Roslindale Neighbors: Arboretum plan vote delayed


LONGFELLOW AREA—A Boston Zoning Commission vote on Arnold Arboretum’s expansion plan scheduled for this week was delayed to allow for more public input—the latest hitch in approving the controversial plan.

The community still hasn’t seen a draft of a deed restriction that is a key document in the expansion plan, said resident Wayne Beitler. The basic concern, he added, is that the project “doesn’t become the Thing That Ate Roslindale.”

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which is negotiating the deed restriction with Harvard University, the arboretum’s operator, said the draft document eventually will be available for public review.

“Once we have a draft that we feel is in good order, we’ll be sure to share the draft with the community before it is signed and finalized by the [BRA] director,” said BRA spokesperson Jessica Shumaker in a written statement. “We’ll also work closely with the Mayor’s Office and [City Councilor Rob Consalvo] to make sure that the neighborhood groups are aware that we’re moving forward and that there are ways for people to view the draft document.”

Harvard did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

The arboretum plans to build its 45,000-square-foot, $38 million Research and Administration Building on its Weld Hill section on the Roslindale-Jamaica Plain border. The building is intended to assist the arboretum’s world-famous research programs.

It is the only project in an Institutional Master Plan (IMP) covering the arboretum’s development for the next decade filed with the BRA. In addition, Harvard agreed to a deed restriction that calls for no more development on the rest of Weld Hill for at least 875 years.

The BRA board controversially approved the still-unfinished deed restriction and the IMP in August, despite community pleas for a deferral to review both documents more closely. The draft deed restriction in particular was available only shortly before the vote.

In response, the BRA extended a comment period and said the documents would not become active for 30 days, despite the technical approval. In fact, the BRA still has not activated those documents, pending Zoning Commission approval.

Beitler said residents still need to see something to comment on.

“We’ve not seen the next iteration of the deed restriction,” he said.

The delay in the Zoning Commission vote this week was “to allow for additional discussion about the draft deed restriction and to allow for additional public input,” according to an e-mail from project manager Gerald Autler provided by the BRA.

Beitler said that what residents do know is that the draft they saw right before the BRA board vote had “significant flaws.”

“We had concern that some clauses were of a poison pill nature,” he said.

Specifically, one clause said the deed restriction would be dissolved if more restrictive zoning were put in place on the site. That might sound even better from the residents’ perspective. But zoning can be varied or altered, while a deed restriction cannot, or at least not with similar ease.

“More restrictive zoning could be less restrictive than the deed restriction,” he said.

Other concerns “might not be solvable,” Beitler acknowledged, such as having the earmarked land specifically designated as public-use land and making it akin to state parkland, which needs approval by the state legislature for redevelopment.

Residents would also prefer that the deed restriction be an agreement between Harvard and a conservation agency, not Harvard and the BRA, Beitler said.

Beitler said there are also remaining concerns with the IMP, though that is even less likely to be altered at this point. That includes the deed restriction not being mentioned in the IMP.

Traffic and parking issues also remaining unaddressed to neighborhood satisfaction.

Beitler noted that the IMP indicates increased use of the notoriously dangerous intersection of Walter and Centre streets, and may underestimate parking requirements for a meeting room in the new building that can hold more than 100 people.

“We understand you can’t make one institution responsible for the sins of the world,” Beitler said, adding that a “comprehensive traffic plan” is still a reasonable request.

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