Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the Land Court judge determining that the primary purpose of Plaintiff's proposed residential program for adolescent males could not be characterized as "educational" under the Dover Amendment, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 3, second paragraph, and therefore was not exempt from certain zoning restrictions, holding that the proposed facility and its curriculum fell within the "broad and comprehensive" meaning of "educational purposes" under the Dover Amendment. Plaintiff, The McLean Hospital Corporation, sought to develop a residential life skills program for fifteen to twenty-one year old males who exhibit extreme emotional dysregulation to allow the adolescents to lead useful, productive lives. The building commissioner determined that the proposed use was educational and that Plaintiff could proceed under the Dover Amendment and its local analog, section 6.1(i) of the town of Lincoln's bylaw. The town's zoning board of appeals reversed, determining that the program was medical or therapeutic, as opposed to education. The Land Court judge upheld the determination. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter for entry of a judgment in favor of Plaintiff, holding that the fact that the curriculum of the facility is not conventional does not negate the fact that the predominant purpose of the program is educational. View "McLean Hospital Corp. v. Town of Lincoln" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the land court upholding the action of the board of appeals of Brookline allowing Defendant homeowners’ request for a special permit to modify the roof of their home to add a dormer, thus increasing the preexisting nonconforming floor area ratio, holding that Defendants were not required to obtain a variance from the town’s zoning bylaw. The board allowed Defendant’s request for a special permit, determining that the proposed project would not be substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6 did not exempt Defendants from compliance with municipal bylaws and that Defendants were required to obtain a variance in addition to a special permit. The land court judgment upheld the board’s action. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6 requires an owner of a single- or two-family residential building with a preexisting nonconformity, who proposes a modification that is found to increase the nature of the nonconforming structure, to obtain a finding that the modification “shall not be substantially more detrimental than the existing nonconforming use to the neighborhood”; and (2) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6 does not require the homeowner to obtain a variance from the local bylaw under the circumstances. View "Bellalta v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Brookline" on Justia Law

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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