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CAMBRIDGE, MA-Harvard University’s proposal to develop a pair of art museums here on Memorial Drive in the Riverside section of the neighborhood is facing intense local opposition from residents who resent increasing development by the University.

Harvard wants to develop the pair of museums on university-owned land that is currently being leased by Mahoney’s Garden Center. While the University has not yet filed plans for the project, an official with the city confirms for GlobeSt.com that the university has proposed developing the museums. But a citizen’s petition by local residents, in reaction to Harvard’s proposal, was enough to convince the city to impose an 18-month building moratorium on this area so it could have time to evaluate zoning recommendations. According to the official, the parcel is divided into two separate lots on either side of the street. One parcel is 30,805 sf while the other is 61,634 sf.

“We oppose the moratorium,” Mary Power, the university’s senior director of community relations, tells GlobeSt.com. “We cannot support the use of moratoriums to stop individual projects or as a substitute for comprehensive planning.” Harvard is participating in the study committee sponsored by the city, along with local residents and representatives from the city, which is supposed to evaluate the area. “The outcome of this zoning committee process will have bearing on the decision,” Power says, referring to the art museums. The proposed museum site is currently zoned for institutional use.

According to Power, Harvard’s proposal is coming into a “very contentious” environment. “It is standard for the university’s development interests to be opposed,” she notes. “The level of concern regarding this project is heightened by the history of the relationship between Harvard and local residents going back 30 years.”

Power points out that 30 years ago when the university developed Peabody Towers here, a 22-story building, the plan was met with intense local opposition. “Those are some of the same people now,” she says, who are opposed to the museum. “The residents recently stated that they are opposed to any museum on that site,” she adds.

The building moratorium is up this coming April and it is still unclear whether the committee will ask for an extension.

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