Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Friday that a restaurateur can open a casual eatery on Boston’s Long Wharf, rebuffing a challenge from North End neighbors who said it would damage a popular gathering spot on the harbor.
Following a four-year legal battle, the court found that Michael Conlon, owner of Eat Drink Laugh Restaurant Group, can proceed with his hotly contested plan for the restaurant at the Long Wharf pavilion along Boston Harbor.
A group of North End neighbors disputed a 2008 Boston Redevelopment Authority decision allowing the project, arguing that it was inappropriate for the waterfront location and required further approval from the state Legislature.
The neighbors won a lower court decision, but the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday that the BRA acted appropriately, essentially giving new life to Conlon’s long-stalled restaurant proposal.
“We are still very interested in moving forward with the BRA on this exciting project, which we hope will benefit the neighborhood, the waterfront, and the City of Boston,” said Conlon, whose company also owns The Paramount, The Blarney Stone, and other Boston establishments.
A lawyer for the North End neighbors who initiated the lawsuit said the case is not over yet. He noted the high court sent the case back to Superior Court, which still must hear the neighbors’ claims that the restaurant would violate other aspects of state environmental laws.
“The court still has to hear the rest of the story,” said the lawyer, Gregor McGregor. He added that the decision, while favorable to the BRA in this instance, also limited the BRA’s power to redevelop open spaces taken as part of urban renewal efforts in the 1960s and ’70s.
“The decision clarifies the law on park protection and conservation,” McGregor said. “It is a very practical, helpful decision.”
A spokeswoman for the BRA said the court’s ruling “paves the way for Boston to have yet another great waterfront destination that will be enjoyed by all of our residents and visitors alike.”
It is unclear when construction of the restaurant will proceed. Conlon had proposed to build a casual, 80-seat restaurant on Long Wharf called Doc’s. The plan included indoor and outdoor sections.
Meanwhile, the BRA is proceeding with a new study that could result in sweeping changes to the area between Long Wharf and the Northern Avenue Bridge, where city officials are seeking to create a more active waterfront with additional opportunities for recreation, shopping, and dining.