After years of deliberation and several task force meetings, Harvard University’s expansion into Allston over the next 10 years was unanimously approved Thursday when the Boston Redevelopment Authority voted in favor of the project’s Institutional Master Plan.
Each proposed project in the plan — which encompasses 1.9 million square feet of construction and renovations in total — must still go through its own approval process including public commentary periods once more specific plans are developed.
“Together through meetings and realistic conversations, we were able to craft an Institutional Master Plan that envisions the future of Harvard’s campus and its relationship with the [Allston] neighborhood,” said Melina Schuler, spokeswoman for the BRA. “As the projects come through, there is always room for the voice of the community and the [project’s] stakeholders.”
Harvard’s Business School and athletic complex already occupy Lower Allston and its campus there spans most of the property between Western Avenue and the Charles River. The master plan would renovate and expand the athletic complex, add apartment buildings for Harvard students with retail space on its lower floors on North Harvard Street and construct a hotel for the public on Western Avenue among other changes over the next decade.
“Harvard’s Allston development represents a shared opportunity for growth that will be transformative for the University, the Allston community and the city of Boston,” said Harvard Executive Vice President Katie Lapp in a Friday statement. “As Harvard builds for the future in Allston, we will continue to enhance the local community with new, vibrant, walkable places and spaces.”
Brent Whelan, a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, said the university did make some concessions in the discussion process, but the university’s contribution to the Allston area is far from what they hoped for.
“The community’s acceptance of the plan was a kind of act of faith,” he said. “A big part for this was that it really was a statement of Harvard’s vision, which was really restrictive. Their vision for Allston is, ‘It will contain what we [Harvard] want it to contain and not much else.’ Harvard showed a near complete lack of interest in the community to make it better, and that was something we’ve been hoping for going back almost 10 years now.”
Several residents said they saw how Harvard could create problems for Allston, but the projects could potentially improve the area.
“I’m really excited about this,” said Myer Nore, 31, an employee in Harvard Business School living in Allston. “It will probably help with job creation, which can really help Allston in general, and it can really help the gentrification of the community, which is something I have been concerned about for quite some time.”
Joe Saliba, 31, resident of Allston, said he was more skeptical of Harvard’s possible intentions for the community.
“So long as they [Harvard] are developing in the right areas, it’s not a terrible thing,” he said. “If they’re only putting their own businesses there to make money for themselves, that sucks. It doesn’t help anyone else.”
Chris James, 33, resident of Allston, said the project would be beneficial for only certain residents.
“A lot of the old-timers, they’ve been here forever, so it’s understandable that they feel they’re being intruded on, like they’ll have to move out,” he said. “I’m fairly optimistic about it though. It seems like it could really fit a lot of peoples’ lifestyles.”