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SJC to hear "North End Ten's" challenge to revitalization of Long Wharf

Posted by Rona Fischman October 17, 2012 01:52 PM

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It's about legal battles. It's about Boston. It's Attorney Richard Vetstein:

Fate of new Long Wharf waterfront restaurant at stake A neighborhood fight to preserve prime public waterfront space at the tip of Boston's Long Wharf will be heard by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in November. Ten North End neighbors termed the "North End Ten" have been battling the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for six years over the city's plan to lease the space to a restaurateur who wants to build "Doc's Long Wharf," a new pub style restaurant and bar at the scenic location. Residents argue that the state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before public open space can be converted to other uses.

The legal issues in the case are rather complicated, dealing with historic uses of Long Wharf and whether it was dedicated to public use as open space and is thus protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to effect a disposition or change in use of the land. The BRA's original proposal was for a 220-seat pub that would have replaced the pavilion located beyond the Marriott Long Wharf hotel and Chart House restaurant. BRA officials have argued that the restaurant would help activate the waterfront. Residents argued it would create more noise and disturbance in a picturesque park area.

In my humble opinion, this case epitomizes why Massachusetts and Boston have such a bad reputation for real estate permitting. This area is often inhabited by skateboarders and vagrants, annoying folks trying to soak in the beautiful views of Boston Harbor. I think that a nice restaurant with stunning harbor views and an outdoor patio area would be amazing and a great addition to the under-utilized end of that pier. Under the proposed Chapter 91 license, the proposed use would maintain public access along the wharf. It was the same situation with Rowes Wharf decades ago, and now look at that space. It is a model of waterfront mixed use development.

But these neighborhood activists disagree, and they have successfully derailed this project for years. Indeed, the lead plaintiff, Sanjoy Mahajan, lives a mile away from Long Wharf on Jackson Street. The other plaintiffs are scattered throughout North End proper, well-buffered from the proposed restaurant by the massive Marriott Long Wharf, the harbor and Christopher Columbus Park. These activists are not remotely affected by the proposed restaurant in terms of noise and the like. Notably, not one resident of Harbor Towers, the residential condominium closest to Long Wharf, have participated in this legal challenge.

I hope that even if the SJC rules that a 2/3rds legislative vote is required here, that our elected officials will not cave in to the whims of a few locals at the expense of the public at large.

What are your thoughts on this case?

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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