BEVERLY - A group of residents opposed to a plan to build a waterfront restaurant has sent a "notice of intent to sue" to city and state officials.

In a letter dated Nov. 26, a lawyer representing the residents said the group intends to file a lawsuit in Superior Court to "prevent damage to the environment" and "destruction of open space."

The threatened lawsuit is in response to a 40-year lease that the city has signed with restaurant developer Marty Bloom to build a restaurant on city-owned land at 1 Water St. at the foot of the Beverly-Salem bridge. 

The letter, written by attorney Olympia Bowker, said the lease is illegal because the city bought the land in 1996 with a deed restriction that protects the property for public recreation uses "in perpetuity."

The letter also said the lease violates Article 97 of the state constitution, which protects public parklands. The city bought the land with help from a $483,600 grant from the state's Division of Conservation Services.

Bowker addressed the letter not only to city officials but to state officials, including Attorney General Maura Healey and the heads of two state environmental agencies. Bowker said Friday that the residents intend to file the lawsuit "soon."

In response, a lawyer for the city wrote to Healey and the other officials saying the claims of the residents are "completely without merit." Attorney Denise Chicoine wrote that a restaurant is the "exact purpose" for which the city acquired the land in 1996 -- "activating the waterfront, enhancing the recreational value of the site, and complementing existing maritime uses with new public amenities."

A lawsuit could cause another delay in the city's decades-long effort to get a restaurant on the waterfront, where an old McDonald's building has been mostly vacant since closing in 1996. Another attempt to build a restaurant, in 2010 when the city signed a lease with the Black Cow, was shot down when the adjacent Beverly Port Marina challenged the project based on regulations governing designated port areas.

The city has since gotten the state to remove the port area designation, eliminating that barrier, but it now must contend with the residents' arguments regarding the deed restriction and state conservation grant.

Chicoine's letter said a 1996 agreement between the city and the state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs authorized the city's grant application, which she said specified a restaurant as "one of the means by which public access and enjoyment of the waterfront would be improved." The city and state have amended the agreement twice, both times allowing for a restaurant, she said.

Some neighbors have argued that the restaurant, which would have 340 seats, is too big for the area and that there is not enough parking. The Beverly Planning Board approved the restaurant plan in November, but the project still needs approval at the state level.

Bloom, the restaurant owner, said Friday he will remain committed to the project even if a lawsuit is filed.

"We are going nowhere," Bloom said. "We will get this thing done."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

 

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