Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation spoke about waterfront development and public access at the December meeting of the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA). Shelley is senior counsel of CLF and former Executive Director and President.

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After $24 billion of public monies spent on cleaning up Boston Harbor, the Big Dig / Greenway and Silver Line, the waterfront is being “walled off” by private developers, said Shelley. He reviewed the legal principles of public access and easements along Commonwealth tidelands, including Boston Harbor, that we now know as Chapter 91.

As harbor development has moved from maritime, water dependent uses to private development, builders are obligated to show predominantly public benefits. However, cities can use Municipal Harbor Plans to shift uses and heights over a wide area, rather than on an individual parcel basis. Shelley believes the MHP process is falling apart because developers are cutting deals with city officials that restrict public land and access.

CLF said the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan that is currently under State review is illegal. The downtown MHP sets the stage for the proposed Harbor Garage/Chiofaro towers and Hook Lobster site development.

Shelley took aim at the Seaport where limited public space has been preserved. A recent example is the proposed luxury condominium development at 150 Seaport Boulevard where CLF has sued the State.

Harborwalk access was challenged by CLF last summer at the Intercontinental Hotel lawns, prodding officials to take action. In the North End, CLF joined the fight against a luxury hotel at Lewis Wharf. He also warned that all parking lots are in play, such as the city-owned lot at Sargent’s Wharf.

View the full presentation and discussion in the above video.