Chapter 91

Fate of Municipal Harbor Plans Thrown Into Question

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The Superior Court’s April 1, 2021 decision in Armstrong v. Theoharides (pdf) was no April Fool’s joke and could have far-reaching consequences for Massachusetts waterfront development.  In a case against the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) brought by the Conservation Law Foundation and residents of the Harbor Towers condominium complex in Boston, the court sided with the plaintiffs and found that the Secretary exceeded her authority in approving the Boston Downtown Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan (the Boston Waterfront MHP). That approval would have allowed the construction of a 600-foot-tall tower at the site of what is now the Aquarium Garage, as well as the development of the Hook Lobster site, both on Atlantic Avenue in Boston.

Municipal Harbor Plans (MHPs) are codified in EEA regulations at 301 CMR 23.00 et seq. (the MHP Regulations) and affect licensing by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under the state’s Public Waterfront Act, M.G.L. c. 91 (Chapter 91), and its

Appeals Court Interprets Chapter 91 License as Extending Private Way Over Lawfully Filled Land

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The Appeals Court’s recent decision in Maslow v. O’Connor at first glance appears straightforward. The holding reiterates a familiar tenet of Chapter 91 licensing – that a Chapter 91 license doesn’t affect pre-existing property rights. But the result is quirky: in the name of preserving access to tidelands, the court in effect extends a private way over filled tidelands in which public trust rights (the right to “fish, fowl and navigate”) have been extinguished.

The basic facts in Maslow are:

  • Plaintiffs own lots abutting Rackliffe Street in Gloucester, which runs north-south and originally extended to the mean high water mark of Wonson’s Cove.
  • Defendants own waterfront lots on either side of Rackliffe Street at its southerly end.
  • In 1925, defendants’ predecessor was granted a Chapter 91 license authorizing her to build a seawall and place fill behind it, which created a strip of upland (the grassy strip) between the end of Rackliffe Street and