along Market Street by 13-28% and along North Beacon Street by 3-11%.

Huh? If there is more traffic on nearby streets, shouldn't this mean that it would take longer to go anywhere by car?

Not if Lowe's paid $1.2 million up front, prior to any approvals for construction of the store, in order to improve traffic signals in the area by synchronizing them. Lowe's insists that they will put a condition on their construction that they must first demonstrate a reduction in trip time from the signal improvements to Market Street and North Beacon Street.

A few years ago when New Balance moved their corporate offices to Brighton Landing, attendees at Thursday night's meeting of the Brighton Allston Improvement Association recalled, they promised to improve the signals on those same two streets. But nothing happened, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority never seemed to hold them accountable.

They said that WGBH then built their new nuclear aircraft carrier building at Brighton Landing, and promised as part of the approval process to make signal improvements on the same streets. Again nothing happened, and again the BRA didn't seem to hold the developer accountable.

Against this backdrop of "fool me twice, shame on you; fool me thrice, shame on me" the BAIA attendees were mostly skeptical Thursday of Lowe's proposal and whether or not traffic improvements would ever be installed in the neighborhood. A representative of New Balance expressed negative opinions about Lowe's substantial impact on, and proposed reconfiguration of, Guest Street, which were not discussed at the meeting.

Dick Marques, President of the BAIA, got the last laugh when he asked the New Balance representative, "Wasn't New Balance one of the causes of this traffic mess?"

Few Changes Evident in New Proposal

There are some small changes in Lowe's new proposal over the previous one. The square footage for the sales floor has been reduced by nearly 20%. A 1.1 acre part of a 2.5 acre adjacent parcel, currently used by Briggs, would be used in order to move large truck unloading further off of Guest Street. The owner of the Briggs parcel has apparently expressed a willingness to talk with the city about using the 1.4 remaining acres for a possible commuter rail station -- although the audience had to instruct the Lowe's representatives that commuter rail isn't under the jurisdiction of any city agency.

The new traffic caused by the new proposal is also reduced by 25% from their previous proposal, but it was unclear how much of that reduced traffic resulted from the fortuitous relocation of Briggs from the area rather than the revised Lowe's store proposal itself. Those previous traffic numbers, by the way, had themselves been reduced by 33% during the course of the BRA review -- not by new traffic data, but by a stroke of the pen which magically declared that 50% rather than 25% of the traffic would already be driving in the area on other errands.

Lowe's has come to the community with essentially the same proposal, the same traffic data, and essentially the same traffic study -- just repackaged to make it look better.

The news is that Lowe's now plans to sell lipstick.

Want To Collect Data?

Lowe's traffic engineering consultants claim that it currently takes 14.4 minutes to travel along Market Street from Washington Street to Lincoln Street during morning rush hour, and the reverse trip during evening rush hour takes 17.6 minutes. They also claim that travel on North Beacon Street from Market Street to Union Square takes 10.2 minutes eastbound during morning rush hour or 15.0 minutes westbound during evening rush hour.

While traffic along those streets are heavy, those times sound excessive.

If you travel along those route during your morning / evening commute, consider timing your trip between those two cross streets and post it as a comment below. Please note the direction of travel (north/morning vs. south/evening for Market Street; east/morning vs. west/evening for North Beacon Street), time of day, and time elapsed.

Bicycle commuter times not allowed: bicycles can travel those route much faster than cars at that time of day while still obeying all traffic laws.

Image of pigs by abbey*christine provided through a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

BC Board of Trustees Friday to Consider Purchase of 2000 Comm Ave

At Wednesday night's meeting of the BC Task Force, Thomas Keady, Jr., Boston College's Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs, spoke about news reports over BC's desire to purchase the 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue in order to turn it into an undergraduate student dormitory.

Keady said that the BC Board of Trustees would be meeting this Friday in order to consider the purchase, and that there would be no additional comment coming from BC until after that time.

Rumors swirling around Brighton during the last two weeks all keep repeating the same story about what really is going on behind the scenes: BC's purchase of the property is a "done deal." But nobody at BC is talking on-the-record...

Mayor Names New A-B Coordinator for Office of Neighborhood Services

Mayor Thomas Menino has named Daniel Roan the new Allston-Brighton neighborhood coordinator in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services. Roan replaces Paul Holloway, who stepped down last month to take a new job in the Mayor's Office of Emergency Preparedness. Roan showed up to Wednesday night's meeting of the BC Task Force and introduced himself around.

The Allston-Brighton TAB has the Mayor's press release at the Allston-Brighton TAB website.

During the past year, after graduating from Tufts University, Roan worked for ABT Associates in Cambridge.

In Praise of the... Nixon Administration?

The Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation held its annual meeting Tuesday night featuring keynote speeches by Bill Marchione, President of the Brighton Allston Historical Society, on the historical development of the "streetcar suburb", and Fred Salvucci, formerly state Secretary of Transportation under Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, on good and bad transportation policy during the past 50 years.

After noting his long-time involvement with the Democratic Party -- and listing a series of Republican politicians for whom he never voted -- Salvucci then praised former President Richard Nixon's administration, particularly U. S. Secretary of Transportation John Volpe (who had previously been Governor of Massachusetts), for their commitment to public transportation. Salvucci said that Secretary Volpe was able to put a lot of federal money into funding public transportation.

Salvucci said that because we will have a new U. S. President in 2009 -- and a committed member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U. S. Representative Michael Capuano -- "we have the chance to go back to where we were with [the] Nixon" administration.

During the key time period of 1967-1987, Salvucci listed a series of important policies that he said accompanied economic revitalization of downtown Boston: limits on parking downtown in 1973; the first employer subsidy of public transportation passes for its employees (by the John Hancock Company); and the opening of federal funding, previously reserved only for highway construction, for public transportation expenditure.

Locally in Massachusetts, "the fall off in road maintainance occurred beginning in [Governor William] Weld's administration" with his ideas about privatization, Salvucci said; the prior two administrations, that of Republican Governor Francis Sargent and Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis (Salvucci's former boss), were committed to developing public transportation, such as commuter rail.

In response to an audience question about the slow trains on the MBTA's B Line, Salvucci said that "the T doesn't have enough funds to run [itself] properly," and Allston-Brighton is suffering as a result of it. In order to have more people use public transit, we have to provide more service -- and that means money. He called for three-car trains on the B line to expand capacity.

Turnpike, Rail Yards, and Crumbling Infrastructure in North Allston

Salvucci's speech described the details of how construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike, starting in 1956, damaged the public transportation infrastructure by limiting the adjacent railroad tracks effectively to just one track -- which has to alternate allowing outbound and inbound trains. The construction project also required taking many North Allston and North Brighton houses by eminent domain, including Salvucci's mother's house and many Lithuanian immigrant neighbors, for which they were not fairly compensated.

Salvucci noted that he has been working with Harvard University for a number of years related to reconfiguring or moving the CSX rail yard in North Allston, but said that this project provides a big opportunity for expanded transportation infrastructure in the neighborhood. The turnpike interchange at Cambridge Street is falling apart (several pieces of concrete have fallen onto the tracks below), and the nearby intersection at the Guest Quarters is among the worst in the entire state.

Reconfiguring the whole rail yard area could allow for new through streets and overpasses crossing the tracks, and improve connectivity between Allston, Harvard Square, Cambridgeport, MIT, and Kendall Square. Those connections are envisioned in the Urban Ring project that is trying to get off the ground and will be the subject of several public meetings -- including one at the Boston Arts Academy in the Fenway on Monday, June 9th at 6:30 pm.

Boston University as a Model for a Dense, Urban Campus

Salvucci offered comment -- in addition to his written public comments in February -- on Boston College's revised, proposed institutional master plan which will likely be unveiled at a meeting on Wednesday night. "When I was growing up in Brighton," he said, the neighborhood had a similar number of people, a few farms, but far fewer cars. The density of housing at that time made public transportation workable.

"I'm much more in favor of a BU-style density on BC's main campus," rather than the "sprawl" of BC's proposed expansion into the former St. John's Seminary property, he said.

Image of CSX rail lines by Night Owl City provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

BLC Report: Preservation, Not Landmark Status, For Sparhawk House

The Boston Landmarks Commission has issued a report on the future of the former Sparhawk family house located at 45 Murdock Street in Brighton which recommends that the house be preserved -- but that it not be designated a landmark under state law.

Commissioner Bill Marchione of Brighton, however, disagrees with the report's conclusion, and intends to continue to push for landmark designation when the full commission takes up the matter June 10th.

The current owner of the house, Dr. Arni Mohan of Newton, has previously filed with the city seeking a demolition permit. The BLC in January 2008 delayed demolition by 90 days due to the historic nature of the house, and extended that demolition delay another 90 days (to July 6, 2008) on an emergency basis while they researched the house and prepared a report. Everyone involved appears to concur that the house is currently in need of repair.

Sparhawk House Highlight's Early Brighton History

The house was built in 1802 and is the fourth oldest building in Allston-Brighton. It is only one of a handful of surviving Federal period farmhouses in all of Boston.

Marchione notes that this building "is the oldest surviving structure associated with a significant New England family," the Sparhawks. The family is one of the early settlers of what is now Allston-Brighton.

Nathaniel Sparhawk settled in Cambridge in 1636 -- present-day Allston-Brighton was at the time part of Cambridge called "Little Cambridge" -- constructing five houses across 1000 acres of land. His son, Nathaniel II, built his house later in the 17th century near present-day Elko Street; near that site would later be the location on which the present-day 45 Murdock Street house was constructed in 1802.

The BLC report found that building at 45 Murdock Street has been moved from its original site (at what is now the corner of Elko and Sparhawk Streets) and subsequently altered; moving the house appears to be their principal reason to recommend against landmark designation:
There is no direct association between this house and the earlier (pre-Revolutionary) regionally significant generations of the Sparhawk family. The house at 45 Murdock Street has been relocated from the site of the original Sparhawk family homestead. The layout of the house appears to be altered as the result of its relocation, and subsequent alterations to the exterior diminish the building’s architectural integrity. Therefore, the staff of the Boston Landmarks Commission recommends that the Sparhawk House not be designated a Landmark under Chapter 772 of the Acts of 1975, as amended.
Boston Landmarks Commissioner Marchione, also the President of the Brighton Allston Historical Society, did not write the report and disagrees with its main conclusion recommending against granting the house landmark status.

"I do not accept the logic that contends that the removal of a building from its original location (in this case only a couple of hundred feet from one part of the Sparhawk Estate to another) somehow robs it of its regional historical significance," wrote Marchione in an email response to a query. "This 1802 federal style building is still the oldest structure (by nearly a century) associated with a family of considerable importance, and a building that also just happens to [be] the homestead of one of Allston- Brighton's three founding families."

Marchione further noted that moving houses was a common practice in the 19th century, particularly due to the development of Boston's "streetcar suburbs." He intends to argue his case at the June 10th BLC meeting that the building should be granted landmark status.

The Allston-Brighton TAB editorialized in March 2008 that "a community like Allston-Brighton that is rapidly losing its history needs to do what it can to preserve as much of that history as it can. Or at least it needs to think long and hard before letting any of that history go."

The A-B TAB reported that the Brighton Allston Improvement Association expressed opposition in September 2007 to the demolition of the house, although Marchione noted that they did not vote specifically on a demolition delay. Dick Marques, President of the BAIA, said that after the September meeting the group needed additional information before they could vote; the group took a tour of the house shortly after the meeting.

Alternative Proposal: Renovate House and Build Elsewhere on the Property

After the property owner applied for a demolition permit the BLC consulted with the owner to draw up a plan by which the house could be renovated and an additional house built elsewhere on the property. The BLC argued that this combined project would be workable financially.

In particular, the BLC proposed renovation of the existing house into three separate units -- which could allow for state and federal tax credits due to the building's historic nature -- to which the owner could construct another three-unit building on the property in order to satisfy both the preservationists and developer. The lot is large (more than 19,000 square feet) and zoned for two families 2F-5000 (but listed as 4-6 families in the Boston assessing database); at one time earlier in the 20th century, as many as five families lived in the historic house.

The report gives no indication whether or not the owner approves of the BLC's six-unit proposal that would preserve the historic house. Marchione wrote that he thinks the BLC alternative proposal represents a reasonable compromise that would both allow development and preserve the house.