Four prominent Massachusetts' environmental groups have joined the legal fight to keep the tip of Long Wharf a park by filing friend of the court briefs to the state’s highest court.
A group of residents known as the North End Ten have been fighting Boston Redevelopment Authority's six-year effort to expand and enclose an open-air pavilion the public uses at the end of Long Wharf and lease the space to a restaurant.
The residents say the agency, by law, must get approval from the state Legislature to change the use of any park. Yet the BRA says the area is private redevelopment land that can be used to further the city’s urban renewal goals without lawmakers’ approval. The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments on the case Nov. 5.
In their brief, The Conservation Law Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions and the Trustees of Reservations say the court’s decision would be precedent setting for redevelopment land and “could have profound and damaging effects on protecting open spaces and parks throughout the Commonwealth.”
The brief argues, in part, that the BRA originally intended for the perch at the end of Long Wharf to be open to the public, and cite numerous BRA documents, development material and statements to back up their case. For example, a 1980 master plan, that shows diagrams of the tip of Long Wharf as open space, says that the wharf would be developed as “simple uncluttered public open space.”
“Everyone in the Commonwealth contributed financially to the restoration of the harbor and spots like the end of Long Wharf allow people to enjoy the fruits of their investment in the harbor cleanup,’’ said Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation in an email.
“Before the City of Boston turns it over to a profit-making enterprise, there should be a full public process as guaranteed by the Massachusetts Constitution.”
The Long Wharf saga began when the BRA suggested putting a restaurant and tavern at the site around 2006. By 2007, a restaurant called Doc’s had received most necessary permits and a liquor license. A state permit to use the waterfront space came in 2008.
Yet, a Suffolk County Superior Court judge sided with residents in June 2011 and said the BRA needed a two-thirds vote. The BRA has appealed that decision directly to the SJC.
Although a bronze plaque nearby the pavilion proclaims the area at the end of the wharf “Long Wharf Park,” the BRA says the pavilion is not part of that protected area.
The constitutional amendment residents are relying on was passed in 1972 to ensure there would be a high level of discussion if park land was taken to build schools, hospitals, or private business.
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