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Boston from Nahant

April 5, 2021

 

Mr. Mark P. Cullinan
Chairman, Nahant Board of Selectman
Nahant Town Hall
334 Nahant Road
Nahant, Massachusetts  01908

 

Dear Mr. Cullinan,

This letter is in response to your letter dated February 26, 2021. We have debated whether responding to your letter is worthwhile, given its mischaracterizations and inaccuracies regarding the history and status of Northeastern’s proposed project, communications with the Board of Selectmen (“Board”), and the pending court proceedings.  This letter addresses the most critical of those matters.

In your letter, you mischaracterize both the nature of Northeastern’s response to the Board’s suggestion that the parties mediate, as well as certain other positions that the university has taken.  First, with respect to the university’s willingness to engage in mediation, as I stated in my February 17th letter, “the university is fully willing to do so”, but we asked the Board to disclose the alternative building sites that “are different from prior alternatives that have been publicly discussed…and rejected for important environmental and feasibility” reasons.

It simply is not the case that Northeastern has developed secret, undisclosed alternatives.  As you know, the MEPA process required Northeastern to consider and evaluate alternatives.  Those alternatives, and Northeastern’s evaluation of them, were publicly disclosed in voluminous filings as part of the MEPA process.  Even if you disagree with Northeastern’s reasons for rejecting those alternatives, they have been disclosed.

Moreover, as set forth in my prior letter, to the extent the Board has other alternatives in mind, it is incumbent that the Board communicate the alternatives it would like Northeastern to consider and discuss and why the Board believes they might be suitable.  In Northeastern’s view, discussion of alternatives already considered and rejected would be a waste of time. To date, the Board has not disclosed any such alternative(s).

Accordingly, it is the Board that is refusing to present alternatives for consideration – not Northeastern.

You criticize the university for proposing that the Board disclose the alternatives it wants to discuss prior to the mediation. In doing so, you ignore the fact that the Board’s initial letter broaching mediation imposed its own significant pre-condition (requiring the university to cease its NOI activities). To suggest that Northeastern should not request ground rules, while pretending that the Board has not done the same thing, is misleading.  Lastly, still on the subject of mediation, perhaps the Board can answer this question: what use would it be for Northeastern to mediate a dispute over property that the Board claims to be Article 97 land when the town of Nahant cannot unilaterally regulate uses of such land?  In other words, if the Northeastern property is actually Article 97 land, the only authority that can approve alterations to the land is the Massachusetts legislature.  In essence, by suggesting that Northeastern enter into mediation, the Board is conceding that the Northeastern property is not Article 97 land.

You also mischaracterize what Judge Karp asked the parties to consider during a hearing he held on January 26th.  In his written order issued after that hearing, Judge Karp suggested that the parties consider a few other paths that might expedite a resolution of this matter. Judge Karp’s order asked the parties to indicate which options they might be willing to pursue. Northeastern has responded that it would be willing to engage in a judicial settlement conference before the Court’s Regional Administrative Justice, Justice Thomas Drechsler.   Northeastern also indicated its willingness to have any issues that might require a trial to be adjudicated by a three-judge panel, an approach that would also expedite resolution of the legal disputes and save all parties time and money. To date, the Board has not indicated a willingness to engage in any of the alternative dispute resolution methods suggested by Judge Karp. We urge the town of Nahant to do so and to work with Northeastern to expedite resolution of the pending cases.

In your letter, you also claim that at the same hearing, Judge Karp told Northeastern to withdraw its motions for summary judgment and that Northeastern did so. That is false. In fact, the order issued after the hearing by Judge Karp noted that Northeastern’s summary judgment motions “remain pending,” and he asked Northeastern to confirm that it would be going forward with summary judgment. Northeastern has confirmed that it intends to do so.  A copy of Judge Karp’s order is attached.

Your letter again misleads by stating that “Northeastern should abide by the same laws that all Nahant property owners must abide by.” This is a mischaracterization of the law and the university’s rights.  As you should know, the Town’s designation of Northeastern’s property as a “Natural Resource” zoning district cannot be applied to prohibit Northeastern’s use and development of the property for its research and educational purposes. Indeed, the Town’s zoning bylaw continues to expressly recognize this. The Board of Selectmen urges the citizens of Nahant to ignore the Dover Amendment, a legal protection afforded to all educational uses in Massachusetts. By joining the Nahant Preservation lawsuit, the Board has joined in an action that seeks to penalize Northeastern University for exercising its Dover protected right to use and develop its property for educational and research purposes.  Your claim that the Massachusetts Attorney General will support the Board’s efforts to ignore and eviscerate Dover is misguided. Indeed, two years ago, the Attorney General soundly rejected NPT’s suggested anti-Dover amendments to the Town’s zoning bylaw. As a result, and as required by the Attorney General, the use table of the Town’s zoning bylaw continues to provide that building in the NR District is permitted for educational uses such as Northeastern’s.

Your characterizations of the conservation restriction offered by the university are also patently wrong.  We have shown the public the exact area that would be subject to the conservation restriction once the proposed expansion project is completed.  It is virtually the entire area that the Selectmen are threatening to take by eminent domain. The restriction will preserve at no cost to the town a multi-acre area that Northeastern has the right to develop, but will agree to reserve as open space once its proposed project is completed.

Your letter also grossly mischaracterizes the nature and impact of the proposed expansion. You continue to state that Northeastern proposes to place a 55,000 sq.ft. building on top of the Murphy Bunker. You suggest that parking areas will be located east of the Murphy Bunker. You know none of that is true. The vast majority of the new space will be within the existing footprint of the bunker, a pre-existing man-made building.  Only about 11,000 sf of the new space will extend beyond the existing bunker footprint.  A significant part of the new space will be below ground—including the mechanicals that typically are on the roof.  The one-story portion of the new space that will be on top of the bunker will be heavily screened by vegetation and the building’s materials have been designed to minimize visual impacts.  This design vastly reduces the impact of the development on area not already covered by building. The proposed parking areas will be located to the west and south of the Murphy Bunker. The parking areas, if ultimately required by the Town, will not be located to the east of the Murphy Bunker as your letter suggests.

It is dismaying that you continue to push out such misleading and flatly incorrect information to the citizens of Nahant.  This approach is completely counter to creating an atmosphere of good faith and trust which is an essential pre-requisite to a negotiated resolution of this situation.

Sincerely,

 

Ralph C. Martin II
Senior Vice President and General Counsel
Northeastern University

 

cc:  Kevin O’Flaherty

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