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Roxbury residents call for community benefits in Northeastern University Master Plan

Posted by Patrick Rosso  April 25, 2013 01:19 PM

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As Northeastern University develops its new 10-year Institutional Master Plan, residents of Roxbury aired their grievances with the private university Wednesday evening.

The meeting, organized by District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson, brought together residents and stakeholders to discuss their current relationship with the school and how to improve it moving forward.

“It’s important we get a neighborhood voice,” said the Roxbury councilor. “They're going to be expanding and as the money flows we want to be getting our people employment."

Officials from Northeastern were also in attendance Wednesday, to present a general overview of the school’s Institutional Master Plan. The IMP lays out the university’s development goals for the next 10 years, which include the construction of new academic buildings and possibly a building for 1,000 new dorm beds.

“It [the IMP] is a good way for us [NEU] to take stock of ourselves and take an inventory of who we are and what we can offer,” John Tobin, vice president of City and Community Affairs at Northeastern, told the crowd of 30 or so Wednesday.

The IMP, which lays out plans for close to 3-million-square-feet of development on Northeastern land in the next decade, is expected to be submitted to the Boston Redevelopment Authority for approval in June. Tobin said Northeastern is aiming for the overview process to be complete by the fall.

A number of meetings have been held in the past regarding the institutional vision, including numerous Northeastern Task Force meetings. But residents Wednesday were less concerned about square-footage and more concerned about what the school will be doing for the community.

Many, who hailed from Roxbury and Mission Hill, said the school has done little to support neighborhood’s students, local businesses, or quality of life issues they say are caused by the off-campus undergraduate population.

Tobin, during his presentation, laid out a number of “community benefits” he said the school will be perusing, including the rehabilitation of the Carter Playground, an improved Orange Line crossing, the establishment of a community information office, the creation of a permanent neighborhood/university council, and the establishment of a community loan program.

“We haven’t always been perfect, but we want to be better,” said Tobin.

Although many at Wednesday’s meeting supported the programs, most said they still had concerns.

“Overall Northeastern has not done well by minority contractors,” said David Lopes, a member of Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association’s board. “You [NEU] don’t do a good job reaching out to contractors of color. What’s your long-term plan to improve that?”

Joyce Stanley, executive director of the Dudley Square Main Street, a business development non-profit, also questioned how the community loan program and its relationship would benefit stores in Dudley Square.

“How will that be structured to help some of my businesses?" she said

Stanley added that in addition to connection local youth with the university, it should be a priority to connect Northeastern University students with the greater community.

“We have to find ways to engage the students in our neighborhoods,” said Stanley. “We need to give them opportunities to come over.”

Many though, whether supportive of the school’s development or not, said no matter what the community needs something more than a promise from the school.

“Northeastern needs to do a better job and it hasn’t done a great job,” said Darryl Settles, an area business owner. “The community has to get something in writing. I want you guys to come here, we need development in Roxbury, but we need to negotiate and make sure the neighborhood is benefiting from it.”

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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