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Neighbors call for better communication as Northeastern looks to future

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  August 16, 2012 06:25 PM

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Northeastern University does not plan to expand its campus footprint into the Fenway neighborhood as it crafts its development plan for the next 10 years.

“The master plan as proposed is only looking at property currently owned by Northeastern and that property is within the campus boundaries, if you will,” Patrick Tedesco, principal at Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, the architecture firm working with Northeastern, told about 30 residents of the Fenway at a community meeting Tuesday.

The city requires all institutions to create and release an outline, known as an Institutional Master Plan, of all possible development projects the school could undertake in the next 10 years.

Tedesco said that all the developments the school is considering are on its contiguous campus between Huntington and Columbus avenues and focus on improving underdeveloped areas and making the edges of the campus more “permeable.”

“Some of that existing campus is clearly on public streets, is clearly in the neighborhood as Northeastern has grown over the years, but this is not about outward expansion,” Tedeso said. “This is inward redevelopment and densification.”

Tedesco and school officials did not unveil any specific plans for the school’s Institutional Master Plan, but residents presented numerous issues they would like the school to address and improve upon as it develops its longterm plan. 

"On the weekends there’s trash, there’s rats, there’s noise, there’s destruction of property, there's danger because there are students on the roof," Jane Hartmann, a Gainsborough Street resident, said naming a litany of problems in the area of Gainsborough Street, Hemenway Street, and Symphony Road commonly referred to as "Animal House."

Hartmann said residents have called city and school officials to report the noise, trash, and vandalism, but have seen few results.

"They're your students there. We want you to help us with this. We want some outcomes. We've done all we can do and the problem persists." said Hartmann, suggesting Northeastern work with nearby schools whose students also live in the area to address the quality of life issues.

Residents also suggested providing more opportunities for them and students to meet and talk, or offering an orientation program explaining what it is like to live in an urban neighborhood.

Calls for better communication did not stop with students. Residents called on the school to be more open and transparent with its plans especially if those plans involve purchasing housing in the neighborhood.

“When the university has a plan that will impact our community we want to know about it immediately,” said Joyce Foster, a member of the Fenway Community Development Corporation's board of directors.

The discussion of transparency recalled the school's 2007 purchase of the St. Botolph Terrace Apartments, a 52-unit affordable housing building on Massachusetts Avenue, with plans to convert the units to market-rate or another use after 2023.

The purchase was condemned by city councilors, elected officials, and residents at the time, and the school has since put the property back on the market.

"It was a mistake. We're sorry," said John Tobin, Northeastern's vice president for city and community affairs. Tobin said Northeastern will sell the property to an organization that will maintain its affordable housing.

While officials at the meeting said the school is not looking to expand outwardly, and plans for a new 17-story dorm are moving forward, residents urged the school to continue to find ways to keep students from moving off campus, and work with neighborhood organizations to ensure families can stay in the neighborhood.

"One of the reasons that students want to go to school in Boston is because it's a city," said Sarah Horsley, the Fenway CDC's civic engagement director. "So the Fenway has to remain a neighborhood and that means people from all economic and other backgrounds, that means affordable housing, that means rental housing that's not completely inaccessible to people."

School officials said they would take all the residents' suggestion into consideration and plan to host similar meetings with residents from other surrounding communities.
Twitter: @YTFenwayKenmore

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