NU dorm moves forward after lawsuit settlement

Northeastern University’s (NU) controversial Grandmarc dorm project will move forward after the developers settled two resident lawsuits.

“Everybody’s pretty excited. It was a long slog,” said John Tobin, NU’s vice president of city and community affairs. “We still believe it’ll be very beneficial for everybody.”

The lawsuits were settled out of court, Andre Jones, a Y member and the attorney in one of the suits, told the Gazette. The settlement may have included a payment of over $500,000.

The suits, first filed last fall, were originally dismissed due to lack of standing. Standing refers to the right to sue, not the merits of the arguments. Both suits were appealed, resulting in the recent settlement.

Plaintiffs Kathryn and Oscar Brookins, Mission Hill residents, and Richard Orareo, a Fenway resident, sued the Boston Zoning Commission and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) along with NU, without representation. Plaintiff Irene Smalls, a Fenway resident represented by Jones, sued the Zoning Commission, NU and dorm co-developer PPC Land Ventures, Inc. The plaintiffs claimed that the development team planned to circumvent zoning restrictions by having an institutional cover for a private development.

Oscar Brookins is also a professor of economics at NU.

Judge Carol Ball, who heard both suits before dismissing them last year, 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.

According to Edward Englander, a lawyer representing the BRA, another lawyer, Michael Murray, was the one responsible for the settlement.

“He was the one who worked it all out,” Englander said. “Our role was very minimal. [Our client] is happy, so we’re happy.”

Murray did not return a Gazette phone call.

“I was never contacted” by NU or PPC about a settlement offer, Jones said. But he said he heard that the initial offer to the Brookinses and Orareo was $500,000. “I assume the final settlement was a little higher,” he said.

Orareo would not comment on the outcome of the lawsuits. Kathryn Brookins declined to answer the Gazette’s question about the payout amount.

“That is something that is absolutely not to be discussed,” she said.

“It’s been a 20-year battle to halt Northeastern’s expansion into the neighborhood,” Orareo said. “They win every time. It’s unfortunate that the mayor does not listen to the people in the neighborhood and supports Northeastern.”

A Gazette call to City Hall was not returned by press time.

When asked about the two lawsuits, Tobin said that PPC was handling those negotiations and that he had no comment.

A Gazette call to John Capellano, the PPC representative working on the project, was not returned.

“Northeastern would have you believe the negotiations were between Phoenix [PPC] and the Y,” Jones said. “They’re full partners. It’s no different than Northeastern paying off these people.”

Before the gym can be demolished, the gym and the main building must be separated, “like Siamese twins,” Tobin previously told the Gazette.

“As soon as the separation work is done, we’ll be ready to begin construction,” Tobin told the Gazette last week.

Everything is contingent on the separation work, which could take as long as six months and is at the mercy of the weather, Tobin said.

“You really don’t know how long it’ll take until you get behind the walls,” he said.

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

Under the plan, developer PPC Land Ventures, Inc.—also known as Phoenix Landing and Lincoln Properties—will purchase and demolish the YMCA’s gym, then build a 17-story dorm tower in its place. PPC will then lease the dorm to NU long-term.

The dorm is expected to open for the fall 2014 semester, Tobin said.

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