Columbia-Savin Hill tables vote on UMass dorms

Taking a measured tone, the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association, which voted to oppose dorms at UMass-Boston over four years ago, is planning to meet with UMass officials as the university community considers reconfiguring its campus.

Members of the neighborhood association this week took a pass on taking a vote reaffirming the association's opposition to the prospect of dorms, which are included in each of the three conceptual plans

UMass has released. Instead, the association hopes to have UMass officials appear before members at its next monthly meeting to present the campus plans.

The restrained tone at Monday's meeting, attended by about two dozen people, represents a marked departure from rancorous discussions in 2002 and 2003, when UMass was making its first attempts at on-campus housing.

But resentment from that disastrous effort, led by then-Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, lingers even as local politicians, including Mayor Thomas Menino, are offering softer words.

"We don't have a good ongoing relationship with UMass," said Joe Chaisson, a longtime civic association member. "They're not meeting with the people whose toes their stepping on."

A final conceptual plan goes before the UMass Board of Trustees on Dec. 14, when trustees meet on campus. UMass officials held two lightly-attended meetings for the Dorchester community earlier last month.

"It seems like they have a lot of things before they get to dorms," said Betsy Drinan, who attended the meetings.

A number of UMass trustees, including outgoing chair Stephen Tocco and incoming chair Robert Manning, have expressed support for the conceptual plans and current Chancellor Keith Motley.

The plans include two new academic buildings and parking structures to replace the space lost when the garage, which doubles as a foundation for the school, had to be shut down last summer over safety concerns.

In a brief discussion on dorms between raffles and a Christmas social, other community members said dorms may not have the ill effect that's feared by some.

"I don't think you need to fear it as much as you might think you do," said Alicia Zipp, who has also lived in Allston, a neighborhood packed with college students. "It feels to me this whole issue is overblown," she said.

But others called for the civic association to invite its Brighton Counterpart to speak on their experience. Cathleen McDermott said the Brighton neighborhood newspaper carries news of complaints and falling property values.

Jane Birks, who lived in the Allston-Brighton area after moving from Maine and now lives in Dorchester, agreed.

"It's hell on wheels over there when kids go crazy," she said, after attending her first Columbia-Savin Hill meeting. "It's their age. But we don't need them for neighbors."

Mary Hogan brought up arguments from the last round of talks, saying that having dorms would compromise the mission of serving students who are the first of their family to go to college.

UMass officials have disputed the claim, maintaining that the campus will remain made up of mostly commuter students. Gail Hobin, UMass's vice chancellor for community relations, attended Monday's meeting.

Savin Hill resident Bill Walczak, the CEO of the Codman Square Health Center and a UMass alumnus who supports dorms, suggested resurrecting the civic group's UMass committee.

The committee has fizzled since dorms came off the table several years ago, with recent postings on the civic association's website highlighting the community meetings on the conceptual plans, paving of certain lots for temporary parking on campus, and an older celebratory note.

"Great News:" the 2003 notice reads, "It appears that UMass has dropped their plans to build dorms on their Boston Campus."