National Park Service Map Shows Long Wharf “Park”; Legal Case Remains Under SJC Review

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There are some new developments in the Long Wharf legal case as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) considers its decision over the next few months (See Case Docket). Oral arguments were heard last month in the environmental-protection and constitutional case of Sanjoy Mahajan et al. (i.e., aka “North End Ten“) vs. the Boston Redevelopment Authority and State Department of Environmental Protection.

More recently, the North End Ten have continued their research and shared another “park” classification at Long Wharf by the National Park Service. Newly retrieved documents reviewed by the NPS show the entire seaward end of Long Wharf is protected under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act. The National Park Service in Philadelphia administers the LWCF Act using boundary maps for the Boston region.

NPS 6(f) boundary map for LWCF project #25-00295 Long Wharf

The land under dispute is the BRA-owned space at the end of Long Wharf shown in the map as the dark shaded, LWCF protected area. Much of the legal case centers on whether it is “public waterfront parkland” and therefore protected by State law Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to change the use or control of public open space (including parkland). In 2007, the BRA announced a lease to “Doc’s Long Wharf,” for an enclosed 4,655 square-foot waterfront restaurant with outdoor cafe tables. The BRA was granted a license by the State’s Department of Environmental Protection under Chapter 91 laws. In response, a group of ten North End residents sought legal protection under Article 97 for the area to remain open space.

A second development also came from the LWCF project files for Long Wharf (and many other LWCF projects in Boston). In 1984, the City’s BRA and State’s DEM (legal predecessor to DCR – Dept. of Conservation and Recreation) executed a contract whereby the BRA received $9 million from the State toward the Long Wharf project and agreed to:

execute and duly record in the Suffolk Registry of Deeds an easement, on behalf of the Commonwealth, placing a restriction for public open space use on the title of the Authority to the Wharf site, as described in Exhibit A, for the duration of this agreement [99 years] … [Executed Agreement (pdf), paragraph Q at p. 11]

The North End Ten contend the BRA has violated the public open space restriction by attempting to convert it into a restaurant.

How will this new information impact the SJC case? That is not clear because the SJC has no procedure for submitting information after oral arguments. However, the BRA conceded during oral arguments that LWCF funding would create a “park” restriction that would trigger Article 97. Although this newly obtained Federal map was not presented during oral arguments, the NE10 believe their arguments on other grounds (including support from the Sierra Club and Conservation Law Foundation) will lead the SJC to rule the space is a park and thus protected under Article 97.

Watch the oral arguments at the SJC online website. The briefs filed by both sides can be found here. The North End Ten have a website at SaveLongWharf.org.You can also follow the history of the four year case through the tag, Doc’s Long Wharf.

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