Harvard dropping the curtain

It should be very interesting to see what Harvard will show when they unveil significant changes to their Master Plan on Wednesday at 6:30 at the Honan Library.

Below are the comments I submitted after last week's Community Wide Planning meeting.

1. Commercial district "feel" and level of activity
2. The Harvard "bubble"
3. Smith Health Center and Mahoney's Garden Center
4. Timeframe
5. Housing
6. Magnitude of development
7. Shape of Barry's Corner

Commercial district "feel" and level of activity

An interesting way to think about our public realm planning is to imagine taking a walk through the neighborhood. This walk should be imagined at various times - during the workday, on weekends, evenings, and during the summer - and the walk should take us through the Holton St Corridor, North Harvard St from Western Ave to the river, and the entire length of Western Ave. Where will there be different types of activity and places of business? Where and when will it be quiet or more lively? This approach could also help us visualize the phasing of development. How will these walks feel in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years?

The Harvard "bubble"

Harvard already has thousands of students, faculty, and staff who work in Allston but we see none of them in Barry's Corner buying lunch or doing errands during lunch hour or after work. Instead, they stay on campus and use the post office, food court, bar/restaurant, and a Harvard Coop book store in basement of the Spangler Center. Harvard's Science Complex will be under a similar "bubble", with a private fitness center, private bar/restaurant, and other factors that will keep its workers inside instead of walking the streets of Allston and patronizing a variety of public businesses. Agreeing with Harvard to shift its new campus from its current model to a more public orientation is key to the success of the Allston economy and public realm.

Smith Health Center and Mahoney's Garden Center

The Joseph Smith Health Center and Mahoney's Gardner Center deserve specific consideration in our planning for Western Ave.
Mahoney's is a successful locally owned business with a proven commitment to our community. It is also a place of exceptional natural beauty. Our planning should help provide Mahoney's with surroundings that will help it prosper. Mahoney's would like to stay in our neighborhood and build a larger facility. Where do you think this location should be? If Mahoney's expands in its current location (200 yards west of the Holton Street Corridor's western edge), should our planning for the Holton Street Corridor extend west to include the Mahoney's and the office building next door? If not, what should occur in this gap?

The Health Center needs a larger facility to meet the needs of its current operations. Planning for its future could also consider the possibility of it becoming an outpatient medical facility for more A/B North residents. It could also be a place for Harvard's Allston community to receive health care. In any of these scenarios, the Health Center can be a valuable addition to a retail/commercial district because of its large number of patients and employees. Our planning should suggest at least one appropriate location on Western Ave for the Health Center.

Timeframe

We need to figure out how to create meaningful retail improvements in less than the 5-7 years suggested. We also need a plan for what will happen in Barry's Corner, the Holton St Corridor, and other commercial areas of our neighborhood in the next 1-5 years.

Housing

Housing is a crucial subject that unfortunately we did not have time to discuss on Wednesday, other than to hear the good news that there is sufficient market demand to justify new housing. I hope this topic will receive the time it deserves during our next meeting and will include development of specific, measurable goals in key areas like homeownership, affordability, and housing designed for families and senior citizens.

Magnitude of development

The North Allston Strategic Framework made specific recommendations for the square footage of retail proposed in Barry's Corner and the Holton St Corridor. From the CWP preliminary concepts, it is unclear how much space is proposed for various uses, building heights, etc. Please provide this information and quantify estimates of how many businesses of various types might be expected (2 restaurants, 10 restaurants?).

Shape of Barry's Corner

It was mentioned that the shape of Barry's Corner and the triangular island (home to the Exxon station) are problematic. Harvard Square overcomes similar oddities, but the reality in Allston may be that we should redesign Western Ave and North Harvard Street. This change could also have transportation benefits. The orange lines I've drawn below might be all wrong, but is there an option that you could provide for everyone's review?

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