Thursday, February 28, 2008

Beacon Hill's Latest Thoughts On Suffolk University

The Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) submitted its written concerns regarding Suffolk University's Institutional Master Plan Notification Form (IMPNF) in a letter to the BRA yesterday. Translation: The largest and primary civic organization on Beacon Hill has noted some issues it has with what Suffolk has said about expansion plans for the next 10 years.

I am sure the letter will be posted soon at the BHCA website, and as a board member to the group, I was involved to some extent in the creation of the document. Here are some interesting observations:

1) The letter notes a few areas where Suffolk didn't really follow the plans laid out in its previous Master Plan, which has expired. It notes how Suffolk grew a lot faster than it was expecting when the plan was accepted, among other things. This is important since Suffolk states in the IMPNF that it is capping enrollment for the next ten years at 5K students (well, they call them full-time-equivalent students, but let's just say it's the same). I was not on the BHCA board when the previous Master Plan went into effect, so I tend to believe Suffolk when it says it will stop at 5K students. I can see how some of my fellow board members, who have served much longer, are skeptical.

2) In general, the letter from the BHCA asks for a lot more detail. More detail about enrollment projections. More detail about the expected changes and alterations to buildings on Beacon Hill that Suffolk already owns. More detail about specific community relations programs that Suffolk is planning to mitigate the impact of students living, studying and playing on Beacon Hill.

The letter leaves a window open to Suffolk. The letter concludes: "While Suffolk has fully expressed its desire for expansion, the IMPNF is not adequate to support the proposition that its rapid growth can be accommodated in and near existing residential areas, without substantial harm to the residential communities. The additional information, disclosure and analysis that we request will assist in review of Suffolk University's proposals."

The IMPNF is "not adequate." My understanding is that the document Beacon Hill is responding to is a notification form-- not a full Master Plan. It's just the beginning. It follows that if Suffolk makes the Master Plan "adequate," the Civic Association *might* support it.

That being said, at its board meeting 10 days ago, which I attended and noted previously on this blog, the BHCA passed a policy of standing opposition. The mountain to climb for Suffolk is tall.

On the other hand, as someone who is always optimistic, it's to be noted that the BHCA submitted a separate letter to the BRA today that expressed non-opposition (which in Beacon Hill speak is not the same as support) for Suffolk's dormitory project in the Downtown Crossing area, near the Modern Theater and Suffolk's 10 West Street dorm space. This is also a residential area, by the way.

Other town-and-gown watchers in Brighton have praised what Suffolk has done in Downtown Crossing as a model for other institutions, such as Boston College, to follow. They have noted how Suffolk has paid close attention to the residents since its plans for the dorm at 20 Somerset Street were squashed amid the concerns of the Beacon Hill community and others. [The IMPNF proposes that the 20 Somerset building be used as a new location for an existing art school-- The New England School of Art and Design.]

If Suffolk were to work with the BHCA in response to the letter issued today, is there a chance the BHCA's board could ultimately support the final Master Plan? As a board member and someone who believes Suffolk has a place in my neighborhood, I say, "why not?"

NOTE: Letter excerpt taken from "Re: Suffolk University Institutional Master Plan Notification Form dated January 11, 2008," signed John Achatz, Chairman, Beacon Hill Civic Association and dated February 27, 2008.

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