zoning

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 Excuses City’s Notice-by-Mail Fail

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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

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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

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

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

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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

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

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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

Not Your Grandfather’s Nonconforming Structure: Mass. Appeals Court Discusses Difference Between Increasing an Existing Nonconformity and Creating a New One

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In perhaps a sign of the linguistic times, Appeals Court Justice James R. Milkey’s  opinion in the case of Comstock v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Gloucester received more media coverage for certain racial history commentary in a footnote than for the central zoning principles at stake. Yet, for zoning lawyers, there is far more to the ruling than the footnote.

First, Justice Milkey’s linguistic footnote: In Massachusetts and elsewhere, uses and structures in place prior to the effective date of various zoning and other regulations have long been referred to as “grandfathered.” In footnote 11 of its decision, the court acknowledges the “racist origins” of the term due to its prior use in the context of Reconstruction Era voter suppression. Certainly, the court is correct that the concept of time-exempted structures and uses can be discussed with other, less controversial, phrasing, and this post will do so.

Back to zoning. The extent to which a preexisting nonconforming structure can

Mass. Appeals Court Clarifies How Zoning Cases Can – and Can’t – Be Settled

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently decided that a settlement agreement resolving a zoning case brought by the Town of Bourne did not prevent neighbors from obtaining zoning enforcement inconsistent with that settlement. The case, Stevens v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Bourne, involved the use of a property in a residential zoning district as a wedding venue (commercial uses were not allowed). There were two sequential cases involving challenges to the use.

The first case arose from the building inspector’s cease and desist order to the property owner requiring a complete halt to the commercial use. The Town then brought a case in Land Court to enforce the order. That case was settled by an agreement between the Town’s administrative board and the property owner. The settlement agreement included dismissal of the Land Court case with prejudice. Critically, the Land Court did not decide whether the challenged use was lawful. The Building Inspector issued a new cease and desist order consistent with the

Wrong Procedure Costs City $1 Million Judgment Against Developer it Fined for Building Without Permits

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In a striking blow, stripping a city of a judgment of nearly $1 million, the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently reversed a superior court summary judgment awarding fines to the City of Haverhill for a developer’s violations of zoning laws. The city assessed the fines against the developer under the state building code and the local zoning bylaw for building without necessary permits. In Maroney v. Planning Board of Haverhill, the Appeals Court held that the city’s building inspector did not follow the required procedures to impose fines.

The developer, Maroney, had a special permit and subdivision plan approval for a 50‑lot residential subdivision, both of which required him to build a water pressure booster station to service certain lots in the subdivision. The developer built much of the subdivision, in conformance with the process outlined by the city, on lots that the water department considered serviceable. When Maroney attempted to go forward with development of lots that the water department considered

Man Bites Dog: Real Estate Developer SLAPPs Objecting Abutters’ Claims

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A decision late last year from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), 477 Harrison Ave., LLC v. JACE Boston, LLC (pdf), gives real estate developers a surprising new weapon when confronted by litigious neighbors.

The dispute began in 2012, when the plaintiff developer obtained zoning relief to redevelop a residential property in Boston’s South End. After several years of legal challenges by abutting property owners, the developer abandoned that zoning relief and pursued a new project that appeared to require no zoning relief. When it turned out the developer’s new project did require zoning relief, the abutters seized the opportunity to appeal the new zoning relief as well.

While the abutters’ new appeal was pending, the developer filed a separate case against them alleging abuse of process and violations of the Massachusetts unfair trade practices statute, M.G.L. c. 93A (Chapter 93A). After the abutters’ efforts to dismiss the new case were rejected, they filed counterclaims