First Circuit Kills Boston Development Plan

BOSTON (CN) — The First Circuit has effectively blocked Boston from carrying out its plan to build commercial space on the Long Wharf, a popular public tourist destination in Boston Harbor.
     The Sept. 23 ruling came after a 1980s map resurfaced, showing the location protected under the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s original application to the National Park Service for an $825,000 grant, which allowed the city to rejuvenate the Long Wharf into a public amenity.
     The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) claimed that an open air pavilion was fair game for development because a 1983 map did not include the space as protected.
     A 2104 audit reported that the BRA had a woefully antiquated nondigital system for record keeping. And sure enough, the BRA said that it had lost an earlier map that it used to apply for the grant in 1980.
     The Long Wharf, which juts out into Boston Harbor from the city’s Waterfront neighborhood, was redeveloped in the 1980s into a tourist spot and access point for ferries to the Harbor Islands, thanks to the Park Service grant, which stipulated that a significant portion of the site remain open for public enjoyment.
     The Park Service approved the city’s plan to allow a private developer to convert an open air pavilion on the end of the wharf into a commercial restaurant. But it reversed course after two retired employees discovered the 1980 map that showed the pavilion area was protected.
     The BRA sued the Park Service for backpedaling on its approval, but lost in U.S. District Court, based on the boundaries of the original map, which BRA approved at the time.
     The First Circuit affirmed.
     “The limitation of the Pavilion area to public outdoor recreational use is exactly what the BRA offered when it applied for, and received, over three-quarters of a million dollars in federal financial assistance,” Judge Bruce Selya wrote for the three-judge panel.
     The BRA claimed that the reversal was an unauthorized taking of land, since the 1983 version of the map did not include the pavilion in the area protected by the grant. The courts disagreed.
     “The record offers no reason to believe that the 1980 map, which the BRA admits was part of its grant application, was not made a part of the project agreement in this manner,” Selya wrote.
     The city had been trying to redevelop Long Wharf since 2006, despite opposition by neighborhood residents. Although Boston had a restaurant owner lined up, who had a liquor license for the site in 2007, he backed out and transferred the license to a new restaurant in another part of town in 2011, after a previous lawsuit from the neighborhood residents.
     “For now, at least, the long war over Long Wharf is at an end,” Selya wrote.
     The other members of the panel were Chief Judge Jeffrey Howard and Judge William Kayatta.

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