Breaking: Mass. High Court Expansively Interprets Zoning Exemption for Solar Energy

Authors:
Industries:

Massachusetts has committed to increasing the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources, such as solar power, through a series of laws and policies. As solar energy systems have proliferated, trial courts have been asked to determine the limits of local government power over where large ground-mounted solar energy facilities can be sited. For the first time, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has interpreted statutory language enacted decades ago that exempts solar energy systems from zoning regulation. In its decision yesterday in Tracer Lane II Realty, LLC v. City of Waltham (pdf), the SJC acknowledged the need for large ground-mounted solar arrays to meet the Commonwealth’s renewable energy goals.

Section 3 of the Massachusetts Zoning Act (Section 3) – aptly named “Subjects which zoning may not regulate” – protects certain favored uses from local zoning laws. At issue in Tracer Lane was the ninth paragraph of Section 3, which concerns solar energy systems. The plaintiff solar

Appeals Court Excuses City’s Notice-by-Mail Fail

Practice area:
Industries:

Today the Appeals Court decided Markham v. Pittsfield Cellular Telephone Company (pdf), holding that the 90-day appeal period under M.G.L. c. 40A, § 17 for zoning appeals alleging procedural defects is not tolled where a zoning board failed to give notice of a special permit hearing by mail, but did provide notice by publication and by posting at city hall.

Several residents of Pittsfield tried to challenge a special permit that the Pittsfield Zoning Board of Appeals granted to the defendant telephone company more than two years earlier. The plaintiffs claimed they lacked any notice of the special permit at the time it was granted or within 90 days thereafter. M.G.L. c. 40A, § 11 requires that notice be given to “parties in interest” such as the plaintiffs in three ways: 1) by publication in a newspaper, 2) by posting in city hall, and 3) by mail. The trial judge found that the zoning board complied with the

Appeals Court Resurrects Neighbors’ Claims Against Noisy Vineyard Venue

Industries:

In its recent decision in Allegaert v. Harbor View Hotel Owner, LLC, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed in part two Superior Court judgments dismissing the plaintiffs’ zoning appeals. In the process the Appeals Court helpfully clarified some procedural issues that often arise in such cases.

The plaintiffs in Allegaert are neighbors of the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. The hotel is a longstanding nonconforming use in what is now a residential neighborhood. In the early 1990s the hotel received special permits to serve food and beverages in certain outdoor areas. In 2019 the hotel applied for a new special permit to replace an existing pool bar with a new bar near the pool but outside the pool fence. The Edgartown zoning board posted and published notice of the hotel’s application and claims to have sent notice by mail to abutters and other parties-in-interest as required by M.G.L. c. 40A, § 11. After a public hearing the board

Mass. High Court: Three-Year Clock for Wetlands Protection Act Enforcement Actions Re-Starts With Every Sale of Property

Practice area:
Industries:

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently handed a victory to a conservation commission seeking to impose an enforcement order on a property owner who bought land containing unauthorized fill placed there by a prior owner 35 years before.  The SJC ruled that the “statute of repose” in the state Wetlands Protection Act, which protects property owners from enforcement for prior violations in certain situations, does not run with the land.

The Wetlands Protection Act, M.G.L. c. 131, § 40 (the Act), generally prohibits removing, filling, or altering wetlands without an order of conditions from a local conservation commission.  The Act also provides that “[a]ny person” who acquires property on which work has been done in violation of the Act shall restore the property to its original or permitted condition; but the Act limits the time period during which an enforcement action against “such person” may be brought.  Specifically, an action must be brought within three years of the recording of the deed (or

To Meet Zoning Frontage Requirement, “Linear Feet” Need Not be in a Straight Line

Practice area:
Industries:

Earlier this month in Perry v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Hull (pdf), the Appeals Court considered whether only a straight line along a private way constitutes “frontage” under the local zoning bylaw.

Don Perry objected to his neighbors, Anne Veilleux and Charles Williams, constructing a house on their property in Hull. He raised a number of claims with respect to the issuance of a building permit for the project, including that the Zoning Board of Appeals (Board) improperly interpreted the local zoning bylaw with respect to its definition of “lot frontage.” Perry argued that “frontage” consists only of the straight line which is the sideline of the way providing access to the property, because the bylaw measures frontage in “linear feet.” The Hull Building Inspector determined that the sideline plus the length along the end of the private way, which was at an angle to the sideline, was the appropriate measure of frontage.

On appeal the issue was what constitutes frontage

BREAKING: Mass. SJC Rules on Compatibility of Short-Term Rentals with Single-Family Zoning

Practice area:
Industries:

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today weighed in on the zoning permissibility of short-term rentals, a much-contested and important area of concern.

In its decision in Styller v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Lynnfield (pdf), the SJC affirmed a Land Court decision concerning an appeal from a decision of the Lynnfield Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which affirmed a cease-and-desist order prohibiting short-term rentals (STRs) of the plaintiff Styller’s property without a special permit.

Styller owned a five-bedroom single-family house on three aces in a single-residence zoning district.  The Styller family lived on the premises. Beginning in 2015, Styller rented the property through various short-term rental websites. The STR use came to the town’s attention after a renter held a 100+ person party at the property, during which one attendee was shot and killed. The Building Inspector sent a cease-and-desist notice, concluding that the STR use was an “additional” use: either a prohibited hotel use or an unauthorized lodging or rooming

Somerville Urban Renewal Taking Survives Challenge

Practice area:
Industries:

In Cobble Hill Center LLC v. Somerville Redevelopment Authority (pdf), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) upheld the eminent domain taking by the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) of 3.99 acres of land located at 90 Washington Street in Somerville.

Cobble Hill, the owner of the parcel, argued that the taking was improper because there was no approved urban renewal plan that covered its property, and the SRA could only take by eminent domain property that is included within an approved urban renewal plan.  The SRA countered that the provisions of M.G.L. c. 121B, § 46(f) (§ 46(f)) authorized the taking.

Takings by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) under § 46(f) were the subject of a 2019 SJC opinion in Marchese v. Boston Redevelopment Authority, in which the court upheld the BRA’s taking of easement rights which rights were then transferred to the Boston Red Sox for use for Fenway Park.  While Marchese

Fate of Municipal Harbor Plans Thrown Into Question

Industries:

The Superior Court’s April 1, 2021 decision in Armstrong v. Theoharides (pdf) was no April Fool’s joke and could have far-reaching consequences for Massachusetts waterfront development.  In a case against the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) brought by the Conservation Law Foundation and residents of the Harbor Towers condominium complex in Boston, the court sided with the plaintiffs and found that the Secretary exceeded her authority in approving the Boston Downtown Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan (the Boston Waterfront MHP). That approval would have allowed the construction of a 600-foot-tall tower at the site of what is now the Aquarium Garage, as well as the development of the Hook Lobster site, both on Atlantic Avenue in Boston.

Municipal Harbor Plans (MHPs) are codified in EEA regulations at 301 CMR 23.00 et seq. (the MHP Regulations) and affect licensing by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under the state’s Public Waterfront Act, M.G.L. c. 91 (Chapter 91), and its

Mass. Appeals Court Imports Chapter 40A Presumption of Standing into Boston Zoning Enabling Act

Authors:
Industries:

A recent decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Porter v. Board of Appeal of Boston (pdf), addressed the question of standing to appeal a variance granted by the Board of Appeal of Boston (“BOA”).  Zoning in Boston is governed by c. 665 of the Acts of 1956, as amended (the “Enabling Act”), not by M.G.L. c. 40A (the “Zoning Act”), which applies to all other cities and towns in Massachusetts. See Emerson College v. City of Boston, 393 Mass. 303 (1984).  In Porter, the Appeals Court applied to the Enabling Act standards and legal reasoning that are derived from unique language in the Zoning Act.  The court found that parties entitled to receive notice under the Zoning Act are presumed to have standing under the Enabling Act.

The pro se plaintiff in Porter appealed a variance granted to a nearby property owner. In his complaint, the plaintiff claimed to be

Mass. High Court Declines to Expand Prior Public Use Doctrine

Practice area:
Industries:

In its decision last week in Town of Sudbury vs. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) declined to expand the reach of the common-law prior public use doctrine. As the court explained, “[u]nder this long-standing doctrine, public lands acquired for one public use may not be diverted to another inconsistent public use unless the subsequent use is authorized by plain and explicit legislation.” In this case the Town of Sudbury sought to prevent the defendant Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) from entering into an easement agreement with Eversource for the installation and maintenance of an underground transmission line on an unused 9-mile right of way, approximately 4.3 miles of which is located in Sudbury.

The Town of Sudbury urged the court to find that use of the right of way by Eversource violated the prior public use doctrine because the MBTA’s transportation use was inconsistent with the electric transmission line use by Eversource, which the Town argued