The Sierra Club has filed an amicus brief in support of the “North End Ten” regarding the Long Wharf legal case versus the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Department of Environmental Protection. The case revolves around efforts  by the BRA and DEP to license “Doc’s Long Wharf,” a private restaurant and bar at the end of Long Wharf and whether that land is protected under state law, Article 97. The amicus brief comes in advance of oral arguments scheduled in front of the Supreme Judicial Court later this year. The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest nonprofit, grassroots environmental organization. It was organized for the purpose of preserving the natural resources and human environment of the United States and currently has more than one million members.

Statement of Issues in the Court’s Amicus Brief Annoucement

“[W]hether certain land on the eastern end of Long Wharf in Boston dedicated to public use as open space is protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to effect a disposition or change in use of the land.”

Excerpts from the Siera Club’s amicus brief are shown below. The full amicus brief is available on the Save Long Wharf website.

… the Chapter 91 license issued by DEP to the BRA in 1983 allowed passive public uses of the seaward (eastern) end of Long Wharf. These uses include benches and tables with seats in and around an open-air shade pavilion available for the public to use and enjoy the urban environment and views of the Boston Harbor in a quiet setting, with a walkway around the pavilion connecting to the Harbor Walk from Boston’s Beacon Hill to the sea.

The proposed change of use of the open-air public shade pavilion to a private restaurant and bar that will enclose the open structure is indisputably not only a “change of use” under Chapter 91 that requires a new license, but also a change in the purpose for which the BRA acquired the land that thereby triggers a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to effectuate the change.

… the DEP brief (p. 19) makes the nonsensical contention that the proposed change is not a change in use or purpose since the public still can obtain a view of the Harbor by peeking through the windows of the new restaurant. This argument so defies common sense that it concedes the point.

A plaque at the base of the flagpole near the pavilion designates the area as “Long Wharf Park” with the year 1989 and lists its sponsors, which include, ironically, the BRA and the City of Boston.

Thus, there can be no doubt that the land in question was taken for a public purpose to be dedicated to use as public parkland. Article 97 provides no exemption from its protective provisions even as to land specifically taken for urban renewal purposes.

View more coverage on the Long Wharf case.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The above comment provides a link to a schematic rendering of an idealized commercial pavilion on Long Wharf with blue sky, see-through windows and fluttering banners. This document never surfaced in any of the thousands of pages of exhibits and pleadings submitted to the hearing officer during lengthy administrative hearings. In the presentations of BRA staff, it was acknowledged that iconic sight-lines and harbor views would still be disrupted, if not completely obscured, were translucent windows or glass bricks of some type to be installed in the walls. It was explained that the scale of the commercial operation anticipated the use of space at that site with an interior density that would have to accommodate bar equipment, kitchen furnishings, mechanicals and plumbing fixtures.

    The real issue at Long Wharf is the unilateral privatization of precious urban parkland without the constitutional protections accorded to all other similar public spaces across the Commonwealth. The annoying presence of skate boarders and vagrants would be cured by live entertainment and a liquor license attractive to late night revelers and inebriated patrons searching for another drink at the end of their booze cruises. So the thinking goes.

    If the Public garden had problems with skateboarders and vagrants, we would not willingly concede such commercial privileges to nearby Hampshire House for a late-night bar restaurant within the wrought iron perimeter of that acclaimed park. Why should the BRA be exempt from constitutional oversight? Why would we blithely entrust our emerald gems to a municipal authority without an opportunity to be heard?

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