In yet another twist of the six-year fight over the end of Long Wharf, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has filed suit against the National Park Service. In Federal Court, the BRA lawsuit objects to a NPS determination supporting the efforts of a North End citizens group (sometimes called “North End Ten”) to “Save Long Wharf.” The determination confirms a 1980 map showing the Long Wharf area protected by the Land and Water Conservation Act.
In 2008, 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 took on a multi-year legal battle to keep the area as public open space. Projects funded on land under the LWCF are limited to use for public outdoor recreation only. The map calls into question whether the State can issue a Chapter 91 license to the BRA that would allow a private restaurant.
The new BRA suit claims the NPS previously reviewed and approved the BRA’s project in 2009 only to reverse its stance in 2013 after the North End group raised the issue in Superior Court. The BRA says a different map shows the protected area as just the plaza and not the covered area that also serves as egress to the MBTA’s Blue Line. According to the BRA’s filing in Federal Court (pdf),
This action seeks to restore the LWCF 6(f)(3) boundary on Long Wharf finalized in 1986, as relied upon by the parties for twenty-seven years, and as re-affirmed in 2009 when NPS certified the location of the LWCF grant boundary to multiple state agencies.
The BRA action comes after a June 20, 2014 letter by the NPS to the State (pdf) stating that the area is protected by the LWCF because of federal payments made to reconstruct the site in the 1980’s. The letter also addresses the BRA claim regarding a 1983 map with a smaller protected area.
… we believe the map dated March 27, 1980 is the original Section 6(f)(3) map. … There is no indication that a new boundary was ever requested or agreed to by the NPS before the final payment was made … In addition, because of LWCF requirements we do not believe that a case can be made for the smaller area of protected parkland as indicated on the 1983 map … We recognize that Long Wharf is once again a focus for revitalization efforts, and as an LWCF site, the NPS is likewise committed to helping to ensure that it is a vibrant outdoor recreation resource for the public.
In December 2013, Superior Court Judge Fahey remanded the case back to the State’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and vacated the Chapter 91 permit, effectively blocking the BRA’s development plans. The Superior Court ruling negated much of the BRA win from when the higher Supreme Judicial Court ruled in March 2013 that the Long Wharf space was not subject to Article 97 that would have required a two-thirds vote by the State legislature for redevelopment.
The original liquor license was awarded in 2008 by the BRA to Michael Conlon’s “Doc’s Long Wharf” with 220 tables in and around the pavilion at the end of the wharf. Conlon is the owner of Eat Drink Laugh Restaurant Group, that also operates the 21st Amendment and Paramount in Beacon Hill among other restaurants and bars around the city. Since then, Conlon has used the license for a restaurant in South Boston so it is unclear if he would once again be designated, should the BRA ever win its case.
Notably, the latest suit against by the BRA is not joined by the State’s Department of Environmental Protection that previously supported the BRA’s position in the case that went to the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court. Further, the DEP recently took the position in March 2014 that the NPS map of the protected area included the disputed space.