A Win for Public Access to the Waterfront

CLF case against state to move forward

The Boston skyline as seen from Boston Harbor. Photo: Jerry Monkman

October 18, 2019 (BOSTON, MA) – A judge has ruled that Conservation Law Foundation’s lawsuit challenging Boston’s Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP) can move forward. CLF is suing the state of Massachusetts after officials ignored decades-old rules governing public waterfront access in their approval of Boston’s plan. The state had filed a motion to dismiss the case.

“It is unacceptable that this plan allows developers to buy their way out of regulations they don’t like,” said Peter Shelley, Senior Counsel at CLF. “The public’s right to access the waterfront has been guaranteed for generations, and officials have singlehandedly undermined that right. The municipal harbor planning process is broken, and we’re looking forward to proving it in court.”

For decades, the public’s right to access waterfront areas has been protected under Massachusetts law. Cities and towns are required to uphold that right in their municipal harbor plans. Recently, that planning process has arbitrarily abandoned principles that have been in place since 1990, particularly that waterfront buildings step down in height.

In this case, the judge ruled that CLF has presented a legitimate claim that the state Department of Environmental Protection should not have transferred oversight of the MHP approval process to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The case will now proceed to trial.

You can find the judge’s ruling here.

CLF experts are available for further comment.