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.


Adam said...

That's not such a bad deal... let BC build the master plan as it wants and freeze the undergrad size for the next 10 years. (You do realize that the Suffolk deal only is valid for the next 10 years then it resets). Everybody wins!

Michael Pahre said...


You ought to go back and read the hyperlinks as well as additional stories going back several years about the back-and-forth between the Beacon Hill neighborhood and Suffolk University.

In the newly-announced deal, Suffolk is abandoning their attempts -- not having their full IMP approved -- to build dormitory buildings on Suffolk-owned land near to the residential neighborhood. The Beacon Hill neighborhood prevailed on the issue of locating dormitories near to their houses, rather than your argument that the originally-proposed IMP was fully approved.

For example, earlier this year, Suffolk opened a dormitory well away from the neighborhood, not where they originally proposed one.

Come to think of it, you posted similar comments back in February in which you showed a misunderstanding of the Suffolk situation. You might try reading those other comments on that post by people involved in the Suffolk process which describe Suffolk and the BRA responding well to the neighbors concerns in modifying the IMP.