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Residents assail Boston College expansion plans

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Fed up with wild student parties, skyrocketing housing costs and the deterioration of their neighborhoods, about 150 angry residents of Allston and Brighton attended a Boston Redevelopment Authority hearing at Boston College last week to voice vehement opposition to B.C.’s five-year master plan.

At issue is the number of dormitory beds, 450, that the college plans to add over the next five years to help ease the housing crunch in the neighborhoods.

Residents and city officials, including Mayor Thomas Menino, argue that the 450 total is woefully inadequate. Currently, 2,225 undergraduate students live off-campus.

Addressing the Nov. 30 gathering, city councilor Francis "Mickey" Roache said that the working-class neighborhoods of Brighton and Allston, home to many Irish American and immigrant families, are under siege from the college.

"When I found out that some of the beautiful homes on Lake Street over here are being housed by students, I said to myself that we’re in serious trouble, "he said. "We’re close to actually losing this proud, working-class neighborhood of Allston-Brighton.

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Kevin Carragee, leader of a coalition of resident groups, said that B.C. has done virtually nothing to resolve the housing problem in the neighborhoods.

"B.C’s current failure to house its undergraduate students on campus has transformed our landscape, making many parts of Allston and Brighton little more than transient student ghettoes," he said.

Carragee and other activists spoke of students paying thousands of dollars to cram into two-family homes, and the resulting significant decline in owner-occupied homes in the area. Others complained about sleepless nights, public urination, and rowdy students wreaking havoc in the neighborhood.

Paul White, a former state senator and now B.C.’s associate vice president for Community Affairs, told the residents that the school is cognizant of the citizen complaints and wants to work in a spirit of cooperation to resolve the problems.

"Boston College very much accepts and acknowledges its responsibility to house a maximum number of students here on the campus," White said. "We want to work with you. . . . We simply ask you to give us the opportunity."

Some residents complain that the college has a history of paying little more than lip service to the housing problem while proceeding with expansion plans. Others claim that B.C., which has a huge alumni contingent in state and local government, is planning to use its political connections to even further encroach into the community.

B.C. wants to build a new administration facility and additional recreational areas on campus. Community activists insist that new dormitories should be the school’s top priority.

Theresa Hynes, a native of Galway, is head of the Brighton-Allston improvement association. She said that B.C. has ample space on which to build dormitories and recreational areas on the nearby Newton campus of B.C., less than 1.5 miles from the main campus.

"They’ve pretty much admitted that Newton gave them a hard time in the past," she said. "B.C. assumes they can get away with a lot more in our community."

Residents of Newton, an upper-middle-class community with little tolerance for institutional expansion that might negatively impact its neighborhoods, have banded together in the past in opposition to B.C. proposals.

According to Charlotte Richie, Mayor Menino’s neighborhood development spokesperson, Boston University and Harvard University have taken significant steps to house more students on campus.

"Unfortunately, B.C. hasn’t done its part," she told residents at a neighborhood meeting Thursday night. "They really need to do more to alleviate the problem in your neighborhoods."

Jerry McDermott, a lifelong resident of Brighton, told the Echo that many of his family members have moved out of the area because the students have destroyed the quality of the neighborhood.

"They should be doing their expansion on the Newton campus, where there’s plenty of space," he said.

McDermott’s wife, Aoibheann, is from Dublin. "It’s a shame that families are moving out and the community is breaking up," she said. "This is a family-oriented, working-class community that’s being destroyed."

In his address to the residents, White said that the school needs to be ‘sthetically appealing in order to be competitive. "We have a critical need to produce a balanced campus . . . we ask you to work with us."

"That’s fine to hear about what B.C.’s needs are, but what about ours," McDermott said. "It’s about time they started capping their enrollment, living within the space they have, and being a good neighbor."

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, which has received many letters from residents and public officials in opposition to B.C.’s plans, is expected to render a decision in January.

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