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Nantucket billionaire sues clam shack 18 inches from residence

A billionaire and summer resident in the tiny Massachusetts island of Nantucket is suing a local fish market seeking to reopen as a restaurant next to his waterfront cottage.

Charles Johnson, principal owner of the San Francisco Giants and former chairman and CEO of investment manager Franklin Resources, is quarreling with his neighbor, Straight Wharf Fish, and the Town of Nantucket. The properties are located on the exclusive Old North Wharf, where small homes on the water can sell for as much as $10 million. 

The fish market building is a mere 18 inches away from Johnson's residence, according to the lawsuit, filed in May.

In the suit, Johnson alleges that the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission improperly granted Straight Wharf Fish a liquor license, saying that the approval "disregarded the negative effect that the granting of the license would have on the abutting residences and neighbors."

The license approval was improper because it "ignored traffic, noise, congestion, and parking problems that would be generated," according to the lawsuit. 

Johnson also claims the conversion of the market into a sit-down restaurant would create "a deleterious effect on the abutting residential neighborhood."

Attorneys for Johnson are seeking to have the license invalidated. Johnson did not immediately reply to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment. His lawyer, Danielle deBenedictis, declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

Forbes estimates Johnson's net worth at $4.9 billion. 

The owners of the retail fish market want to convert it into a sit-down restaurant. It would be half fish market and half clam shack, co-owner Gabriel Frasca told CBS MoneyWatch. Previously, Straight Wharf Fish operated as a fish market and ice cream store. It closed in 2019, and the owners began renovations toward the end of 2020, which have been on hold during the litigation. 

"It is possible that we will have an agreement this week that will allow us to go forward," Frasca told CBS MoneyWatch. "I am hopeful that this week well see something we can live with and we'll move forward."

Support from another billionaire

Charles Schwab, founder of financial services giant Charles Schwab Corporation, also owns property on the wharf and has expressed support for the planned restaurant.

"I want to confirm for you in writing that: The Schwabs do not oppose your restaurant; and the Schwabs have full confidence that you, NIR (Nantucket Island Resorts), and the Town will work out the details to make sure that everything is good for the neighborhood and community," Schwab's attorney, Steven Cohen, said in an April statement to the Nantucket Current.

The resort community is among the most exclusive in the world. recently named the island off the coast of Massachusetts "the most expensive beach destination in the world," based on hotel room rates. Earlier this summer, a waterfront Nantucket home sold for $38.1 million, setting a Massachusetts record. 

Frasca said that while he doesn't believe his business has run afoul of any laws, he's eager to resolve the legal dispute and open for business.

"We've been well protected by rules and regulations, and I hope very much we're able to wrap it up soon and move forward," he said. "We want to finish construction and get it open." 

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