A federal court judge ruled late Wednesday against the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) in what she referred to as the “Long War of Long Wharf.” The BRA planned to establish an enclosed 220-seat, 4,655 square-foot restaurant/bar with outdoor tables at the end of Long Wharf, once referred to as “Doc’s Long Wharf.”
The court ruling favored the defending National Park Service (NPS) who argued the space should remain open space parkland, protected under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act. The disputed space includes an existing open brick pavilion currently used for emergency Blue Line egress and an extensive open space, waterfront area at the end of Long Wharf.
The National Park Service became involved in the case after being alerted by the “North End Ten,” a determined group of neighborhood residents that have been fighting since 2008 against privatization of the area to keep Long Wharf as open space public parkland.
Excerpts from the court ruling document:
In 2006, BRA began exploring the possibility of converting Long Wharf Pavilion into a restaurant. BRA issued a Request for Proposal to developers and obtained a construction license from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. This is when the Long War for Long Wharf began. Concerned Boston residents contacted NPS headquarters, asking about potential LWCF restrictions on the pavilion. NPS forwarded these questions to DCS, where a state employee found in its records a 1983 map of Long Wharf with “Long Wharf 6-F” in red handwriting. Based on this map, DCS e-mailed NPS in February 2009 and stated that Long Wharf Pavilion was not located in the 6(f) restricted area. An NPS employee in Philadelphia replied via e-mail that he concurred with DCS’s findings. As a result, DCS informed BRA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that it could move forward with converting Long Wharf Pavilion into a restaurant, assuming certain minor accommodations.
But that is not the end of the story. In 2012, NPS changed its position after being contacted by two retired NPS employees. The employees had read an article about citizens appealing the Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to issue BRA its construction license. They then contacted NPS, recalling that the Long Wharf Pavilion was inside the 6(f) restricted area established by the 1981 LWCF grant. In response, NPS asked DCS to send over the 1983 map from its file. NPS also dug into its own records and uncovered the 1980 map. It saw the notation on the map: “6f boundary map 3/27/80.” It also found the metes and bounds description of the project area. Based on these documents, NPS changed its mind in December 2012 and found that Long Wharf Pavilion was part of the 6(f) restricted area.
An NPS official stated: “The darken shaded area associated with the Phase I proposed development at this site is the limit of the 6(f) boundary area.” BRA met with NPS at Boston City Hall in April 2014 to convince NPS that it should rely on the 1983 map instead of the 1980 map. But BRA was unsuccessful. NPS issued its final decision in June 2014, reiterating that “the map dated March 27, 1980 is the original Section 6(f)(3) map.” BRA now challenges the decision under the LWCF Act, APA, Declaratory Judgment Act, and the judicial estoppel doctrine.
In its ruling, “the Court declines to force NPS to forfeit a significant land interest held for the public based on NPS’s negligence and a judge-made discretionary doctrine. For these reasons, the Court will also allow NPS’s motion for summary judgment and deny BRA’s motion for summary judgment.” As with any legal judgement, an appeal is possible by the BRA that would continue the near decade long fight.[highlight]In addition to a possible appeal, there could be more chapters coming regarding the fate of Long Wharf. The judge did not rule specifically on whether the 6(f) boundary goes further and protects the entire cross-hatched area on the 1980 map.[/highlight] The Long Wharf area is currently under review for “revitalization” as part of the ongoing Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan.