A territorial dispute over the development of Boston’s Long Wharf area pits city and state departments against a number of advocacy groups who claim the development of a restaurant is still subject to certain state laws.
On Nov. 5, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court will hear a case that could determine the fate of Boston’s Long Wharf Park.
Neighborhood advocates claim that Boston Redevelopment Authority has been trying to turn public space over to private developers to build a restaurant since in the area since 2006, according to savelongwharfpark.org.
North End residents filed an appeal in 2008 with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution.
The residents, led by Olin College associate professor Sanjoy Mahajan, argued that the BRA needed a two-thirds vote of the Massachusetts legislature to obtain a Chapter 91 license to turn the land over to developers, as required by the 97th Amendment of the Massachusetts State Constitution.
“Once we lost [at the OADR], we could then appeal to the Superior Court. So we did that, and we won there,” said Mahajan, the lead plaintiff of 10 North End residents known as the “ North End Ten.”
In June 2011, Superior Court judges denied the DEP’s decision to issue the BRA a Chapter 91 license on the grounds that it would violate Article 97 provisions, according to the official memorandum on the decision.
The BRA and DEP then appealed to the State Supreme court, arguing that Long Wharf was taken as a part of urban renewal purposes, which the BRA’s brief says are “not covered by Article 97.”
The North End Ten rejects this assertion.
“Our argument is, urban renewal doesn’t mean it can’t be also a park or open space,” Mahajan said.
Mahajan said the area is also a park, an open public space, so it is protected by the 97th amendment.
The DEP brief states that its Waterways program determined that the project serves “proper public purpose” for a Chapter 91 License.
Other parties have filed three amicus briefs have been filed supporting the North End Ten.
One was a joint brief, filed by the Conservative Law Foundation, Massachusetts Association of Conservative Commissions, The Trustee of Reservations and the Nature Conservancy.
The Sierra Club filed another brief.
On Oct. 19, landscape architect and co-founder of the Alliance for Boston Neighborhoods Shirley Kressel filed a brief.
Kressel said the implications of the case are much larger, as the BRA is trying to set a precedent that urban renewal lands are not subject to Article 97 review.
Kressel also said she has disagreed with the BRA’s actions before, saying the organization has a habit of abusing its power.
“They use their powers to reduce the public recourse to city building and development decisions,” Kressel said. “My problem has always been that they are using all their powers to either advance development that is against the intent of the community zoning or that provides tax breaks to developers that they don’t deserve.”
Sanjoy said the North End Community enjoys the park.
“It’s valued as the most peaceful, quiet place on the entire Boston Waterfront because there’s no cars there, there’s no commercial activity,” he said.
In the BRA’s reply brief, the group defended its prior development of the Long Wharf.
“The BRA’s urban renewal efforts, detailed in its principal brief at pp.13-16, transformed long wharf over the past four decades from a dilapidated pier to a vibrant marina and pedestrian destination on Boston’s waterfront,” the brief stated.
The BRA also argued that continued development of the Long Wharf is required to ensure its continued vibrancy.
“The use of the long wharf pavilion may be modified depending on what is needed to eliminate blight and prevent its recurrence,” the brief stated.
Doc’s, the restaurant planned to open on the Long Wharf in 2008, was planned to “greatly enhance the current open space with a casual dining option for residents and tourists alike,” according to a 2007 BRA press release.
The restaurant would have had an architectural design fitting for Boston’s historical waterfront setting, and garnered support from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
“Soon, this restaurant will enliven Long Wharf with increased daytime activity and nighttime entertainment — and provide another way in which residents and visitors can enjoy Boston’s harbor,” Menino said in the press release.
The State Supreme Judicial Court hearing will take place on Nov. 5 at the John Adams Courthouse.