Earlier this month, Massachusetts State Representative Michael J. Moran and University Executive Vice President Katherine N. “Katie” Lapp exchanged a pair of letters discussing Harvard’s communication with Allston residents about its plans for the Department of Transportation’s I-90/Allston Multimodal project.
The project, which would replace the Allston Interchange, aims to improve accessibility to public transportation, including the Commuter Rail and West Station. In her May 11 letter, Lapp describes Harvard’s desire to “create connectivity across historically separated north and south Allston neighborhoods” by installing decking over the highway and rail yard.
The project is still in the process of securing a federal environmental permit, though the city anticipates that work will begin in the fall. Moran’s letter, sent May 9, raises concerns about the University’s level of communication with residents regarding its plans for the decking development.
“As an environmental justice community with a vast expanse of highway that separates us from our neighbors and the Charles River, we seek to improve the livability and connectivity of our neighborhood dramatically,” Moran wrote. “Allston residents have always advocated for decking over infrastructure to enhance the fabric of our neighborhood and increase access to the riverfront.”
In his letter, Moran called on Harvard to include Allston residents in the planning process and posed questions regarding the “type, size, and density” of the development — details that have yet to be shared publicly.
“We seek a comprehensive urban planning process rather than Harvard’s current piecemeal approach, which is fragmented and opaque,” he wrote.
Moran also urged Harvard to utilize the Harvard Allston Task Force, an advisory group for Harvard’s developments that includes residents and University representatives.
In her letter, Lapp explained that Harvard does not yet have specific details about the extent of its decking plans, writing that the public planning process is a “prerequisite” to making any decisions about the matter.
Lapp concluded her letter by expressing Harvard’s willingness to meet with the Task Force.
“We are enthusiastic to participate in public meetings of the Harvard Allston Task Force, as you have requested,” she wrote.
Moran is not the only one to criticize Harvard’s transparency with Allston residents about its future developments in the neighborhood.
Earlier this spring, the Coalition for a Just Allston and Brighton — a group of Allston-Brighton residents, local organizations, and government officials, including Moran — sent a 19-page letter to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07 outlining a set of recommendations for Harvard’s development processes in Allston. The letter included a section on public outreach, which called on the University to make a larger effort to include residents in its decision-making for proposed projects.
Around the same time, Lapp also sent a letter to Wu outlining a set of commitments for the University’s communication with residents. Lapp referenced those pledges in her response to Moran’s May 9 letter, stating that Harvard has already “committed to an area-wide public planning process” in writing.
In response to Lapp’s May 11 letter, Moran said in an interview that he believes discussions about the project have already happened “behind closed doors,” despite the University’s insistence that no project will go forth without a public city planning process.
“That’s not private property. That’s state land,” Moran said.
“These discussions should be happening in the public, not between Harvard and an administration that’s on its way out the door. And that’s what I’m fearful of,” he added, referencing Lapp’s announcement that she would step down from her role this summer, which came one day after she sent her letter.
University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke declined to comment on Moran’s concerns, pointing to Lapp’s May 11 letter as a response.
Looking to the future, Moran said he believes the discussion over air rights for the Allston Multimodal project will have implications for the planning process for Harvard’s Enterprise Research Campus — a proposed 900,000 square-foot development that will include a hotel and conference center, housing units, open space, retail use, and lab space.
"Maybe it's time that we think about putting proper planning in place with our new city planner that accurately [reflects] the entire Beacon Yards project including the potential air right over West Station,” he wrote in a statement. “ERC is a much different project now given the additional acres of development from the air rights.”
—Staff writer Michal Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bymgoldstein.