Neighbors seek Harvard commitment for Charlesview housing plan

By Andreae Downs
Globe Correspondent / October 6, 2009

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Frustration at the number of vacant properties owned by Harvard University in Allston dominated a Boston Redevelopment Authority meeting last night on the relocation of an affordable housing development.

Although a number of people praised the reduced density of the Charlesview redevelopment plan, many others echoed a resident who said it was still “too high, too dense.’’

During the meeting at the Honan Allston Library, BRA director John Palmieri disclosed that Harvard president Drew Faust had given Mayor Thomas M. Menino a commitment to redevelop the .7-acre Brookline Machine Co. site as housing.

Harvard bought the site in January. It abuts the site designated for the relocated Charlesview Apartments, which now sit at North Harvard Street and Western Avenue and whose larger, newer home was under discussion last night.

But neighbors angrily demanded that the city secure written commitments from Harvard to develop the land according to a communitywide plan for the machine company site and others surrounding the new Charlesview. Several argued that without such documents, Harvard might keep the land in limbo for a decade or more. The community plan was formed by neighbors with the BRA and includes their vision for how the neighborhood should work.

“Every view out of my windows is of an empty building,’’ said resident David McNair. “It used to be high-output. The entire neighborhood is mothballed.’’

Palmieri promised to secure a commitment from the university, which owns 362 acres in Allston, for developing what is called the Holton Street corridor, before going ahead with the Charlesview move.

The BRA director’s promise did not sit well with tenant Raisa Shapiro, who displayed a pair of dead mice she said had come from her apartment.

She was echoed by Etta Anderson of the nonprofit Charlesview’s board.

“When is the plan going to be perfect?’’ she asked. “Meanwhile, what is going to happen to the people in Charlesview? What about their pain?’’

Harvard spokesman Kevin McCluskey did not speak at the hearing.

“We think the Brookline Machine site is a significant commitment,’’ he said in a later interview. “We are proud of the commitment we’ve made to enable Charlesview residents to move into attractive new housing.’’

The BRA is accepting public comment on the project until Oct. 13.

A public hearing will be held before the BRA board votes.

Andreae Downs can be reached at