Residents decry Suffolk Beacon Hill dorm plan

by Beacon Staff • November 29, 2006

The Beacon Hill Civic Assocation (BHCA) has loudly expressed its opposition to a proposed 22-story Suffolk University dormitory to be erected on Somerset Street.,As Emerson begins further expanding its resident halls with projects at the Colonial and Paramount buildings, a collegiate neighbor is facing opposition to a proposed building that would significantly expand its on-campus population.

The Beacon Hill Civic Assocation (BHCA) has loudly expressed its opposition to a proposed 22-story Suffolk University dormitory to be erected on Somerset Street. The group is protesting the dorm's height and proposed 550-student capacity, fearing that the influx of students may disrupt the historically peaceful neighborhood.

Ania Camargo, a resident and member of both the BHCA and the Mayor's Task Force appointed to review the proposal, said shenever had a problem with Suffolk until it opened a 350-student dorm at 10 Somerset St. in 2003.

In recent years, Suffolk's location has led to a growing off-campus student population within the residential community, causing a steady rise in student-related incident reports. The BHCA contends that the dorm would reinforce an already rowdy student population.

"When does this beautiful, historic neighborhood that is so balanced, tip to becoming a party campus?" Camargo said. "Currently 12 percent of our population is undergrads. So we're already at the tipping point. And it explains why the people on my street are starting to move out and sell their homes."

Since 2003, Suffolk has worked with the group to address grievances, but residents found the university reluctant to open dialogue. The university released a 413-page document itemizing complaints and offering a brief response.

Despite requests, Suffolk University declined to comment on the issue, citing ongoing talks with the Boston Redevelopment Authority about the Metropolitan District Commission building which currently stands vacant at the proposed building site.

Meanwhile, residents said they are left to call police to quiet unruly students that they feel have invaded their community.

Suffolk paid to hire two new Boston Police officers since the opening of the first dorm on Somerset Street, but residents still claim a slim police presence on the Hill.

The Boston Police Department (BPD) would not release the number of officers on duty in the district, but according to a Suffolk press release, conflicts between students and residents have dropped.

"The Boston Police Department reported a 50 percent reduction in the number of service calls this year compared to last year's move-in weekend," the release said.

Captain Bernard O'Rourke, BPD commander for the district, wrote in a May letter to the University that his officers responded to approximately 82 noise complaints during the previous year.

"The vast majority of these calls are on Beacon Hill and the North End," O'Rourke said. "District A-1 has been forced to hire overtime to address this quality of life issue using funds that could have been targeted to reducing Part I Crime on the District."

Nineteen of the loud party addresses logged were on Beacon Hill, while 63 were reported on the North End. Known for years almost exclusively as a commuter school, Suffolk's plan to house more students is part of an effort to attract a diverse student body, according to its Institutional Master Plan, last amended on November 1, 2006.

Suffolk is not alone in its quest to expand student housing. Emerson seeks to house 70 percent of undergraduates by 2010, said David Rosen, vice president of public affairs.

"Suffolk's got a dilemma," Rosen said. "The city for years has put pressure on all the colleges to try to house the most students possible on campus."

Since being declared a historic neighborhood in the 1960s, Beacon Hill has struggled against Suffolk, said Robert Allison, a professor of history at the university and a city historian.

"We have a university here that happens to be here, because it's always been here, and wants to stay here, and is looking to expand," Allison said. "The families will either move out, in which case it will become Allston-Brighton, or they will say, 'this is our neighborhood.'"