NU Task Force members question cooperation agreement

By Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette

Northeastern University (NU) Task Force members were quick to speak out against the newly amended cooperation agreement between Northeastern University and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), saying that the agreement is too weak and does not provide enough discipline if the university fails to meet it.

The cooperation agreement outlines the commitment that Northeastern University has with the BPDA to house 600 students at the privately-owned Columbus Avenue Student Housing project that is currently under construction at 10 Burke St. It is expected to hold 207 apartment units with about 800 beds.

A cooperation agreement is a legal agreement entered into by the BPDA and a developer after the completion of the Article 80 review process. The cooperation agreement details any and all agreed upon public benefits and mitigation to be provided by the development project.

Following the construction of the dorm, the BPDA wants to make sure that Northeastern follows its commitment to house at least 600 of its students at this student housing complex that will be privately owned by American Campus Communities.

NU Task Force members learned of the amendment during a BPDA Northeastern Task Force meeting held June 12 at the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex on Columbus Avenue, where the majority of Task Force members raised concerns over the new cooperation agreement.

In the cooperation agreement, Northeastern University is required to give an annual report to the BPDA on how many students are being housed at the Columbus Avenue Student Housing complex.

If for some reason NU does not house 600 students there, it will have to meet with the BPDA to figure out a solution. This oversight continues for two years following if NU continues to fail the commitment.

If by the fourth year NU still does not meet the requirement, then the BPDA has the right to revoke the university’s privilege of being able to file for new projects.

“It’s like three strikes and you’re not out and you have a fourth chance,” said Richard Giordano, a Mission Hill resident and a Task Force member. “And there is a year between each chance. It could be four years that the university doesn’t make the 600 beds before anything happens.”

Task Force members said that there could be a lot of outside forces that could make the school not be able to reach the 600 bed goals. One reason was the cost. If students could find cheaper places to live off-campus, they will continue to use this alternative.

Another reason brought up was when students leave for internships, the remaining students would like to replace them with friends rather then being placed with someone random. To get around that problem, many students prefer to live off-campus, especially on Mission Hill.

Task Force member Patricia Flaherty asked if this would be a model going forward if another privately-owned student dorm was to come to Boston.

“This may be the first and it could serve as a model for others– maybe it needs to have more teeth as other universities go through the institutional master plan (IMP) process,” said Flaherty.

In addition, the cooperation agreement states that if the university builds 600 beds elsewhere on campus, which is a possibility because it has committed to making 1,000 beds available, the terms of this negotiation can be reconsidered.

Task Force members also shared a concern that since it is privately owned the beds could be rented out to students of other nearby schools.

“Different schools have differing cultures and schedules. I promise it will be 100 percent Northeastern students,” said Jason Wills of American Campus Communities. “I also don’t think anybody in my house will let that problem go on for four years.”

Gerald Autler from the BPDA reminded the audience that this agreement is not something that Northeastern came to the BPDA to ask for.

“Northeastern would prefer if they didn’t do it at all,” said Autler. “I hope nobody walks out thinking that this agrees to attempt to weaken the contract of enforcement with this new type of building…they met the basic obligation when they built the dorm – now how do they make sure they support this obligation?”

Giordano agreed and said that the Task Force members are definitely thinking worst case scenario here because as the saying out there goes, “If you build them, they will come.”

But Flaherty was quick to point out, “But we often have to deal with worst case scenarios.”

Autler said that he will take these comments back to the BPDA but he said, “Not all of your comments may be incorporated in the way you want it to be but we did this because we want to be transparent.”

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