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Judge tosses state approval of restaurant at the end of Long Wharf

NorthEndWaterfront.com reports a Suffolk Superior Court judge has overturned the state's permit for turning the shelter at the end of Long Wharf into a seafood restaurant.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which has oversight because of the location on the waterfront, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which owns the shelter, want to lease it to restaurant operator Michael Conlon. A group of ten North End residents, however, sued. The next step for DEP and the BRA would be an appeal to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Given how long appeals can take, Conlon might also have to convince the Boston Licensing Board they should continue to let him hold onto a liquor license he isn't actually using.

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both said ok, but 10 residents in a city of 500,000 said no, so it's stuck in legal limbo pending appeal, but all but canceled?

WTF?

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Anybody with more of a legalish background know exactly why? It doesn't mean only ten people are behind the suit, but they need that number to file it.

In any case, the courts aren't a popularity contest, so, yeah, if a judge agrees they're right, they win (at least until appeal).

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The ten persons requirement can be found here: http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/Part...

That section refers to Chapter 91, which is the part of our state law that mandates licensing requirements for development along any waterway or sited on land that used to be underwater. A not insignificant percentage of the Commonwealth's legal resources -- public and private -- are spent solely on administration of this chapter and its regulatory scheme. For better or worse, it's why this restaurant was/is almost certainly never happening.

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you can add me

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. . . but as far as my interest goes - I don't think the end of Long Wharf needed a restaurant.

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The judge's decision basically said not that those ten people get to determine whether or not the development happens -- but that 201 elected officials (200 state legislators plus the governor) have to make the decision to allow the development.

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It's not like 499,990 were in favor. In fact, it sounds like an inside deal. There's such a big deal made of getting public access to the harborfront, riverfronts, but here they sell away a prime access point. I'm as anti-NIMBY as they get and even I see nothing wrong with shining a light on this one.

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Nimbys...

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They speak for a lot of us.

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I'm not entirely clear what the issue is. If it's valid (meaning you make the case compelling to me), then it doesn't matter whether it's 10 or 10,000. But I can't for the life of me figure out what is wrong with a private business opening on private property that doesn't block public access to the waterfront.

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First, it's not private property, it's publicly owned.

Secondly, I don't have an opinion one way or the other about the restaurant itself, but I do believe that the government failed to follow its own well-defined process, specifically that the BRA was supposed to get legislative approval before changing the use of its property.

In other words, I support the 10 not because I don't think there should be a restaurant there, but because I believe the government should be held accountable to the public at all times.

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I'm not suggesting this is the case, but I'm always suspicious of this argument. Somebody who complains about process is often unhappy with the result, more so than the manner in which it was achieved. If the only complaint is process, I assume the 10 will also petition the legislature to grant a waiver?

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Similarly, one can be in favor of the strong application of the Open Meetings law without having to believe that explicit conspiracies are being hatched behind every closed door.

There is little, if any, public oversight of the BRA, and I believe that in aggregate that lack of accountability has poorly served the general population of Boston. So I'm in favor of any action that changes that.

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I go out there pretty regularly. On the one hand, it might be nice to have a restaurant out there. On the other hand, I'm generally against privatizing public space. So if all the facts were laid out, I'm not sure which way I would want my legislator to vote concerning this use of land that is in part mine. But in any case I am strongly against anything that looks like a back-room deal.

You people who are condemning the ten: Do you even know the terms of the deal? Is it fair market rent or a sweetheart deal for the restaurant? Was there an open, competitive bid process to find the best tenant? Are any of you fond of complaining about government waste in other cases?

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Just for the record, I have huge issues with the way the BRA operates, I just don't like the rigid bureaucratic type response that we often see in efforts to thwart them. I guess where I have an issue with them, it's when they make poor decisions. I don't know that the given process would yield better results any more than the typical mysterious process. So I tend to judge on the merits, and this seems like a nice proposal, that doesn't in and of itself violate the law. The BRA should definitely disclose all due diligence, have an open bidding process, etc., but too often I've seen activists use this as an excuse to hide the fact that they are bothered by parking or shadows or other issues that aren't particularly covered by the rules in force.

PS, please don't take any of this as an accusation. I recognize that people have all sorts of legitimate gripes. I just really don't like seeing development get bogged down in procedural nuisances to such extent that it ultimately doesn't happen (see Columbus Center).

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Here you go in this 2008 Globe story when all of this first started going down. Sounds like it was an open bidding process and there'll still be about 25,000 sq ft of public space on the dock with picnic tables for anyone to use.

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Given that Legal Sea Foods was among the folks competing for this spot, and it instead was awarded to a comparatively small, local operator (the folks behind West on Centre in West Roxbury and The Blarney Stone in Dorchester), I suspect that the usual Menino graft was not involved.

And while it's odious when NIMBY locals fight to change the character of neighborhoods they only recently moved to (witness the rich douches trying to pare back South Street Diner's hours, or prevent longstanding halfway houses from operating on Upton Street in the South End), I think that any process in place to get their input does need to be honored.

In short, it's very easy to be in favor of projects when you stand only to enjoy their benefits (another Waterfront restaurant to patronize) but not suffer their consequences (additional noise, traffic, parking congestion, litter, etc.)

I hope Conlon's restaurant ultimately doesn't get shot down because ten people's voices drowned out the larger interest of the community, or that dragging out the process doesn't force him to back out (financial backing often has time limits). But if some aspect of the public vetting process really was short-circuited, that needs to be corrected.

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I don't get why any of you (or the 10 busybodies) think you should have a say in whether a restaurant opens on Long Wharf or not.

Whether that restaurant opens or not isn't going to impact more than 99% of the people in this city. Those of you objecting to it in this topic, instead of just objecting, give one honest to goodness reason why its existence would impact your life at all.

Even the people who live in the areas that decide these things (like, say, the Allston Civic Association) end up making these fantastical and outrageous arguments for why a new business shouldn't be allowed to move into their neighborhood or stay open later. No evidence at hand, they get to say "no" to development and progress (then, if they're also good old MA Democrat "progressives", they go on to complain about reticent Republicans from the west and south ruining the country...).

Sorry, but life isn't like SimCity where you get to put all the commercial space on the other side of town as a buffer for the industrial space and power plant pollution and then make 20 parallel roads to get there so people don't complain about the traffic. Give one good reason why Long Wharf can't have this restaurant on it.

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Public land.

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Public process.

There are rules in place for how the BRA is allowed to use our land. The lawsuit claims that the BRA did not follow those rules.

You know, if people would actually read the material before commenting, the whole conversation would be a lot more interesting.

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Public processes happen all the time. Licensing, etc.

The BRA not following the rules for this is just like Harvard wanting a blight rejuvenation liquor license for Stone Hearth even though they were on the other side of the street from the zoning. Berkeley went out of his way to complain about the zone border and got his way just because he wanted to screw Harvard...who subsequently got a license transfer from some other area of town that's now down a license.

The NorthEnd10 don't want a restaurant on Long Wharf, so when they lost an appeal at the DEP, they went back and tried it in court under an article of the MA Constitution.

Article XCVII:

Article XCVII. Article XLIX of the Amendments to the Constitution is hereby annulled and the following is adopted in place thereof: - The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment; and the protection of the people in their right to the conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water, air and other natural resources is hereby declared to be a public purpose.
The general court shall have the power to enact legislation necessary or expedient to protect such rights.
In the furtherance of the foregoing powers, the general court shall have the power to provide for the taking, upon payment of just compensation therefor, or for the acquisition by purchase or otherwise, of lands and easements or such other interests therein as may be deemed necessary to accomplish these purposes.

I'm sorry, but Long Wharf's "environment" isn't the middle of Harvard Woods. It's in a mixed commercial area that ALREADY has a restaurant on it (Chart House) as well as a hotel! They boondoggled this judge into buying into a few specific phrases that turns Long Wharf from an area of the city capable of commercial development and into some sort of pseudo-nature reserve. It's bunk and I bet NONE of these 10 live close enough to the end of Long Wharf to be affected by noise from any restaurant that would be installed there that isn't coming from every other noise source around that area already.

It's not the the BRA didn't follow some set of rules. It's that the rules were suddenly shifted to apply to the proceedings because for some reason (NIMBY) someone got in a snit over them wanting to turn the semi-useless plaza on Long Wharf into a restaurant instead.

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This has nothing in common with the Stone Hearth / Berkeley situation. Stone Hearth in Allston was to be on private property. The Long Wharf restaurant is to lease public property to a private business.

As for the other businesses you cite, The Marriott Long Wharf sits on private property, and the Chart House sits on private property as well. The lot in question, though, is public property.

And if you go down to that "semi-useless" plaza on any warm summer day or evening, I believe that you'll find a lot of people who find it useful indeed.

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Public/private has nothing to do with the comparison being drawn between Allston and Long Wharf. It has only to do with the fact that a malcontent sought out every narrow reading of the rules in order to slow/stop commercial development in his backyard.

Read Article 97 as it's quoted above and tell me you think converting the final few dozen feet of Long Wharf into another restaurant has anything to do with the clean air/water intent of that article. It was enacted in 1972 to combat the problems in the Charles and the harbor sewage problems alongside the federal efforts to start dealing with industrial pollution across the nation. This is just a diversionary tactic because the state's environmental protection group didn't see a problem with the conversion of private leasing of public land.

Speaking of private leasing on public land, guess how the hotel and some of the other businesses got there starting around 1978...the BRA brought them in to build on what was a decrepit Long Wharf so badly in disrepair through non-use that they CLOSED IT DOWN COMPLETELY out of safety/collapse concerns! The reason that plaza even exists in its current state is the BRA spent a few million to rehab it. But this is the essential modus operandi behind most NIMBYs...act as if the way it currently is was how it always was and thus progressive improvement from the "now" is too radical and will never work. Nevermind that 40 years ago, the place was a claptrap and building a final restaurant on the end of the wharf will not change anything any more than what happened in the 70s and 80s that made it what it is today that's so sacred as to need saving by the state's version of the Clean Air/Water Act.

I've been down on that plaza in the summer and the winter. It's pretty much useless aside from its inherent view. They don't do concerts on it, there's nothing in the middle except hot tiles. It's like a park that forgot it was a park. I think the benches even face inward instead of out towards the water views if I remember from my last time down there (there might be a seat on both sides...I can't recall). Most of the tourists that end up there walk there after buying tickets from the cruise booths...then pull out their map and try to figure out why they went out there in the first place once they realize it's a dead end.

I believe if there were a restaurant on that spot, you'd find a lot MORE people would find it useful.

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OMG now I have to go trash my apartment to find the discs to re-install Sim City 4.

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I've always been a fan of SimCity2000 anyways. I never got into all of the crazier add-ons and features of the newer ones.

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The problem with the review process for ANY project, public or private, is that the burden of proof lies with the project proponent to disprove any claims, however false, misleadling, or outlandish, that the opposition may have.

The opponents to a given project or proposal are under no obligation or legal requirement whatsoever to present any evidence to support their claims. In other words, the project developer is guilty until proven innocent (imagine if our criminal justice system worked that way).

If you require those objecting to a project to prove their claims beyond a reasonable doubt, you will eliminate 99% of the NIMBY-ism while insuring that legitinmate issues are still heard and considered. And you will save a lot of time and money (especially taxpayer money) in the process.

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This is not about neighbors objecting to a business opening in their neighborhood, it's about the owners of the property (i.e. the public) telling the agency that was supposed to be managing the property on our behalf (i.e., the BRA), "hey, wait a second, we set up rules to deal with how you manage our property, and you're not following them. You work for us!"

Criminy, I sound like the Tea Party when I write "You work for us;" it doesn't feel as dirty as I expected.

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Article 97 was NOT setup to deal with how the BRA manages Long Wharf. It was setup to handle clean air and clean water before the federal regulations were fully in place to do the same thing. It has been absconded by this group's lawyer and the judge to apply to this patch of marble tile as well.

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Chris Owens is clearly familiar with Article 97 and the legal issues involved in this case. However, there is no point in trying to explain these matters to someone who believes that all problems in the world are caused by Paul Berkeley and who has the time on his hands to proselytize for his belief system. Is there life after Allston?

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