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Allston residents wary of Harvard expansion

As Harvard University’s expansion into Allston continues in the coming months, tensions remain high between representatives of the school and local residents. The expansion — which is planned to continue through the next 10 years — has residents feeling unsure how the projects will affect their community.

Harvard started a free shuttle service between its Cambridge and Allston campuses on Sept. 1 per the demands of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, an advisory committee of longtime Allston residents.

Members of the task force said it was a small achievement in expansion negotiations that have gone in favor of the university for years.

“The shuttle service is a very minor expense [for Harvard],” said Brent Whelan, a member of the task force. “When it’s cheap and easy, they seem to be willing to offer it, but the community has asked for a more substantial investment in the community to strengthen it as this institution comes in, and Harvard has been very reluctant to do anything like that at all.”

The shuttle service is one of the first of many renovation or construction projects the university plans to take on in the Allston/Brighton area over the upcoming 10 years. The projects will encompass more than 300 acres, according to the Institutional Master Plan submitted to the Boston Redevelopment Authority in July 2013.

The purpose of the shuttle was never to provide an alternative to mass transit, said Harvard spokeswoman Lauren Marshall.

“Harvard’s intent is to benefit our neighbors in Allston who have worked closely with us in the transitions of functions to Travis Street,” she said in an email. “This is designed for Allston residents primarily … and we will be monitoring usage over time to assure the benefit is limited to those for whom it is intended.”

Harvard already has a presence in Lower Allston. Its business school and athletic complex take up a large part of the property north of Western Avenue and south of the Charles River. There are also facilities on Travis Street. Harvard is expected to start projects at 224 Western Ave., 28 Travis St. and Barry’s Corner Residential and Retail Commons in late 2013 and early 2014. They also plan to renovate the Harvard Stadium and Baker Hall, according to the master plan.

Because most of the outlined projects are not yet underway, several residents are unsure how the future developments would affect the community. Many said the shuttle service was useless because the routes were too limited to be practical for residents who are not students at Harvard.

Jason Bettencourt, 31, a resident of Allston, said further expansion worries him.

“There has always been a lot of Harvard here and they have done some good here, but it seems like they have Harvard’s interests and Harvard’s interests alone in mind with these projects,” he said. “… I’ve been thinking about moving out because they have been a part ­— not all of it — but a part of turning Allston into a community I don’t like.”

As negotiations between the task force, Harvard representatives and the Boston Redevelopment Authority continue in coming months, Whelan said the school’s development might help residents despite Harvard’s few concessions thus far.

However, despite the benefits that Harvard could have moving into the Allston area, Whelan said he does not think the two communities will be able to coexist.

“It doesn’t look like we’re going to get the real benefit we’ve been hoping for — a community and campus built and developed together so the integrated community prospers,” he said. “It feels like we’ve been left behind.”

Bettencourt said he doubts Harvard will listen to the will of the people and what they want for the area.

“I’d love to believe in the will of the people and what it can do,” he said. “I mean, just look [at] how this country started. Realistically though, I think Harvard just has too many resources. It’s just too powerful to influence, and I think it might swallow up Allston.”

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