Community Government Health & Environment

BRA Loses “Long War of Long Wharf”; Area to Remain Open Space, No Restaurant

Shown above is the disputed area in the “Long War of Long Wharf” including the small brick covering and the surrounding open space “park”. (Photo by Matt Conti)

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.

[button link=”” size=”medium” style=”download” color=”teal”]Read the US District Court Ruling on Long Wharf (pdf)[/button]

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.

National Park Service 6(f) boundary map for LWCF project at Long Wharf

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.

View previous coverage of the “Long War of Long Wharf”.

23 Replies to “BRA Loses “Long War of Long Wharf”; Area to Remain Open Space, No Restaurant

  1. NIMBYism at its best/worst. If you want more open space… Oh wait, you have Columbus park, HarborWalk and Greenway.

    1. You could turn that around and ask how another restaurant to add to the ninety-odd others in the area is a better use of that space….

    2. ‘Not in my backyard?’ Well, the Greenway is not on the water. Christopher C Park see’s a bit of harbor. Long Wharf leads you right to the water, where you can sit on the edge of the wall. You feel the ocean there and feel the wind….it is unique in the North End…in my backyard.

  2. So why not knock down that hideous structure and move the tunnel vents??? Right now it just acts as an unnecessary shelter and is anything but desirable “open” space.

  3. How does a city grow and thrive, add tax revenue and become cosmopolitan without fresh and new places to visit? Maybe the group who fought so hard to vanquish this opportunity can put their efforts behind a move to clean up the ugly, burned out building on Commercial Wharf, a far better use of time and more realistic results.

    1. Hmmm John G Hussey, an ugly, burned out building on Commercial Wharf. Sounds like a worthwhile project to address. Maybe you can get working on it–start with a little research, the land title… Maybe you can get some people to work with you on it.

  4. BRAVO!! Having had to pull out of being active in the neighborhood due to health issues, I’ve been actively following this issue. Let this be a lesson for #MayorMartyWalsh as far as how out of control the #BRA has become. ^oo^ suing the National Park Service? ^oo^ Seriously? Belittling a small group of dedicated citizens? Seriously?

    1. About “suing the National Park Service? Seriously?”: That was one of the most surprising parts of this 7-year saga for me. I’ve been in universities, as a student or teacher, for 25 years, and have seen grants come and go. I have seen grant agencies sue grant receipients (for example, when one professor hired his wife to redecorate his office, and paid the cost from the grant). But I had never, until this case, heard of a grant receipient that sued its grant agency.

      -Sanjoy (one of the “North End Ten”)

  5. A big THANK YOU to the North End Ten. Many people here in the City appreciate your dedication and hard work to keep this space open to the public. Again, many thanks.

  6. Congratulations! It looks like it was a long, hard fight, but you came out on top!

    There is a similar privatization fight going on in Northwestern Indiana at the Indiana Dunes State Park. It involves construction of a proposed banquet center on the beachfront – in a park that also received LWCF funding. It appeared that the state was going to do an unauthorized conversion until a complaint was submitted to the NPS. A long-term lease has already been signed, but the fight commenced immediately, once the public became aware of what was happening.

    Here’s a link to a recent AP story that was picked up by the Washington Post:

    Please visit our Facebook page at and/or our website at: for more info.

    Your amazing story has inspired us – we would love to be in touch with you for advice and moral support.

  7. Congratulations, Sanjoy!!!! and the rest of the NE10. from Dan and Tom Smith. Fighting the same situation in Westfield, MA, as you know! Article 97 and the LWCF are central issues for the improper placement of a gigantic school on a small park parcel in Westfield. See for more info. Congrats!!!!!

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