SJC To Hear “North End Ten’s” Challenge To Revitalization of Long Wharf

by Rich Vetstein on October 2, 2012

in Commercial Real Estate, Environmental Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Permitting/Zoning, Zoning

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.

This case really exemplifies why Massachusetts and the City of Boston have a bad reputation for real estate permitting. If you ever been down to this area at the tip of Long Wharf, you know it’s screaming out for better use. Right now, it’s 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 10 neighborhood activists disagree, and the travesty is that they can derail 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, 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.


Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and zoning attorney. Mr. Vetstein frequently represents Boston residents and companies in zoning matters before City of Boston zoning and licensing boards.

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