State Hearings to Begin on Long Wharf

Long Wharf "Park" is under dispute regarding its protection as public open space versus development by the BRA.

Long Wharf “Park” is under dispute regarding its protection as public open space versus development by the BRA.

When we last left the legal wrangling over the open space at the end of Long Wharf, the “North End Ten” group of residents notched a win in December 2013 when Superior Court Judge Fahey remanded the case back to the State’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). By vacating the Chapter 91 permit, this action effectively blocked the Boston Redevelopment Authority, at least temporarily, from developing the area including a once planned waterfront restaurant known as “Doc’s Long Wharf.”

The State agency is now ordered by the court to consider new evidence presented by the North End resident group in their attempt to “Save Long Wharf” by showing that it is legally protected as a public park and open space. The BRA is likely to continue making its own case toward a license that would allow for development.

Perhaps the strongest new evidence to be considered is a 1980 map and designation by the National Park Service that identifies the space as a park project funded and protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. On January 30, 2014, the NPS confirmed the map and the State’s own submittal of the Long Wharf LWCF project application. The 1980 State letter says:

“…the project has been approved by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The Downtown Waterfront Park, project #25-00160, was one of the first major public waterfront park efforts and now the Long Wharf project serves to expand the City’s efforts to create extensive harborfront public access and amenities.”

This designation is important because the LWCF Act contains strong provisions to protect public investments against conversion to something other than public outdoor recreation uses. The boundary map clearly shows the seaward end of Long Wharf part of the Section 6(f) LWCF project boundary.

In its case at the Supreme Judicial Court, the BRA argued that the space was not technically a park and therefore not protected by certain State regulations, such as Article 97 that would require legislative approval for development.

In 2008, the BRA received an initial Chapter 91 license at Long Wharf from the DEP and leased the property to Michael Conlon’s East Drink Laugh Restaurant Group for “Doc’s Long Wharf,” an enclosed 4,655 square-foot waterfront restaurant with outdoor cafe tables. Shortly thereafter, ten North End residents challenged the license to preserve what they considered to be protected open space and parkland. The case eventually made it to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that largely agreed with the BRA but sent the case back to the lower Superior Court that has now remanded it back to the State’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A pre-hearing conference at the DEP state agency was held on February 14th and the full hearing is set for March 27th.