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New undergraduate dorm to be delayed by appeal

Construction of the 350-bed undergraduate residence, originally scheduled to open in the fall of 2001, has been delayed by an appeal filed by the owner of property adjacent to the site on Vassar Street, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow announced last week.

"We are disappointed by the delay and will do everything within our power to resolve the matter as quickly as possible," Chancellor Bacow said in announcing the delay. "We have every intention of going forward with construction as soon as the appeal is resolved." Construction was slated to begin this month.

The appeal, filed in the Massachusetts Land Court's Middlesex County Division on February 15 by John J. Donovan Jr., trustee of the 219 Vassar Street Realty Trust, formally protests the granting of a planning overlay special permit for the dormitory by the city of Cambridge. Mr. Donovan also sued the members of Cambridge's Planning Board.

Due to the delay, freshmen will not be required to live on campus in the fall of 2001 as previously planned. The policy to house freshmen on campus is now tentatively scheduled to go into effect in the fall of 2002, pending completion of the new residence hall by then. Current housing policies will remain in effect until then and freshmen will be permitted to choose to live in fraternities and other independent living groups that house freshmen (sororities do not).

Interfraternity Council President Damien Brosnan, a junior in physics, welcomed the delay because it provides more time for fraternities to develop strategies to replace incoming freshmen. For instance, he said, a spring rush for upperclassmen will be tested this year.

"People in our community see it as a positive development," said Mr. Brosnan. "It gives us more time to plan for a transition." He added that the decision "reaffirms our faith in the administration. It demonstrates their commitment to making life on campus better for students."

"I think it's encouraging to see the administration taking this step," said Dormitory Council President Jennifer A. Frank, a senior in biology. "It's proof that they have the student body's interests on their minds when they make decisions. They recognized that without the new dorm, they would be doing a disservice to the current and incoming students of 2001 by crowding them extensively into the already bulging residence hall system or displacing them to a hotel, or worse yet, to the graduate students by pushing them into the Cambridge housing market, as many feared would be the case."

In a statement announcing the decision, Chancellor Bacow said, "the construction schedule has been ambitious, given the time we took to involve students and other members of the community in the programming and design of the residence, and then the need to redesign the building to meet concerns about building height. The permitting process took longer than anticipated, and involved the need for a second hearing to address the interests of the adjacent property owner. Following the second hearing, the Cambridge Planning Board issued the permit, but the property owner appealed the granting of the permit on the last day of the comment period. It is no longer possible to complete the building in time for September 2001 occupancy.

"We are going to do as much site work and early preparation as possible, in order to start construction as soon as the appeal is settled.

"The new residence on Vassar Street is essential to the implementation of the new housing policy announced in August 1998 that requires all freshmen to be housed in undergraduate campus residence halls. MIT remains committed to this goal.

"The new freshman housing policy will become effective once the new dormitory is completed. We expect that the dormitory will now be ready for the class entering in the fall of 2002. Until then, freshmen may continue to live either on campus or in fraternities and independent living groups. Above all, our goal is to improve our residential system. We will not displace other students in order to move freshmen onto campus before the new dormitory is built."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2000.

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