Land Use

Mass. SJC adopts “totality of the circumstances” test to determine whether municipal land is held for a specific purpose

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In its recent decision in Carroll v. Select Board of Norwell (pdf), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reaffirmed that where town-owned land is held for a specific purpose, M.G.L. c. 40, § 15A dictates that it cannot be diverted to another inconsistent use until the “board or officer having charge” of the land determines it is no longer needed for that specific purpose. In so ruling the SJC added a test to determine whether such land is being held for a specific purpose. While past cases indicated that, in addition to a legislative act, a recorded instrument restricting the parcel’s use was required, Carroll clarifies that courts must examine the “totality of the circumstances” to determine if land has been held for a specific purpose.

In Carroll, residents of Norwell (the Town) – lobbied by neighbors of the Town land at issue – voted at the 2021 Town Meeting to transfer a Town-owned parcel to the

Does the 9th Circuit’s rejection of Berkeley, CA’s municipal gas ban spell doom for Massachusetts’ own gas-banning “Demonstration Program”?

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We bring to your attention this post by our colleague Randy Rich of Pierce Atwood’s Energy Infrastructure Group on the 9th Circuit’s decision earlier this week in California Restaurant Association v. City of Berkeley, No. 21-16278. The court decided that the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6297(c), preempts the City of Berkeley’s ordinance banning natural gas piping within newly constructed buildings. Interestingly, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was part of a group of states that filed an amicus brief urging the 9th Circuit to find no federal preemption and thus uphold the Berkeley ordinance.

Although the 9th Circuit’s decision isn’t legally binding here, we wonder how it will affect efforts to ban the use fossil fuels in the Commonwealth. Section 84 of Chapter 179 of the Acts of 2022 (pdf) authorizes the Mass. Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to establish a demonstration program allowing 10 cities and towns to adopt general or zoning

New Mass. AG continues hard line against local bylaws that hinder battery energy storage systems

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On March 1, 2023, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell’s Municipal Law Department issued a decision (pdf) disapproving two sections of the Town of Wendell’s amended zoning bylaw, one of which prohibited stand-alone battery energy storage facilities in all districts. As previewed in our blog post last month, based on a footnote in the former AG’s disapproval of the Town of Carver’s zoning moratoria on battery storage systems, Attorney General Campbell has taken the position that M.G.L. c. 40A, § 3 (colloquially known as the Dover Amendment) protects battery storage systems as “structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy”– even as stand-alone systems.

In the case of Wendell, the proposed bylaw amendment, which allowed battery storage in conjunction with solar installations but prohibited commercial or industrial-scale battery storage, was not, in the Attorney General’s view, “grounded in articulated evidence of public health, safety or welfare concerns sufficient to justify the prohibition.” There was no evidence in the record

Mass. AG Clamps Down on Local Solar and Battery Storage Moratoria

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Late last year, pursuant to her review authority under M.G.L. c. 40, § 32, then-Attorney General (now Governor) Maura Healey (the AG) issued a decision disapproving the Town of Carver’s moratoria on large-scale solar projects and battery storage systems. The grounds for the decision were straightforward and well-supported: citing the Supreme Judicial Court’s June, 2022 decision in Tracer Lane II Realty, LLC v. City of Waltham (see our blog post on that important opinion), and case law disfavoring moratoria generally, the AG determined that Carver’s moratoria violated M.G.L. c. 40A, § 3 (Section 3) by unlawfully restricting solar and battery storage systems “with no articulated evidence of an important municipal interest, grounded in protecting the public health, safety, or welfare […] sufficient to outweigh the public need for solar energy systems.” The AG found that instead of promoting the policy behind Section 3, the moratoria “undermined the state policy favoring solar energy” and that the town’s interest

Mass. SJC: $3.5 Million Payday for Torrent of Errant Golf Balls Not a Fore-Gone Conclusion

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A Kingston couple was dealt a significant blow days before Christmas when the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) set aside a jury verdict awarding them $3.5 million in damages for errant golf balls hitting their property. In Tenczar v. Indian Pond Country Club, Inc. (pdf), the SJC ruled that the trial judge erred in his jury instructions concerning easements applicable to the property. The plaintiffs’ home was subject to an easement providing for the “reasonable and efficient operation” of a golf course in the “customary and usual manner,” but the trial judge didn’t present to the jury the question of whether the golf course’s operation met that standard. So the question remains, how many errant shots on the 15th hole at the Indian Pond Country Club are reasonable?

The Kingston Planning Board endorsed a subdivision plan in the fall of 1998 for a residential development surrounding a golf course. The subdivision developer, Indian Pond, recorded a declaration of covenants and restrictions shortly

And Environmental Justice for All? Mass. High Court Clarifies Application of EJ Policy

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In GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Board, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), for only the second time, had an opportunity to interpret the Environmental Justice Policy (EJ Policy) promulgated by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA). The first time, in the 2014 case City of Brockton v. Energy Facilities Siting Board, the SJC decided, first, that the Energy Facilities Siting Board’s (EFSB) application of the EJ Policy was subject to judicial review, despite the EJ Policy’s express disclaimer that it doesn’t create any right to judicial review, and second, that agencies must provide greater public participation and increased scrutiny for projects near EJ populations that exceed certain environmental thresholds.

In GreenRoots the SJC clarified the second takeaway from City of Brockton, holding that the EFSB and other agencies under EOEEA’s purview must provide “enhanced public participation” and “enhanced analysis of impacts and mitigation” for projects that

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

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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

Public Trust Doctrine – Mass. High Court Finds Municipal Harbor Plan Regulations Involve Unlawful Delegation of DEP Authority

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In this April 2021 blog post we discussed the Superior Court’s decision in Armstrong vs. Theoharides.  Since then the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) took the case on direct appellate review and earlier this week the SJC issued a decision (pdf) affirming the Superior Court.  The SJC found that the longstanding procedure for approving Municipal Harbor Plans – in which the key decisions are made by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (the Secretary) – involve an unlawful delegation of the licensing authority that the Legislature gave the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under the state’s Public Waterfront Act, M.G.L. c. 91 (Chapter 91).

Municipal Harbor Plans (MHPs) are codified in regulations at 301 CMR 23.00 et. seq. (the MHP Regulations) and affect licensing by DEP under Chapter 91 and its implementing regulations at 310 CMR 9.00 et. seq. (the Chapter 91 Regulations). In order to obtain a license to

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

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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 Resurrects Neighbors’ Claims Against Noisy Vineyard Venue

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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