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Allstonians call for plan from Harvard

Harvard University’s progress in attempting to rent the buildings left vacant by a decision to slow expansion is far from what Allston-Brighton residents and politicians would expect from Ivy League work, they said Wednesday night.

After Harvard President Drew Faust announced Feb. 18 that Harvard would slow development of its expansion into Allston due to the economy, residents voiced concern regarding the future of the vacant buildings owned by Harvard.’ Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter to Faust calling the vacancies a ‘blight to the neighborhood’ and demanded that Harvard officials meet with residents to justify the university’s course of action Feb. 26.

In the first community meeting since the letter, the Harvard Allston Task Force met with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Harvard officials and local residents to discuss what has been done so far. Harvard officials’ plan to find businesses to rent the vacant buildings for periods of only five to 10 years, at which time development will restart, is not feasible, many said.

‘I don’t know much about business, but who the hell would put money into something to get thrown out in 10 years?’ Allston-Brighton resident Len Kelliher said.

Residents said Harvard continues to set-up meetings and is avoiding actual timelines for construction completion last night in at the Honan-Allston Branch Library.

‘Harvard certainly knows how much is in their bank accounts,’ resident Joyce Radnor said. ‘If this is not the timeline, then give us the timeline.’

Resident and local community activist Tim McHale said Harvard bought out businesses that were important to the community and is now trying to replace them with businesses that are unimportant.

‘The Holton Street corridor and the Western Ave. corridor are key to this community’s life,’ McHale said.

Boston City Councilor Mark Ciommo (Allston-Brighton) told The Daily Free Press that Harvard has a long way to go before success.

‘Harvard has a lot of homework to do, and they need to do it,’ Ciommo said. ‘They can’t say the dog ate it.’

Harvard Chief Planner Kathy Spiegelman said Harvard continues to remain committed to programs in the Allston neighborhood such as the Education Portal, where local students can receive free tutoring through the program, and grants are given to the community even though development has slowed.

Boston Chief Planner Kairos Shen proposed that the city and Harvard discuss the community’s concerns in meetings specific to each issue in order to be effective in the future.

Harvard Allston Task Force member John Bruno said he thinks the community will eventually benefit from Harvard’s influence.

‘They’ve got a lot of money,’ Bruno said. ‘They could really do a lot of good for the community.’

City Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty told The Daily Free Press he will not believe Harvard’s impact can be beneficial ‘until we see shovels hitting the grounds. . . [and] real action.’

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