The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that cities that want to tear down parks to put up schools or other buildings have to first get the approval of the state legislature.
A significant piece of the ruling consists of the justices considering how the situation in Westfield - where a school was proposed to replace a playground - differed from that of Boston's Long Wharf, where the BRA/BPDA wants to convert a large open-air shelter currently open to the public into a restaurant.
The state's highest court ruled that land that was originally meant as permanent parkland was subject to a 1972 constitutional amendment on protecting open space - which states that the legislature must approve any proposal to convert parkland to another use.
Westfield had argued that the measure only applied to land taken by eminent domain - and the park in question had been acquired because the previous owner didn't pay taxes on the land, not because the city forced him to sell. The justices, however, ruled the intent of the 1972 referendum was clear: Public open space is public open space, regardless of how acquired, as long as everybody's clear the land was meant for - and used - as a park.
In their ruling, the justices said this was the key difference from its 2012 decision on Long Wharf: While the kiosk - which covers a Blue Line emergency exit - had essentially become public open space, the BRA had never said it planned to set the kiosk aside as open space forever, but was, in fact, preserving it for some possible future use related to the redevelopment of what was once a decaying wharf area along Boston Harbor.
At the time it issued a ruling, the SJC had no evidence that the BRA had actually agreed to keep the part of the wharf including the kiosk as permanent open space - because, surprise, the BRA had lost a map that outlined the kiosk as part of that area in an agreement with the federal government for a grant to help repair the wharf.
A few years later, two retired National Parks Service workers read about the issue and dug up a copy of the map. Last year, a federal appeals court ruled the kiosk could not be turned into a private restaurant based in large part on that map.