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

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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 in “linear feet.” Must the frontage be in a straight line or, as in this case, can a boundary line which contains an angle function as “frontage?”  The Board upheld the issuance of a building permit to Perry’s neighbors based on a finding that their property has sufficient frontage. The Land Court affirmed, after a remand to the Board for consideration of a related issue.

On further appeal Perry asserted that the bylaw definition of frontage, together with the requirement that frontage be measured in “linear feet,” precludes his neighbors from relying on the end of the way for frontage. The Appeals Court, giving the appropriate deference to the Board’s interpretation of its bylaw, concluded otherwise, stating, “Measuring something in ‘linear feet’ merely means that the size of something is measured without reference to its other dimensions, such as width or height.” The Court added that “though a linear foot measurement is a ‘straight’ foot, the item being measured need not be straight.” Thus, the Board’s interpretation permitting a calculation of frontage along a series of consecutive but angled bounds was reasonable.

Perry provides useful guidance on an interpretive issue that arises with some frequency in zoning disputes.

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