Clam Shack Saga Resolved

Jason Graziadei •

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Steve Karp and Charlie Johnson meeting at Old North Wharf last month to hash out the clam shack dispute.

Some of the players in Nantucket’s high-profile clam shack saga are now happy as clams after coming to an amicable agreement to end the dispute.

Steve Karp, owner of Nantucket Island Resorts, and Charlie Johnson, former chairman and CEO of the investment firm Franklin Resources, have been at the center of a controversy that has generated national attention since Johnson’s efforts to stop the construction of the 62-seat restaurant was first reported by the Current back in March. Johnson outwardly voiced his frustration with Karp and the design of the restaurant relative to the potential negative impacts it would have on his next-door property at Old North Wharf in an exclusive sit-down interview with the Current last month.

But the Current has learned that Karp and Johnson met privately at Old North Wharf shortly after the publication of that interview to understand each other’s concerns and resolve the dispute. That meeting ultimately led to a resolution that is anticipated to include the dropping of all lawsuits and regulatory appeals by Johnson and the Old North Wharf Cooperative against the clam shack restaurant spearheaded by Gabriel Frasca and Kevin Burleson.

"Charlie and I have shaken hands as neighbors and we look forward to the opportunity next summer to enjoy a shared dinner of clams over a beer at Gabriel's new restaurant,” Karp said.

The primary sticking point for Johnson was the placement of some of the restaurant’s HVAC mechanical equipment on a platform overlooking his house and yard at Old North Wharf. That equipment will be moved to another area of the building – pending town regulatory approval – as part of the agreement.

According to sources with knowledge of the meeting, both Karp and Johnson walked over to the site together, at which point Karp saw for the first time how the equipment would impact Johnson's property. The design was recommended by contractors hired by Frasca to accommodate the needs of the restaurant, but until late last month, it had not been physically observed by Karp.

Within hours of that meeting, Karp mobilized his architect, mechanical engineer, and contractor to design a solution to minimize the impact on the Johnson home. Karp’s team spent the past two weeks crafting a solution that includes the relocation of the HVAC equipment to another side of the building. The work on the relocation of the equipment was done in coordination with Frasca.

During a follow-up meeting last Tuesday morning at Old North Wharf, the parties, along with Karp's son Doug, reviewed the revised plan.

"I am very pleased with the resolution Steve has generated and want to give him full credit for stepping up to solve this issue once he learned of its magnitude,” Johnson told the Current. "I now understand that Steve had not seen how close the equipment was to my property. Once he saw it, he acted immediately and responsibly."

Karp added: “We take our role as good neighbors very seriously and wanted to do the right thing by Charlie Johnson and his family.”

He said when he saw the potential impact of the mechanical equipment and platform on Johnson’s home, he understood the concerns and wanted to find a solution as soon as possible.

"Fortunately, we were able to come up with an alternative design that worked for Charlie and Gabriel Frasca's restaurant,” Karp told the Current. “We are very pleased to report that this matter has now been resolved."

The relocation of the HVAC equipment was in addition to previous concessions made by Karp and Frasca to Johnson, including the addition of an awning to the restaurant and a permanent barrier between the decks of the two adjacent properties. All of that will also be subject to regulatory approval.

After completing dinner service at his neighboring Straight Wharf Restaurant Sunday night, Frasca shared the following in a message to the Current:

"We know that good progress has been made over the past few weeks, and we are very grateful, especially to Steve Karp and everyone on his team for their excellent work and boundless optimism. This has been very challenging, and we hope that we are in the last pages of the last chapter of this part of our (hopefully long) story. Candidly, we take issue with some things that have been said in the press about our project recently, but we think now is the time to focus instead on the areas where there’s agreement or at least a path toward it. We have tried to appease the abutters, and hope that these large changes are enough to let us resume construction and move towards an opening as soon as possible."

Given the additional work and permitting required by the agreement, Frasca said he was still unsure of a potential opening date for the Straight Wharf Fish Market - the official name for the clam shack.

"This year would be grand," he said. "And, at this point, really, really hard."

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Top: the Straight Wharf Fish Market property next to Johnson's property "Omega" on Old North Wharf. Bottom right: Steve Karp. Bottom left: Charlie Johnson. Top photo by Cary Hazlegrove. Karp photo by Kris Kinsley Hancock.
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