NU dorm approved by the state

December 9, 2011
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Lawsuit still pending

Northeastern University (NU) and the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) have signed an agreement that would allow the university to proceed with its months-stalled GrandMarc dorm project at the YMCA on Huntington Avenue.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs in two lawsuits that were dismissed in October have begun the appeal process in hopes of delaying or halting the project. One of those plaintiffs is a local NU professor.

“The only thing we’re waiting on now is the final determination on the two lawsuits” to begin construction, said John Tobin, NU’s vice president of city and community affairs.

“You fight and you do the best you can,” said Andre Jones, a Y member and the attorney in one of the suits. “We’ll keep working for the members. It’s a unique facility, and the members are unique.”

The GrandMarc at Northeastern project, located at 316 Huntington Ave., would allow NU to keep its promise to Mission Hill residents of 600 more on-campus beds.

Under the proposed plan, developer PPC Land Ventures, Inc. would purchase and demolish the YMCA’s gym, then build a 17-story dorm tower in its place. PPC would then lease the dorm to NU long-term.

Demolition was originally scheduled to start in June but has been held up by the MHC’s process and the lawsuits since March. The MHC had to agree that developers researched alternative sites and designs before agreeing to the project’s proposed site. MHC also required YMCA to document parts of the building’s history for a display in the new dorm’s lobby and for archiving in NU’s libraries.

The delay in the MHC process began with a June 3 letter, in which the MHC states that the developers’ submission “did not include a good faith study of alternatives” for the project. MHC and the developers have been reaching for a compromise since.

The plaintiffs claim that the development team planned to circumvent zoning restrictions by having an institutional cover for a private development. The suits were first dismissed due to lack of standing. Standing refers to the right to sue, not the merits of the arguments.

But Judge Carol Ball, who heard both suits, noted in one of the rulings that “the plaintiff raises a number of troubling questions in her opposition” about the role the City of Boston Zoning Commission may have played in the project.

Jones said the appeal process can take up to three or four months before the case is heard. He also told the Gazette he did not expect the process to be that lengthy in this case.

“The people who are [angry] about this building want Northeastern to built a dorm. They just can’t understand why NU wants to build a 198-foot tower in a 90-foot [zoning] area,” Jones said last month. “Northeastern is pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, Mission Hill versus Fenway. If they built this [dorm] in the heart of their campus, no one would care.”

“I’m concerned that this might be replicated all over the city,” he said earlier this month.

One of the plaintiffs, Oscar Brookins, is a professor of economics at NU. He told the Gazette that he sees no problem in suing his employer.

“Regardless of where I get my bread buttered, there is little else one can do. It’s not even clear that a lawsuit can succeed in this political environment,” he said. “My wife [co-plaintiff Kathryn Brookins] and I have been [politically] active for 22 years or more. It’s a continuation of a continued involvement.”

NU has stated it intends to sign a 15-year lease with PPC and plans to buy the building outright as soon as it can.

The dorm was planned to open by August 2013 to accommodate that fall’s incoming class. Starting that year, all NU freshmen and sophomores will be required to live in university housing.

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