Ruling Clears the Way for Middle Campus Project

Ruling Clears the Way for Middle Campus Project

Court upholds right to construct student center, academic building

By Jack Dunn
Director of Public Affairs

Boston College may now proceed with plans to construct a new student center and academic building, as a result of the Massachusetts Land Court decision last week in favor of the University's Middle Campus Project.

A sketch of the proposed academic building, to be named for University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, that would be part of the Middle Campus Project.
The ruling, issued Jan. 22 by Land Court Justice Karyn F. Scheier, states that the municipal zoning restrictions enforced by the City of Newton against Boston College as applied to the Middle Campus Project are unreasonable, and thus invalid under the state's Dover Amendment.

The Middle Campus Project calls for the construction of three interconnected buildings, adjacent to College Road, that are needed to replace an outdated student center and provide space for classrooms and faculty offices.

Judge Scheier's decision came after 22 months of consideration by the Massachusetts Land Court, following 24 days of trial conducted over several months in 1998. The opinion is considered an important ruling on behalf of Boston College's right to build on its own campus, and may also have significance to other Dover-protected religious and non-profit educational institutions in Newton and throughout the state.

In her decision, Judge Scheier concluded that the City of Newton'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."

Specifically, the judge ruled that the City of Newton's zoning requirements regulating height, setbacks, floor-area ratio, buffer zones and parking are too restrictive and therefore unenforceable as to the Middle Campus Project. In addition, the court ruled that the floor-area ratio, parking and buffer zone requirements of the city's ordinance are invalid as applied to the Middle Campus in general.

The centerpiece of the project is the new student center to be constructed on the site of the current McElroy Commons. Designed in the English Collegiate Gothic architectural style of Gasson and Bapst halls, the new facility will feature an expanded bookstore, dining facilities, offices for student groups, practice rooms for performing arts and an underground parking garage.
The academic center, to be named the Monan Humanities Center in honor of former University President and current Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, will provide 223 offices for faculty and staff in the humanities departments, as well as lecture and seminar rooms and an auditorium.

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, welcomed the ruling that will enable Boston College to begin construction of the project. "We are delighted by the judge's ruling," said Fr. Leahy. "I hope that this decision brings an end to a long and costly process. Boston College looks forward to constructing much-needed facilities on its land that are appropriate for the campus and the neighborhood."

The origins of the case date to April 1995, when Boston College proposed a new academic building and student center to replace McElroy Commons. In February 1996, the University formally applied to the Newton Board of Aldermen for a special permit to construct the three buildings.

During the months following the announcement of the project, BC administrators met frequently with state and local officials, and neighborhood representatives. Some facets of the project were changed: Traffic patterns and delivery areas were redesigned, for example, and the University made assurances that no events would be held at the new facility for which tickets would be sold to the general public.

The project won approval from the Newton Department of Planning and Development and the aldermen's Land Use Committee. Thirteen of 24 aldermen supported the proposal when the full board voted in October 1996, but the project did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority required for the permit.

The board's actions prompted Boston College to appeal the decision to the Massachusetts Land Court on the grounds that the decision was unreasonable and that the underlying restrictions violated the Dover Amendment.

Boston College administrators will now review plans for the project, originally estimated at $90 million, which will enable the University to bring its student activities and services to a central location on campus. One third of each building will be submerged below street level to lessen the height, and all three will reflect the famed architectural style of the University's original buildings.

In accordance with the court ruling, Boston College will work with the Newton Board of Aldermen to determine the number of parking spaces that may be needed to accommodate the Middle Campus Project.  

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