Charlesview letter dodges problems with their proposal - BRA meeting Monday

A letter to the Editor in today's Globe signed by the Chairman of the Charlesview Board of Directors and the director of development at the Community Builders Inc takes issue with last week's story.

They start by expressing a desire to discuss the neighbors concerns and I can't help but wonder why they did so much work on their proposal before starting any kind of dialogue with the community. Excluding stakeholders is no way to get the project off to a good start. But we are where we are and several of us who have made multiple attempts to start a productive discussion look forward to having one start soon.

Nobody disputes the "severe need for affordable housing in Allston/Brighton". Boston, Massachusetts, and the United States all have a severe need for more affordable housing. That reality does nothing to prove that this is a great proposal. You could build 800 or 1000 units of affordable housing in A/B and still this severe need would continue to exist. There are also other "severe needs" in our community including more retail space, more parkland, and more family-friendly housing for median income earners. The developers of an expanded Charlesview should not unilaterally decide which of these local and regional needs they will try to meet in our neighborhood.

The authors are also right that "some density and building height" are needed. The question is where should they be located. Large 4 and 6 story buildings across the street from detached 2 and 3 story homes will stick out like a sore thumb.

The claim that "half of the site as green open space, accessible to all" may be technically true, but the reality of their design is that most of this "open space" is carved up into tiny little strips of grass that can't be used by anyone. A contributor to described the "open space" plan like this:
"No one from the side streets in the neighborhoods is going to feel welcome to
come on over, unfold the picnic blanket, strike up his radio and start throwing
a frisbee around. Open space of this sort is almost always designed to intimidate passersby and anyone suspected of not being an owner in the adjacent building."

It would be a welcome change if Charlesview could include some parkland that would be both "accessible" (a legal sounding term) and "welcoming". If the relocated and expanded Charlesview is to the "enduring symbol of Allston-Brighton's community spirit" that the authors of this letter describe, a great way to accomplish that would be to create spaces that integrate with the community instead of putting its little "tot lots" inside courtyards and surrounded by its private buildings.

Is there "limited land available in North Allston/Brighton"? Depends on what "limited" and "available" means. Harvard owns 50 acres of unencumbered land that will not be included in its 50 year master plan. There is the multi-acre Speedway/DCR property at the west end of Western Ave rotting away waiting for someone to restore and develop it. So yes, the land is not infinite and Harvard may not consider its property to be "available", but there are certainly many locations where one could easily imagine new housing being built.

It is a welcome statement that "the objective [of retail space in the proposed project] is to reinvigorate the area and provide amenity-rich services to the entire community". But the reality is that what was proposed on the ground level - a community center, convenience store, daycare, and housing - is not an "invigorating" set of uses.

This project does have a lot of potential and I continue to believe both that the current proposal does not come close to fulfilling this potential and that dramatic improvements are possible.

The BRA's first public meeting about this project is tomorrow (Monday) at 6:00 at the New Balance building, 20 Guest St. Hope to see you there.

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