The Future of Charlesview and the Litchfield St Neighborhood

Last night, staff from The Community Builders ran a meeting about the future of the Charlesview housing project. For brief background, Charlesview is 213 units of affordable housing on approximately 5 acres of land at the intersection of North Harvard St and Western Ave in Allston. The meeting was well attended, with more than 100 people in the audience.

Harvard University very much wants the land where Charlesview is currently located, and Harvard has offered 6.5 acres to build a new housing development in two parts - a large set of buildings where the KMart and OfficeMax used to be in the Brighton Mills shopping center and other buildings on land north of Western Ave next to the Skating Club of Boston.

The new design increases the number of housing units at Charlesview from 213 to 400. There was no information provided about how many people would occupy these new units, but it would probably be 300-500 new people living in the neighborhood. Many people at the meeting voiced concern that this many additional people would further overcrowd our already tightly-packed neighborhood. The woman from The Community Builders said that the reason for the additional units is that the neighborhood has a need for more affordable housing, but someone in the audience suggested that, because this is federally subsidized housing, there would be no preference given to Allston or Brighton residents so this benefit is not something that would be helping people currently living here.

The development would be divided between the two sites, with 284 units at the KMart site and 116 on the northern site between the Skating Club and the car wash. Doing some quick math on this northern portion of the project, 100 units of housing probably requires a 150,000 square foot building. The three building lots that Harvard would combine for this building total 31,500 square feet. This means to put 100 units on the site would require at least a 5 story building.

The architect, from CBT Architects, seemed to say several times that the below-ground garage would have one parking space per resident. After direct questioning from someone in the audience he said it would be one parking space per residence. The zoning requirements are 1.75 spaces per residence, which would mean 700 spaces for 400 units. So their current plans have them at least a couple hundred parking spaces short. I don't really understand why they would come to the community with a plan so obviously lacking in this key area.

There was a fair amount of dispute between residents of Charlesview, some who want to move and others who don't. Some say the building is sinking and falling apart and others say it is fine. A member of the audience asked if there was a publicly available structural assessment of the current building and he was told that this exists but it is not public.

Whatever happens with this project it will be a clear precedent for future construction in the neighborhood. The design for the buildings on the KMart site includes several 4 story buildings. These would be much taller and denser than the existing neighborhood. Maybe this should be the future. Maybe not. I think Tim McHale had the right idea when he said that we can do better - Charlesview can do better, the award-winning developer can do better, the famous architects can do better, and the residents of Allston and Brighton can do better.

A second meeting is being held on Thursday at 6 at St. Anthony's school.


  1. Anonymous12:22 PM

    Harvard has made public housing a secretive process, making the pathetic Charlesview management board (many of whom are new to town and unschooled in the area's history) work under a strict confidentiality agreement. The board uses that agreement to hold closed meetings, prohibit the press and prevent the tenants from getting legal representation. The tenants are also not allowed to see the engineering inspection reports that say the buildings have been poorly maintained and are now in danger.

    I attended the meeting and was impressed as always by the open and welcoming nature of the neighborhood. People were shocked, however, that Harvard intended to double the project's size and design it in violation of the building codes (like with half the parking per unit that tenants currently have).

    It also came out at the meeting that the Charlesview board was willing to do the Harvard land swap without any independent assessment of the value of the parcels. This is clearly inadequate management and oversight.

  2. Anonymous5:07 PM

    I am a neighborhood resident who attended both meetings last week. It seemed to me that all neighbors were shocked to learn that the proposal included nearly doubling the size Charlesview. (funny, the invitation letter never mentioned that)
    The neighborhood already struggles with parking issues, inadequate public transportation, and general urban blight (mostly due to Harvard's commercial property and to Charlesview). Adding a huge low-cost/affordable housing project to the Shaw's parking lot will only increase the burden to the neighborhood.
    I understand the large need for affordable housing. But does our neighborhood need to accept all of this burden? Remember, 50 afforadable units were added at 33 Everett Street (the former site of the Legal Seafoods warehouse) in September 2005 (financed in part by our property taxes - $2M from the City of Boston). This project would mean that the Everett Street corridor alone would include 450+ units of low-cost/afforable housing.
    How about adding the "new" units (those in excess of the 213 existing untis) to the Speedway site? Behind the Genzyme building? Near the Honan library?
    Also, the state police may be looking for a new site. Relocating that facility at the new Charlesview might help ease neighborhood/resident concerns...

  3. Anonymous6:31 PM

    A representative from the Charlesview board noted that the expansion has been proposed because "the need for affordable housing has grown in the past 40 years".
    But what about the neighborhood's need for public transportation, parking, green space, safe streets, and quality schools? All of these needs have grown in the pat 40 years too! (but only the expanded affordable housing seems to be addressed by this proposal).
    - Transportation = The proposed site is less accessible! The Brighton Mills site is served by 2 bus routes (70 and 86). The current site is served by 3 (70, 86, and 66).
    - Parking = The proposal includes only 1 space per residence! (even less than the 1.75 required).
    - Green Space = This will be the most densely population section of the entire neighborhood. Moreover, the greenspace included in the proposal is only accessible to the project's residents. How many neighborhood residents will stroll through Charlesview today.
    - Safe Streets / Quality Schools - Lots of new residents put additional burdens on the neighborhood. Does the proposal include more police? Grants to local schools?
    How about an endowment from Harvard so that this "new" Charlesview complex can be properly maintained?

    Proposed solutions to these problems include:
    - What about a project that is 1/3 low-cost (Charlesview), 1/3 affordable (owner-purchased), 1/3 market rate? The market rate and affordable units "owners" would have an incentive to keep the project maintained and functional.
    - What about building two campuses for the project (e.g 1 at Brighton Mills, 1 in another section of the neighborhood)? Harvard owns hundreds of acres, this project requires them to give a net 1.5 acres!
    This is a great neighborhood that deserves better. Building a strong, energetic, livable community is in everyone's interest!