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Court rules end of Long Wharf not a park, which could pave way for restaurant there

It may look like a park and have people walk in it like it's a park, but the far end of Long Wharf isn't a park, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today.

The ruling is a victory for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which wants to turn an open-air kiosk-like structure there into a restaurant.

A group of ten North End residents has fought the idea for years - and won a victory in Suffolk Superior Court, when a judge ruled that end of Long Wharf was a park on which a restaurant could not be built without a two-thirds vote of the state legislature, under a section of the state constitution that pertains to the preservation of parkland and open space.

But the state's highest court ruled today that intent is everything, and that the BRA took over the wharf in 1970 under its authority to revitalize the area and promote real-estate development - as part of an urban-renewal plan dating to 1964 - rather than to put a park in. Therefore, the court concluded, the area is not subject to the constitutional restriction, known as Article 97:

Given the overarching purpose of the 1964 urban renewal plan to eliminate urban blight through the comprehensive redevelopment of the waterfront area, including its revitalization through the development of mixed uses and amenities, it cannot be said that the retention of certain open spaces, like the project site, is sufficiently indicative of an art. 97 purpose as to trigger a two-thirds vote of the Legislature should the BRA wish to slightly revise the use of certain spaces in a manner consistent with the objectives of the original urban renewal plan. [FN18] The fact that the 1964 Urban Renewal Plan (which covered a large section of downtown Boston) provided in general terms for open spaces and pedestrian access to the water's edge is itself insufficient to invoke art. 97 protections for parts of the original taking that ultimately serve those general purposes. The single, fleeting reference in the 1964 urban renewal plan to an "observation platform" on Long Wharf similarly fails to adequately invoke the specific purposes of art. 97.

The issue now goes back to Suffolk Superior Court, where a judge will hear arguments from the residents on why the project might violate a separate section of state law relating to protection of harbors and waterfronts. The state has already granted the city permission under that law; the judge in the earlier decision, however, did not rule specifically on that issue.

If the BRA does win in Superior Court, it will have to find a new restaurant operator willing to invest in turning the "pavillon" - which consists largely of a roof over an emergency exit for the Aquarium stop on the Blue Line - into a restaurant. The restaurant operator the BRA selected in 2008 finally got tired of the wait and used the liquor license it had won from the city to open a restaurant in South Boston instead.

At the time, BRA plans called for enclosing the pavilion and adding a patio area - but leaving the bulk of the open area open to the public.

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Comments

I love that pier in the summertime.

Are they going to seize the entire end of the pier or just the smaller covered area? If it's only the smaller area, this is acceptable.

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They were talking about enclosing the pavilion and adding an outside patio (in the general area of that big compass thing, I think), which I'm going to assume would be roped off or otherwise demarcated as off limits to non-diners.

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There has to be some sort of happy medium or compromise here. That's one of the nicest views of the harbor and downtown skyline that there is, so there's no way they can restrict it to pedestrians. Converting the area containing the pavilion into a restaurant seems fair, but only on certain conditions.

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They were talking about the area directly along the water as remaining part of the Harborwalk - it's the kiosk (and part of the wider area on the Aquarium side - that would be handed over to the restaurant.

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If there were supposed to be an observation deck there, might be nice if they modified it so you could go up on the roof area to overlook the harbor. Would give a nice/higher perspective on the Harbor and a nice compromise for those of us who like to meander out there and watch the waves go by for a few minutes.

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mission is to "redevelop" and to "revitalize" and they have the authority to do so but what are they trying to "revitalize?" The area is nice enough, packed with folks during the nice weather (it is one of my favorite spots to sit in the summer) many of whom are spending dough at Faneuil Hall, the North End, and in the general environs.

I just don't understand the BRAs urgency to stick a restaurant in the space and to "revitalize" an area that is already pretty vital. And, like it has been mentioned, whoever decides to build there has to start from the ground up, literally.

Whatever. Hope its good eats.

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They are not funded by any taxes to the best of my knowledge - they get paid for approving projects, leasing properties that they take by eminent domain or the city gives to them. One of many problems with this group is that their incentives are all in the wrong place. I'm not sure about this case specifically -but my guess is that the commercial rents will go to fund their operations so they have no incentive to leave it as is.

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They want to get this done before Menino leaves. The restaurant group is a big political supporter of Menino so he wins. As Stevil noted, the BRA gets money to support their recent 3 percent pay increases. Parks don't put money into hacks hands. Restaurants in prime locations do. Whomever is Mayor in the future can make sure that donations are made to whom from the restaurant group or else they will find their lease is not renewed.

Wake UP!!! This is how politics is run in this town and it is why incumbents are impossible to beat. If someone has a kid that needs a summer job, a phone call to this restaurant gets them in. Mayor needs money, fundraiser at the restaurant. Money comes into BRA they run cover. We get a restaurant on a public space which might be nice, might not be, but unless run incredibly poorly is almost a guaranteed money maker.

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Well, OK, maybe not in so many words, but that's the basic idea:

"We are pleased with the SJC's decision on Long Wharf," said BRA Director Peter Meade. "It paves the way for yet another great destination on the edge of the Boston Harbor that will be enjoyed by residents and visitors for decades to come."

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