Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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Cities and towns may exercise their zoning authority to determine whether land in their communities may be used as a noncommercial private restricted landing area (in this case, a private heliport). Here, the Land Court judge concluded that he was constrained to apply the Appeals Court’s holding in Hanlon v. Sheffield, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 392 (2016), which interpreted Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 39B to provide that a town may not enforce a zoning bylaw that would prohibit a private landowner from creating a noncommercial private restricted landing area on his property unless the bylaw had been approved by the Department of Transportation (division). The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the Land Court, holding that there is no clear legislative intent to preempt local zoning enactments with respect to noncommercial private restricted landing areas, and cities and towns do not need the prior approval of the division to enforce a zoning bylaw that requires some form of approval, variance, or special permit for land to be used as a private heliport. View "Roma, III, Ltd. v. Board of Appeals of Rockport" on Justia Law

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At issue was the Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) denial of Plaintiff’s application for a comprehensive permit to develop a mixed-income project. Plaintiff owned parcel of land in an area zoned for limited manufacturing use. The site was subject to a restrictive covenant owned by the city of Newton, and the city owned an abutting parcel with a deed restriction requiring that it be used only for conservation, parkland, or recreational use. Plaintiff sought to amend the deed restriction to allow a residential use at the site and to permit construction in the nonbuild zone. The ZBA denied Plaintiff’s permit application, concluding that it lacked authority to amend the deed restriction, an interest in land held by the city. The Department of Housing and Community Development (HAC) affirmed. Plaintiff sought judicial review. A land court judge granted Defendants’ motions for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the HAC does not have authority to order the city to relinquish its property interest. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the negative easement is a property interest in land, and the ZBA does not have authority modify certain types of property interests in land; and (2) the restrictive covenant is not invalid where the restrictions provide valuable interests to the city. View "135 Wells Avenue, LLC v. Housing Appeals Committee" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether municipal parkland may be protected by Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution where the land was not taken by eminent domain and where there is no restriction recorded in the registry of deeds that limits its use to conservation or recreational purposes. The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, provided the land has been dedicated as a public park. Further, a municipality dedicates land as a public park where there is a clear and unequivocal intent to dedicate the land permanently as a public park and where the public accepts such use by actually using the land as a public park. Given this conclusion, the park in this case was dedicated by the city as a public park such that the transfer of its use from a park to a school would require legislative approval under the prior public use doctrine and, thus, under article 97. View "Smith v. City of Westfield" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was the owner and occupant of certain property. Defendant, the owner of a parcel of land abutting Plaintiff’s property, planned to build a residence on the property and applied for a building permit. The town building commissioner determined that the property had grandfathered status as a nonconforming lot. Plaintiff’s wife applied for a hearing. The zoning board of appeals of Westminster upheld the building commissioner’s determination. Plaintiff, as the personal representative of his wife’s estate, commenced this action claiming injury to his private easement right. The superior court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint for lack of standing, concluding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the construction proposed by Defendant would cause him any injury within the scope and concern of the Zoning Act. The appeals court reversed and concluded that Defendant’s property did not enjoy grandfathered status under the Westminster zoning by-law. The Supreme Judicial Court granted further appellate review and affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that Plaintiff’s injuries to his private easement rights were not within the scope and concern of the Zoning Act. View "Picard v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Westminster" on Justia Law

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Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations require that those deemed to be liable after a spill of hazardous materials within a specified radius of a public water supply undertake cleanup and monitoring to ensure the spill does not pose a danger to that water supply, 310 Code Mass. Regs. 40.0801, 40.0810, 40.0993(3)(a), 40.1030(2)(e). A 2007 modification exempts "oil" from some requirements when specific conditions are met, 310 Code Mass. Regs. 40.0924(2)(b)(3)(a). Peterborough owns a now-vacant Athol property, within a protection area, where it operated a gasoline station for more than 10 years. In 1994, a release of leaded gasoline from a subterranean gasoline storage tank was detected in soil on the site. DEP required Peterborough to undertake supervised cleanup and monitoring activities. In 2008, after the oil exemption was established, Peterborough submitted a revised plan, stating that further remediation was not required because the entirety of the spill fell within the exemption's definition of "oil." DEP responded that the meaning of "oil" in the exemption does not include gasoline additives such as lead, but refers only to petroleum hydrocarbons naturally occurring in oils, so that a spill of leaded gasoline could not be completely excluded from further remediation. The trial court, on summary judgment, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, upheld the DEP interpretation of the regulation as reasonable. View "Peterborough Oil Co., LLC v. Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, who owned property abutting a proposed development, filed an appeal in the Housing Court from the decision of the planning board of Greenfield granting a special permit in favor of the developer to construct the project. The appeals court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 185, 3A deprived the Housing Court of subject matter jurisdiction to hear major development permit appeals. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was whether, by enacting Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 185, 3A, the legislature intended to grant exclusive subject matter jurisdiction to the permit session of the Land Court and to the Superior Court to hear a certain subset of major development permit appeals. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case to the Housing Court, holding (1) the legislature intended that major development permit appeals should be adjudicated only in the permit session of the Land Court or in the Superior court; and (2) in this case, where the permit appeal was timely filed in the Housing Court, the appropriate remedy is to transfer the case to a court with jurisdiction rather than dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Skawski v. Greenfield Investors Prop. Dev. LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was an ordinance imposing restrictions on the right of sex offenders to reside in the City of Lynn. Plaintiffs, a class of sex offenders subject to the ordinance, challenged the ordinance's constitutionality. A superior court judge invalidated the ordinance under the Home Rule Amendment. Specifically, the judge determined that the ordinance was inconsistent with the Sex Offender Registry Law and the law providing for the care, treatment, and rehabilitation of sexually dangerous persons. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the ordinance was inconsistent with the comprehensive statutory scheme governing the oversight of convicted sex offenders and, therefore, was inconsistent and invalid under the home rule provisions. View "Doe v. City of Lynn" on Justia Law

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The owner of a tract of land divided the land into three lots, such that a single dwelling would stand on each lot, in conformance with the the subdivision control law’s existing structures exemption, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 41, 81L. The new lot at 87 Main Street did not conform to the town’s zoning bylaws and rendered the dwelling located thereon nonconforming. The zoning board of appeals granted a variance to make the lot and dwelling lawful. Plaintiff later acquired 87 Main Street and sought a permit to tear down the existing dwelling and construct a new dwelling. The zoning board denied the permit on zoning grounds. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the lot was entitled to grandfather protection under the Zoning Act because the dwelling predated the town’s zoning bylaw and the lot was created pursuant to section 81L. The Land Court determined that Plaintiff was required to obtain a variance. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that because the new nonconformities arising from the creation of 87 Main Street were rendered lawful by the original variance, the proposed reconstruction of the dwelling, which would have expanded those nonconformities, required a new or amended variance from the town’s zoning bylaw. View "Palitz v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was the owner of two adjacent unimproved lots in the town of Scituate. The lots were located in a flood plain and watershed protection district (FPWP district). Plaintiff applied for special permits from the Town’s planning board to construct residential dwellings on the lots. The Board denied the applications, concluding that Plaintiff had not demonstrated that her lots were not “subject to flooding” within the meaning of the applicable zoning bylaw. A land court judge affirmed the Board’s decision. The appeals court reversed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the appeals court adopted an incorrect definition of the phrase “subject to flooding,” and the land court judge adopted the correct meaning of the phrase. View "Doherty v. Planning Bd. of Scituate" on Justia Law

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The Stefanidises divided a parcel into Lot A and Lot B. The Stefanidses converted the building on Lot A into three condominium units and applied for a variance to built a two-family house on Lot B. The variance was approved, but the Stefanidses failed to record the variance. Pursuant to a subsequently granted building permit, the Stefanidses began to clear and prepare the site. More than one year after the variance was granted, Plaintiff, who lived in one of the units on Lot A, requested that the building commission revoke the building permit on the ground that the Stefanidses failed to record the variance within one year. The commissioner denied the request, and the zoning board of appeals upheld the commissioner's denial. The land court affirmed, determining that the variance had not lapsed because the Stefanidses had taken substantial steps in reliance upon it. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, on the facts of this case, the variance had become effective and had not lapsed. View "Grady v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Peabody" on Justia Law