Thursday, June 05, 2008

Suffolk and Beacon Hill: Is an Agreement Near?

Big developments this week on Beacon Hill with regard to Suffolk. The first part of this post is the facts as they currently stand. The second part is my opinion. I clearly differentiate the two sections below.

First, the facts. As noted in earlier posts, Suffolk University has filed an institutional master plan (IMP) with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), and the BRA is accepting public comments regarding that IMP. The IMP is a detailed plan regarding Suffolk's growth and potential development, and the BRA requires the insitution to file it. During this comment period, which is dictated by the BRA, Suffolk has been in near-continuous discussions with the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA). Suffolk was founded on Beacon Hill, and several of its buildings are located on Beacon Hill. Suffolk officials and Civic Association representatives are discusing an agreement between the two parties; in exchange Suffolk asks for the BHCA to support Suffolk's IMP.

As I have posted previously, the BHCA is concerned that the proposed development outlined in Suffolk's IMP (which covers ten years, by the way) will adversely impact the Beacon Hill neighborhood. The BHCA has been negotiating with Suffolk for a series of concessions from Suffolk that would mitigate the University's impact on the residential neighborhood.

Earlier this week, a negotiating team from the BHCA came to an agreement with Suffolk. However, that agreement is not technically accepted by the BHCA until the BHCA's Board of Directors votes to accept it. The next Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for this Monday. So we're currently in a limbo period, as the agreement is on the table and is waiting for final approval from the board.

A Boston Globe article this week would indicate that the agreement has been made and is behind us. In reality, the board still has to accept it, and the board meeting on Monday promises to be very contentious. Needless to say, Suffolk will be a hot topic of conversation this weekend around the neighborhood.

------- Now time for my opinion ----------

The Agreement Should Pass

Unfortunately, I will be out of town Monday night, traveling on business. As a BHCA board member, I support the current agreement on the table between the BHCA and Suffolk, and I would support it if I were able to attend Monday.

With the current agreement, Suffolk makes significant concessions to the neighborhood. Suffolk agrees not to build any building across almost the entire neighborhood, and the agreement places significant restrictions on what Suffolk can do with other buildings in the neighborhood. The agreement includes a process to ensure that Suffolk does not increase its student population beyond the figures noted in the IMP. It also includes a signficant pledge to try to house as many students as possible in dorms by the end of the IMP's 10-year coverage period.

Finally, Suffolk agrees to continue many of the programs it has instituted over the past few years to police and mitigate rowdy student behavior in the neighborhood.

On paper, Suffolk is making more concessions in the agreement than many other institutions in the city. To be fair, there is a reason for this. Suffolk does not have the best track record regarding adherance to previous planning documents. The student population at Suffolk has increased far more rapidly in the past few years than Suffolk had predicted.

Suffolk students live on Beacon Hill, and they play here. But they are also my neighbors. I have worked side-by-side with them during Beacon Hill clean up days. I have strung garland on lamp posts with them during the annual neighborhood decorating day. I recently spent time outside with them watching a total lunar eclipse. Always an optimist, I believe there's a way to harness the energy and ideas of these students to better the neighborhood. It would be a shame if they weren't here.

We cannot expect Suffolk to leave. But we certainly should expect them to take a proactive role in the neighborhood. I hope that Suffolk will continue to be active on Beacon Hill. I look forward to working with them in the many months that come.

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