REBA Webinar: “The SJC’s Boston Municipal Harbor Plan Case” September 28, 2022

September 23, 2022



The Real Estate Bar Association of New England’s Environmental Law and Land Use & Zoning Sections is hosting a webinar at 12 noon on Wednesday, September 28th.  Prince Lobel Partner Jeffrey Pyle, a Partner will be a featured speaker.   Other speakers include Dylan Sanders, a Partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, PC, and Peter Shelley, Senior Counsel at CLF Massachusetts.

The Roman Emperor Justinian codified ancient common law in 529-565 CE declaring the public’s rights of access to the ocean and seashore to be “natural rights” common to all people. That doctrine made its way into colonial Massachusetts law in the 1600’s and hence into the Public Waterfront Act.

The SJC has zealously guarded the legal underpinnings of coastal Public Trust Doctrine whereby only the Great and General Court has the authority to interpret or compromise those public rights. In July, the SJC upheld a Superior Court ruling striking down as contrary to law a waterfront development plan in downtown Boston, sending the controversial plan back to the drawing board or maybe oblivion.

The Court unanimously ruled that that the current regulatory system, which gave final authority to approve municipal harbor plans to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs rather than to the Department of Environmental Protection, was contrary to Chapter 91 (the Waterways and Tidelands statute).

As a result, Boston’s 42-acre Downtown Municipal Harbor Plan, which potentially allowed a controversial 600-foot tower on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage, is invalid. This casts for some legal doubt on 17 other municipal harbor plans around the state, which had been approved in similar fashion from Gloucester to New Bedford.

Is this a victory for better planning along Boston Harbor and other parts of the coastline, which state law for centuries has viewed as protected public space? Is the state’s MHP process fundamentally flawed as being developer-driven? Will there be new procedures for waterfront planning, weighting public access and community input?

Come join our panel of experts to discuss the ramifications of the case.


This webcast program, open to all REBA members, is from 12 to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. There will be no in-person attendance.


To register, RSVP to Audrey Stewart at

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