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Court ruling means residents of one North End wharf building might have to move their cars permanently

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that the state can decide whether to force the owners of condos at Commercial Wharf to abandon the wharf space they now use for parking, because they never received a formal state license to use the waterfront land for stowing cars.

Technically, the Commercial Wharf condo owners have to seek a license to keep using the parking spaces, but that would be under the state waterways law, which normally bans the use of "Commonwealth tidelands" for uses that are not in the public interest without a state license. Granted, a license might not be impossible to obtain, as anybody familiar with changes in the Boston waterfront over the last 20 years might attest, but it could prove a long battle, given that the condo association and the owner of the marina at the end of the wharf have been feuding in court for years now.

The state waterways law grants the state the right to oversee development and construction in coastal areas - with Boston Harbor singled out for particular attention.

The wharf has had condo parking spaces since the 1970s, after a developer bought the rights to the decaying but historically important granite building from the BRA - which in turn won control of the wharf from the state in 1964. The legislature twice voted to give the BRA authority over the wharf and its redevelopment, and the state never looked into the legality of the parking spaces under the current state waterways law until 2011, when the owner of Boston Yacht Haven asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to look into the matter, which it did.

The appeals court concluded that the current waterways act has no exceptions, so even if the legislature gave the BRA control of the site and that parking has been going on there for decades, the 12,000 square feet of space now used for parking needs a state license - in part because neither of the legislative acts specified that that exact area would be used for parking.

To get to that point, the court first had to look at the site's history and the Massachusetts wharfing acts of the early 1800s, specifically, the 1832 act allowing construction of Commercial Wharf and its five-story granite building, which, as the name implies, was initially built for the sea trade. The current waterways act specifically excludes parking for non-marine uses without a state license.

Legal briefs by the state and the condo association.

Neighborhoods: 
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Comments

might or might not be surprised by how many of the big expensive downtown condo associations do things halfass. Rich != smart

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Voting closed 36

As more fun with the old BRA, like when they kept trying to force a restaurant onto the end of Long Wharf, but ultimately failed when a couple of retired National Parks Service employees found a map the BRA had "lost."

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Voting closed 55

Or is it that no one really seemed to care or ask questions for 30 or 40 years? The developer no doubt bought the rights to the building and the parts of the wharf surrounding it, and no one thought about whether state law might restrict use of the wharf for parking. Further, Boston was generally a decaying mess back in the 1970s, and whether people were parking on what had been a disused wharf probably mattered to few.

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Voting closed 43

Maybe it's time for those that live downtown to not have cars. Gee, maybe the city could make it a mutli-share use park for people, their kids & pets.

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Voting closed 27

It would have been nice to plan it that way. But it would suck to buy a condo with a parking space and then lose it one day due to a surprise legal issue nobody anticipated.

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Voting closed 25

… with the space (someone suggested a park) and decide to lose the car.

In any case, it wouldn’t suck for the rest of us.

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Voting closed 24

... what does the state or the Yacht Haven propose to do with that space, once it no longer contains parked cars?

If parking lots don't belong on wharves, shouldn't something be done about the much larger one on neighboring Sargent's Wharf?

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Voting closed 30

If anything this is an environmental violation.

It may also be that the state wants it for Chapter 91 waterfront access: https://www.mass.gov/guides/chapter-91-the-massachusetts-public-waterfro...

Sargent's Wharf may have obtained a license at some point. There's some language in here. If not, implications will flow.

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Voting closed 36

People leak stuff, as well as leave trash and hazardous waste like syringes in their wake.

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Voting closed 23

Why don’t you turn on a car in a garage and close all the doors if you are such a fan of auto emissions? Bye bye =)

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Voting closed 23

As someone once said:

Why do you hate people and love cars?

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Voting closed 43

...can be found on the south side of Lewis Wharf if needed.

As far as Sargent's Wharf goes, that's still owned by the BPDA. There were four competing proposals for it in the late seventies - back when the whole area was being sold off by the then BPA - some of which look intriguing. I'm not sure why the BPA failed to act on any of them. Or why the BPDA has failed to develop that land since.

https://twitter.com/balsama/status/1351004630197694469

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Voting closed 26

Look to the neighborhood. Look to abutters.

Hence Lewis Wharf remains a parking lot.

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Voting closed 16

The south side of Lewis Wharf is public green space. It's lovely. I've seen over a dozen species of birds there and frequent it for picnics.

As far as abutters go ...it's a ...wharf. Its abutters are the harbor and Atlantic Ave (unless you're talking about the blighted Tavistock property or Boston Yacht Haven - which started this whole investigation). Its nearest wharf to the north is Lewis Wharf.

Either way, it's still land that is owned by the developer/CWECA. It's not like the neighborhood or the abutters can repurpose it to their liking. But the association needs to use it in compliance with Chapter 91 and the DEP.

There is an outstanding related issue. And that's that the first floor residential condos are also in violation of Chapter 91. I anxiously await further developments on their standing.

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Voting closed 26

I meant Sargent's Wharf and its undeveloped state.

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Voting closed 19

Why Sargent's Wharf remains in its current state is beyond me. It was suggested as a future site for an expanded North End Community Center a few years ago and the vocal minority in the neighborhood was vehemently opposed. I'm also not sure why one of the original four proposals from 1979 never moved forward.

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Voting closed 25

This would be unfortunate for the condo owners.

I believe that adverse possession would normally protect someone from a claim on their land if they made use of it publicly for more than 20 years. But I think it doesn't apply when you're dealing with the state.

Would title insurance cover this loss of value? Or should I apply my usual principle that insurance companies have been in the game longer than you, so they've made sure to put in riders, exceptions, clauses, provisos, and caveats that get them out of paying for any actual situations that occur? (Don't get me started on the scam that is Massachusetts title insurance, with no competition, huge costs, kickbacks, and payouts that are a tiny percentage of the premium which would never be allowed for any other type of insurance.)

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Voting closed 22

M.G.L. Chapter 260 Section 31 reads: "No action for the recovery of land shall be commenced by or in behalf of the Commonwealth except within 20 years..." However there are exceptions further on in the section which read; "or in the great ponds" and "for the recovery of land or interests in land held for conservation, open space, parks, recreation, water protection, wildlife protection or other public purpose." I believe that the recent decision in "ARNO" cleared the way for even registered land to be recovered.

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Voting closed 13

Make it a public way with public parking…. And fix that damned burned building over there.

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Voting closed 25

Why do you hate people and love cars? Make it a park. It’s on the damn waterfront! Why do car owners want Boston to be one shitty parking lot? Go to Route One in Saugus for that.

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Voting closed 25

Honestly if this condo building was built five years ago I might say screw them but this was built back when investment in the area was not so easy. It very well could have been this condo building or nothing and the historic building would have been gone. It seems kind of unfair to pull out an 1800's law to make a fuss about something that has been happening in plain site in a very public way since the mid 1900's in 2021.

In one scenario they lose and their parking situation goes haywire but they retain the rights to the land and do whatever they like with some possible public access. In another scenario they fight forever and get the license and now own the right to park cars there forever. At least with the current incarnation there is a future chance of this not being a parking lot in the future. Especially in a future where cars may be more automated. If they go through all the trouble to make this formal maybe in fifty years instead of converting it to open space they decide to rent it out to automated cars for overnight parking since they already have a permit.

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Voting closed 19

I’m sure they are really hurting. Those investments haven’t done well at all

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Voting closed 21

Pay for a private parking space where your hazardous transport is stored safely and with toxic hazards mitigated.

Tough, you bought from a careless property seller.

Boo effing hoo.

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Voting closed 12