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Nahant's antipathy to people from the other side of the causeway bites it in ruling dismissing its suit against expansion of a Northeastern marine center there

A judge yesterday sided with Northeastern University over the town of Nahant, ruling a state law aimed at protecting land set aside for conservation does not apply to the school's plans to expand its Marine Research Land on some long vacant land it owns in the town.

The school and Northeastern are still battling, in a separate suit, over the town's attempt to simply take over more than half of Northeastern's land by eminent domain for roughly $4.5 million.

Northeastern owns a little more than 20 acres on East Point at the tip of narrow Nahant, a former military reservation it bought in 1966 from the federal government. The government put the land up for sale after Town Meeting rejected a plan by town officials to take over the land - on which the military had installed bunkers, large cannons and anti-aircraft guns - for use as a park.

At the time, Town Meeting was not being parsimonious but rather acting on concerns that if the town opened a park on the formerly federal land, it would be open to "any citizen of the United States," or, as the town Conservation Commission chairwoman put it, "then all of Boston, Somerville, Chelsea, etc, [would] occupy it because we would leave this wide open to the world," according to a summary of the case by Essex Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Karp.

This antipathy to people from away would prove to be one of the reasons Karp sided with Northeastern.

When Northeastern announced plans to expand its Marine Research Center on undeveloped land at the site in 2018, nearby residents objected, coming up with the argument that Northeastern had dedicated the land it proposed using for "a public purpose" - for a nature preserve and for passive recreation - and that because they had made such a declaration, they needed a two-thirds vote of the state legislature to do so, under a 1972 ballot initiative.

Northeastern sued in Land Court seeking a ruling it had made no such public dedication of the land.

The Nahant Preservation Trust - a group of 28 Nahant residents - then sued in Essex Superior Court to try to block that; they were later joined in the suit by the town of Nahant, which last year decided that after 50 years it wanted the land after all and moved to take 12 acres of the site by eminent domain.

In his ruling, Karp concluded that Northeastern "has not dedicated, and the public has not accepted, the land on top of and to the east of Murphy Bunker at East Point, Nahant, MA, to the public for use as an ecological preserve and for passive recreation" and that the school never provided an easement for that sort of thing.

Karp also rejected an argument that even without a formal filing, Northeastern had still set aside the land for the "public purpose" of passive recreation by letting Nahant residents walk around the property for decades.

At first blush, this argument may seem persuasive. However, the summary judgment record lacks any evidence that the general public, that is people other than Nahant residents, have used the land in question for passive recreational purposes.

Karp said that while it may be true that Nahant residents have had some freedom to wander the land in question, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2017 that "the general public" as defined by the 1972 law, means "the inhabitants of the Commonwealth and public at large, not just the residents of the particular municipality where the land sits."

Thus, even if Northeastern had a clear and unequivocal intent to dedicate the land in question pursuant to Article 97 [the 1972 ballot initiative], the holder of the easement would be the general public, not the residents of Nahant. In the absence of any record evidence that the general public accepted the purported dedication of the land on top of and to the east of Murphy Bunker for use as an ecological preserve and for passive recreation, the Nahant Plaintiffs' dedication claim fails as a matter of law.

Karp also ruled that the fact that Northeastern wanted to keep much of the land as a "wildlife preserve" was not proof the school was opening the land - for which it hired a groundskeeper with authorization to shoo people away from some areas. Rather, he said, Northeastern was trying to preserve a unique coastal ecosystem for study by its researchers and students. Even aside from that, the state law refers to land used for "one public purpose," and Northeastern was using the land for at least two purposes: Wildlife preservation and education - and education is not a "public purpose" as defined by the law, which the Land Court had ruled in a 2017 case means that the law could not be invoked.

Northeastern has said it will agree to a conservation restriction on roughly eight acres of the site to bar any future development.

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Comments

I have never wanted to go hang out in Nahant for the sole purpose of being a filthy Auslander. Now I can't think of anything I want to do more.

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Voting closed 46

Just over the causeway is a decent place to get some basic grub while watching paragliders.

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Voting closed 21

It was the closest beach to Boston that you don't have to pay to park (at least then) where there was more than a ripple like South Boston or Wollaston.

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Voting closed 10

That does sound nice. However, after reading these posts the past few days, I don't feel like giving these people any of my money. Not to mention that if I lived in Lynn I'd probably agitate to have the causeway torn down to make it harder for undesirables to get in.

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Voting closed 6

The beach is state run and Tides is not run by the same people fighting this silly fight. Tides definitely has an older school feel to it. It's also accessible. Don't let the rest of that affect the state beach and that restaurant etc

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Voting closed 15

Park at Lynn Commuter Rail (or take train), circle around Nahant, go up through Marblehead amd to Salem if you like.

Flat and scenic, what else could you want.

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Voting closed 15

You could also park on Lynn Shore Drive along the water and walk up the beach towards Nahant. Its a nice little walk in the warmer seasons.

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Voting closed 9

A 70 foot climb is not huge, but is definitely something you'll feel when biking.

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Voting closed 9

Flat and scenic, what else could you want.

Uh, how 'bout no cars?

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Voting closed 10

There is an established route, mostly on the Northern Strand trail from Malden/Everett that will take you to the area. Then use the paths to cross into Nahant.

https://biketothesea.org/

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Voting closed 13

I, a member of the non-Nahant general public, have wandered around the area in question. For a suitable fee, I will so testify, should any interested parties be inclined to pay said fee.

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Voting closed 13

They are those who only speak to God as the old Boston saying goes.

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Voting closed 18

I've been there a few times, and don't recall any signs or fences or anything else that discouraged the public (residents of any city or town) from walking around the Northeastern reservation. It's been a few years since I last visited, so maybe access is more restricted now?

Also, it appears that Lodge Park is a town park, and the only way to reach it is to walk through the Northeastern reservation.

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Voting closed 15

I'm not a lawyer (thank "Bob"), but it seems to me there's a big difference between opening a piece of land to the public on one hand, and not actively discouraging access on the other.

Metaphorically speaking, imagine that I owned a house (fantasy land!) and that, one day when I'm not there, someone entered it without my permission. To keep things simple, we'll say they didn't steal anything, break anything, or even touch anything. They just let themself in through a door I forgot to lock, milled around for a while, then left. I never even know that they're there. Does this person now have permission to enter my house whenever they want? Obviously not.

Now let's imagine that I came home while they are still there, and for some reason I don't mind, and I even say they can hang around for a little while. They do so, and leave after some time. Again, this doesn't mean they can come in whenever they want.

All that said, if any actual lawyers want to take a swing at this, I'd be very interested to hear from someone who knows what they're talking about. I'm not asking you for legal advice, merely law-themed entertainment.

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Voting closed 20

Private property, but the public is welcome to walk around and through it. They do have the right to remove people who are acting in a disruptive manner.

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Voting closed 24

Well I’ve walked around the northeastern property there, it’s very nice. The issue is that Nahant is very xenophobic and doesn’t show anyone who doesn’t live there to park anywhere in their town. Not just the beach. Not because of parking issues (plenty of parking and most have driveways), but as the woman who yelled at me when I tried to park near the Audubon site (I had a sticker for Audubon) they don’t want outsiders coming in. I just bike from Lynn now (that seems to be their main issue, the type of people that live in neighboring Lynn.

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Voting closed 19

There is fencing that prevents you from going through a tunnel (in an old munitions bunker?). There is however plenty of other areas to walk in, including Lodge Park to the north east which provides sweeping views of the harbor.

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Voting closed 8

I didn't get into the Lodge Park, thing, but, yes, there is some sort of legal access to that land (the former estate of the ol' Lodge family), which was also owned by the military and which Northeastern initially tried to buy with the other land, but then the Pentagon decided to keep it for awhile longer as some sort of naval facility before finally selling it to the town. However, that land and that access was not part of the suit, either.

As for romping across the rest of the Northeastern land, what the judge was saying is that you're the rare exception, that while Nahanters knew they could passively enjoy the land, it was hardly something like, oh, a state park, that most people west, north and south of the Lynn side of the causeway knew about, and that Nahant and that residents group provided no evidence that most people outside the town knew about it. So it wasn't really open to the "general public" in the way that, oh, the beach along the causeway is.

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Voting closed 19

The Google Maps entry for Lodge Park has plenty of reviews from nonresidents.

And you can't get to Lodge Park without passing through the Northeastern property. The signs make it clear it's Northeastern.

Therefore nonresidents have been on the Northeastern property.

Q.E.D.

Oh, and I'm a second nonresident who has been there. Me plus Ron makes two. Has anyone else reading this done it? The only obstacle is getting there, since the parking area is reserved for people within walking or easy biking distance, and at 5 round trips per weekday the 439 is not the most frequent route in the MBTA system.

Also I don't see how this ruling helps me. Northeastern gets to destroy more of the natural area because (supposedly) not enough people knew about the public access? How is this ruling in the public interest? What law says a property that is de facto and de jure accessible to the public has to be known widely (whatever that means) for it to be considered accessible by the public?

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Voting closed 13

From the Google map street view, it appears that only the vehicular entrance to the parking lot has a closable gate. The adjoining, smaller, pedestrian entrance to the right does not.

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Voting closed 7

I was biking around Nahant, came to the gate of Northeastern's facility, and recall seeing some sign that said it was OK for people to walk (or maybe even bike) through it. So I did.

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Voting closed 15

I don't think there's anywhere on Nahant you are allowed to park w/o a residents permit other than the main beach or like private businesses.

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Voting closed 12

There's even an electronic sign at the entrance to town threatening that there's no nonresident parking anywhere and you'll get towed.

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Voting closed 13

If you did park there, it was probably inside the walled entrance, with signs clearly stating that it is property of Northeastern University, where public parking is prohibited. If anything, within the spirit of Chapter 91 there should be some reasonable public access granted, but by Northeastern, not a court. They are probably exempt from the public access requirement by the nature of the oceanographic and marine biology research conducted on the site, including the shoreline and intertidal zone. I had a family member attend the Three Seas Program, and spent a fair amount of time at the site. It is an amazing piece of land, and with its use, Northeastern has actually preserved the open space and ocean front property. The abutters have had their privacy protected by the very limited access. Nahant should be careful what they wish for.

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Voting closed 10

There is a small parking area outside the gate, but has a whole lot of threatening signs saying it's for Nahant residents only.

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Voting closed 10

I'm also surprised that the chair of the committee in 1966 felt the need to refer to "all of Boston, Somerville, Chelsea...". I thought that back then quite a few people still felt fine about saying, even in a public meeting, "we don't want any coloreds".

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Voting closed 29

Nahant doesn't have its own high school.

The kids are sent through Lynn to Swampscott. I kid you not.

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Voting closed 27

The Town doesn't even have a Junior High School any more. After grade 6 it's off the Swampscott for Junior and Senior High Scchool.

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Voting closed 10

Not entirely so, but substantially. Immigration from Brazil, Haiti, and Latin America came much later. I think the statement was more "we don't want any poor people visiting our beaches."

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Voting closed 28

Chelsea too. While Latinos had started moving they were not living in Chelsea in the numbers they do today. It was still mostly "ethnic" white like Jewish, Italian, Irish, Polish and a French Canadian neighborhood.

It was still a very thought out choice of cities they were actively trying to dissuade.

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Voting closed 17

I stand corrected. The members of the town meeting in Nahant in 1966 were not necessarily racist assholes. Merely elitist assholes.

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Voting closed 12

A couple of fish slid into the fourth and fifth paragraphs.

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Voting closed 13

Guess I need to gefilter my text better before posting.

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Voting closed 51

.

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Voting closed 9

The Nahant Northeastern fight bothers me because Nahant does not feel terribly friendly to outsiders once you get past the state run beach and Tides. It very quickly clams up and the town seems to go to efforts to keep the rest of us people from places like, gasp, Chelsea out.

They have this large piece of land they had the chance to buy. They did not. Someone else bought it and now wants to use it for a rather low density usage to do research that actually would directly affect communities like Nahant with its huge waterfront frontage all around the town. Rejecting this usage after not taking the deal to make it public space is disingenuous. Especially when you look at the price tags of the homes that have the anti Northeastern signs up. I am sure a few are not wealthy but I saw them in front of mostly massive giant homes with fences blocking you from even seeing the water from the street, giant gates etc.

Are the rest of us from places like Boston, Somerville and Chelsea supposed to feel bad for them? In Chelsea we never got the option to buy our waterfront like they did, we are forced to have industry occupy it. I would gladly trade the oil tanks and salt we host for a research facility. We would LOVE to have it here. Northeastern , sell the land to Gulf Oil and do a swap!!!

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Voting closed 32

The USS Constitution sailed from Charlestown to Marblehead in 1997, which was a big deal for all of the towns in between .... except for Nahant. I was on a bike ride following her sailing route on land, and Nahant seemed utterly indifferent to both the passing ship and the cyclists who were passing through to see it.

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Voting closed 15

Who do they think they are, Quincy?

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Voting closed 10

...that doesn't make you a Blue-blooded Boston Brahmin. The Cabot family made an immense fortune trading Rum, Slaves and Opium. The Lodges made there money in mercantile shipping. Their combined families choosing to live in Nahant does not make Nahant special.

I find it hard to believe that the residents of Nahant have the nerve to hold up their noses at the idea that the general public may make use of a park if one is established on Northeastern property.

I'm not a genealogist but I'm willing to bet that most of the residents of Nahant are descendants of the servants to those two wealthy families. These people hold up their noses at the idea of the general public coming into town? It is to laugh.

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Voting closed 13

That's what these people are snobbish about, that they're allegedly related to Brahmin families? Maybe we should send someone up to Nahant to tell them that nobody's cared about that for 50 years.

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Voting closed 10

Actually a lot of the worst ones are relative newcomers. Nahant's geography and relative affluence attracts quite a few xenophobes and wannabe nouveau rich snobs. They call Nahant "The Island" even though it isn't one because they think that makes it sound more exclusive. The town actually sell T-shirts to residents with the slogan "Summer in Nahant, Some Aren't" with a picture of a car being towed.

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Voting closed 11

Looking at Google Maps, the first section of Nahant (kinda where Tides is) is labled Little Nahant Island. Gotta say, that's creative.

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Voting closed 2

I'm not a genealogist but I'm willing to bet that most of the residents of Nahant are descendants of the servants to those two wealthy families.

You do know "Downton Abbey" is just a TV show, right?

There's no reason to think Nahant has a proportion of descendants of Lowells, Cabots, Lodges, Saltonstalls, Winthrops, and Welds--i.e., the tiny elite leadership of the Puritan migration--that isn't just as infinitesimally small as it is in all other affluent metro Boston communities.

By the end of World War II, there's no reason to think Nahant's ethnocultural composition wasn't nearly interchangeable with all other wealthy bedroom suburban communities within the Route 128 belt--overwhelmingly white due to pervasive redlining/racism, and of course, the huge influxes of Italians and Irish into Boston from the mid-1800s on had made Nahant hugely Italian and Irish, as well. (Perhaps a touch more Italian than average, given the possibility of spillover from the very large Italian communities immediately adjacent in Revere, Saugus, and East Boston?)

That said, of course there were/are still many WASP families too, just like the rest of metro Boston. But this notion Nahant--which has 3,000+ residents and hundreds of hundreds of houses; it's extremely densely-packed--is composed mainly of "descendants of servants" is well, just a bit too melodramatic, eh?

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Voting closed 7

But that 1966 summary of the case really, really cheesed me off.

(At the time, Town Meeting was not being parsimonious but rather acting on concerns that if the town opened a park on the formerly federal land, it would be open to "any citizen of the United States," or, as the town Conservation Commission chairwoman put it, "then all of Boston, Somerville, Chelsea, etc, [would] occupy it because we would leave this wide open to the world," according to a summary of the case by Essex Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Karp.)

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Voting closed 8

I wish all town parks were open to any citizen of the U.S., and any other country for that matter.

Down with places like Wright's Pond, Lucy Vincent Beach, etc!

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Voting closed 6

The Lynn side of Nahant is better anyway

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Voting closed 5

The Northeastern property was a Nike missile launcher site.

Nikes had nuclear and conventional warheads. Since the Army is discreet about where nuclear weapons are and were located, we can't be sure about the warheads on the missiles on that particular site, but quite possibly there were nukes there.

It was a coast artillery battery before that.

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Voting closed 2