Donald R. Pinto, Jr.

Supreme Court’s Sheetz decision casts doubt on validity of Massachusetts inclusionary zoning regulations

Industries:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sheetz v. County of El Dorado may have a profound impact on inclusionary zoning ordinances and bylaws in Massachusetts. I suspect few of those regulations – if challenged – will pass constitutional muster under what’s now a quartet of crucial, related Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions: Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987), Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994), Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District (2013), and Sheetz. For purposes of this post, “inclusionary zoning” means zoning regulations that require new residential developments to include a certain number or percentage of affordable housing units or that authorize a payment of money in lieu of providing the required units.

First, some background.

In Nollan the plaintiffs applied for a permit to expand their Southern California beach bungalow. The defendant commission, applying state law, conditioned issuance of the permit on the Nollans’ granting a public access

Mass. High Court Clarifies Scope of New Zoning Act Bond Provision

Industries:

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) last week gave real estate litigators an early holiday gift: an important, clarifying opinion on a recent amendment to Section 17 of M.G.L. c. 40A (the Zoning Act), which governs appeals to court from decisions of local zoning boards. The case is Marengi v. 6 Forest Road, LLC (pdf).

In 2020, as part of a wide-ranging economic development bill intended to spur housing production, the Legislature added (effective January, 2021) the following paragraph to Section 17:

The court, in its discretion, may require a plaintiff in an action under this section appealing a decision to approve a special permit, variance or site plan to post a surety or cash bond in an amount of not more than $50,000 to secure the payment of costs if the court finds that the harm to the defendant or to the public interest resulting from delays caused by the appeal outweighs the financial burden of the surety or

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

In Massachusetts, Defendant Who Prevails on Special Motion to Dismiss Lis Pendens Case Can Recover Appellate Attorneys’ Fees

Practice area:
Industries:

In its decision last week in DeCicco v. 180 Grant Street, LLC, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) answered a previously open question, confirming that a defendant who successfully moves to dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff obtained a lis pendens is entitled to recover not only its trial court attorneys’ fees but also the fees it incurs on appeal, assuming the trial court’s decision is affirmed.

In DeCicco, the plaintiffs made a written offer to purchase the defendant’s property. The defendant accepted the offer but refused to complete the transaction. The plaintiffs filed suit for, among other things, breach of contract and specific performance, and obtained court approval of a memorandum of lis pendens. This is a document that gets recorded at the registry of deeds to provide public notice that the land at issue is the subject of a lawsuit that may affect its title.

Under the Massachusetts lis pendens statute, M.G.L. c. 184, §

Breaking: City of Boston Announces New Protocol for Resumption of “Essential” Construction This Month

Practice area:
Industries:

Late yesterday Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s office announced a new protocol for re-starting city construction projects deemed “essential.” In mid-March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Walsh ordered most construction in the city to cease. Since April 27, 2020, all projects involving essential construction have been required to file with the city a COVID-19 Safety Plan and an affidavit pledging to implement that plan. Starting yesterday, projects with approved safety plans and signed affidavits were allowed to begin preparing their construction sites with project-specific COVID-19 safety measures.

Under the new protocol, starting May 18, 2020, projects that (1) have all necessary permits in place, (2) have approved safety plans and signed affidavits on file, and (3) are sufficiently prepared to implement their safety plans, can resume construction, but only if the work is for:

  • hospitals;
  • public schools;
  • residential buildings of 1-3 units;
  • road and utility work; or
  • “other outdoor/open-air work such as steel

In Rare Move, SJC Enters Immediate Order Reversing Decision That Broadened Density-Based Standing in Zoning Appeals

Practice area:
Industries:

In what passes for high drama in the world of Massachusetts land use law, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), after hearing oral argument last Thursday in an important case involving standing in zoning appeals, entered an order the next day reversing the Appeals Court decision under review and reinstating the trial court’s decision dismissing the complaint. The SJC’s order reads simply, “The judgment of the Land Court dated June 5, 2018, dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint for lack of standing, is hereby affirmed. Opinion to follow.”

The case is Murchison v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Sherborn. The Appeals Court’s decision, which came out last fall, caused a mini-earthquake within the real estate development bar. The case involves a neighbor’s challenge to a building permit authorizing the construction of a house on a vacant lot that the neighbor claims doesn’t meet the applicable lot-width requirement. The lot, which is wooded, is across a street from the neighbor’s house. Both lots are

Breaking: Mass. High Court Rules Municipality’s Acquisition of Prescriptive Easement Isn’t a Taking

Practice area:
Industries:

In a rescript opinion issued this morning in Gentili v. Town of Sturbridge (pdf), the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that a municipality’s acquisition of a prescriptive easement over private property is not an eminent domain taking.  In prior proceedings in Gentili, the Land Court ruled that the defendant town had acquired a prescriptive easement to discharge surface water through a culvert onto the plaintiffs’ property. Instead of appealing, the plaintiffs filed a Superior Court case seeking damages under M.G.L. c. 79, the state’s eminent domain statute. The Superior Court granted summary judgment to the town and the plaintiffs appealed. The SJC transferred the appeal to itself for decision.

In briskly affirming the Superior Court, the SJC said, “[t]he problem with the [plaintiff] trust’s argument is that the theories and laws of prescriptive easements and takings do not interact in the way that the trust suggests.” Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Texaco, Inc.

Appeals Court Registers Objection to Superior Court Judgment Affecting Registered Land

Practice area:
Industries:

The Appeals Court’s decision yesterday in Johnson v. Christ Apostle Church, Mt. Bethel (pdf) is a useful reminder that the Land Court’s jurisdiction over cases affecting title to registered land is exclusiveJohnson involved a dispute between the plaintiff homeowner and a neighboring church over Johnson’s longstanding use of a driveway on the church’s property for parking and for access to Johnson’s property. After years of amicable relations, in 2013 the church erected a six-foot fence along the property line that prevented Johnson from continuing to use the driveway. Johnson filed suit in Superior Court alleging that the fence was an unlawful “spite fence” under M.G.L. c. 49, § 21, which makes such fences a form of private nuisance. She also brought claims of negligence and adverse possession. The case went to trial solely on the nuisance claim, and the judge found for Johnson and ordered the church to install a series of gates in the fence to

Mass. SJC Reaffirms that Zoning Exemption for Educational Uses is Expansive; Residential Psychiatric Program for Adolescents Easily Qualifies

Practice area:
Industries:

In a noteworthy decision today, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reaffirmed that the exemption in the state’s Zoning Act, M.G.L. c. 40A, for uses deemed to be “for educational purposes,” is construed very broadly.  That exemption, which appears in Section 3 of Chapter 40A and is known as the Dover Amendment, provides in relevant part that:

[n]o zoning ordinance or by-law shall . . . prohibit, regulate or restrict the use of land or structures for religious purposes or educational purposes on land owned or leased by . . . a religious sect or denomination, or by a nonprofit educational corporation . . . .

The statute goes on to say that such land or structures may be subject to reasonable regulations concerning the bulk and height of structures, yard sizes, lot area, setbacks, open space, etc.

In The McLean Hospital Corp. v. Town of Lincoln (pdf), the high court considered a

Mass. High Court Says Not All Divisions of Land Require Planning Board Approval, Dismisses Prospect of “Wild Deeds”

Practice area:
Industries:

In its recent decision in RCA Development, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Brockton (pdf), Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) considered whether a division of land into two lots accomplished solely by deeds describing the new lots, with no plan having been drawn or approved by the local planning board, is valid. Without hesitation the SJC held that it is.

In 1964 the owner of a lot in Brockton conveyed the northern half of the lot to the owner of a northerly abutting lot, and the southern half of the lot (the locus) to the owner of a southerly abutting lot. Each half of the original lot independently complied with the then-existing frontage, lot-depth, and area requirements. Going forward, the locus and the southerly abutting lot were conveyed together but continued to be separately described. At some point a house was built on the southerly abutting lot but the locus remained vacant.

In 2016 the plaintiff applied for a permit to