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.

1 comment:

10 year said...

Thanks for posting Mike. I really got an out loud laugh (George Carlin style, bless his heart) over that last comment you included by the guy in Framingham wondering if neighborhood residents and activists were getting paid. My spouse is actually on the B.C. payroll (employee) and hesitant to speak out at all for concern over retribution (by big old B.C. of course). Furthermore, we just received a mailing from Father Leahey (just sent to those of us on B.C.'s payroll and/or local alumni) asking us to contact the BRA, Mayor, and local Reps. to support their plan. My response was - imagine that? My spouse and I volunteered to distribute a flyer to the community alerting them to B.C.'s original IMPNF and asking the community to comment. We didn't care what they commented, we just wanted them to know what was going on and to comment. Many people, as you know, did comment, in strong opposition to both the dorms proposed for Brighton Campus as well as the relocation of the baseball field from Shea Field at the Reservoir to Brighton Campus in the form of a new synthetic baseball/softball Stadium (to include 1500 seat(s). Those key issues are still in B.C.'s "revised" plan. My question to B.C. is - why didn't you send a letter to EVERYONE in the community asking them to comment on your revised plan this week? Huh? WHY NOT? I already did that for free. And I cowered in the shadow of my spouse's boss the whole time for fear that he could lose his JOB. Some process. On a closing note, I would like to publically THANK Mayor Menino. It sounds like he's doing a good job LISTENING. And not just behind closed doors to Goliath. Thanks again, for the time being, to Menino - it really does sound like you're continuing to stand first and foremost for your contituents at this time. And that's a good thing. B.C. is a WONDERFUL ASSET to our Boston community, but we all know if this expansion is not done responsibly and with great care to the unique character and long time residential quality of the surrounding community, that it could sound a death knell for local abutters. And no one, not even B.C., should want to see that happen.