Newton Appeal of Middle Campus Project Is Denied

Newton Appeal of Middle Campus Project Is Denied

Litigation over, BC now plans review of project needs and goals

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced on Nov. 26 that it has denied the City of Newton's application for further appellate review regarding Boston College's proposed Middle Campus project.

The court's decision thereby upholds the ruling of the Massachusetts Land Court and the State Court of Appeals regarding Boston College's right to build on its campus.

Boston College had brought suit against the City of Newton in 1996 after its Board of Aldermen refused to grant a special permit for the Middle Campus Project. The project called for the construction of three interconnected buildings on BC's campus that would provide needed academic, administrative and student organization space. In its legal argument, the University cited the Dover Amendment, which prevents municipalities from enacting unreasonable zoning regulations to block building projects for religious and educational institutions.

"We are pleased that the litigation is over and that the decision of the Massachusetts Land Court has been upheld," said Director of Public Affairs Jack Dunn. "We will now turn our attention to reviewing our plans in light of our current needs and changes in building codes over the past seven years."

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, has announced that a committee will be established in the new year to review the plan with faculty, administrators and students.

Under the original plan, three buildings would replace the present McElroy Commons in the southwest corner of Middle Campus: a new humanities building; a new, consolidated student center; and a replacement for McElroy Commons. The neo-Gothic architecture of the buildings would be similar to Gasson Hall, Bapst Library, and the front entrance to the campus.

At the time, University administrators said the project, in addition to meeting vital academic, administrative and student needs, would greatly enhance the western gateway to Boston College as well as the overall neighborhood.

Following discussions with city and neighborhood representatives, BC made several changes to the project design to allay any potential traffic and safety concerns.

Traffic patterns and delivery areas were redesigned and a footbridge was added to the Upper Campus plans, for example, to minimize any possible congestion and enhance safety on Beacon Street, Hammond Street and College Road. The University made assurances that no events would be held at the new facility for which tickets would be sold to the general public, and that Middle Campus parking would be available for evening visitors.

Although the project won approval from state and local agencies and the Newton Board of Aldermen's Land Use Committee, it failed by three votes to receive the two-thirds majority required for the full board to issue a special permit.

Boston College then filed a lawsuit in the Massachusetts Land Court appealing the aldermen's decision, and a trial took place in 1998. In January of 2001, Land Court Justice Karyn F. Scheier ruled in favor of the University, stating that the city's "zoning regulations may not reasonably be applied to the Middle Campus Project," and that the Newton Board of Aldermen's denial of BC's petition to build the Middle Campus Project "is legally untenable under the Dover Amendment and therefore beyond the authority of the Board."

The Newton Aldermen voted to appeal the decision, which was upheld this past August by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, and in September the board opted to apply for further judicial review of the ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

-Public Affairs staff

 

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