Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the Land Court denying Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in this land dispute, holding that an undeveloped lot that was deemed unbuildable under the local zoning bylaw in effect when the lot's owner requested a building permit was protected as buildable under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6.At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was whether the lot at issue met the minimum "frontage" requirement set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6. The land court annulled the issuance of the building permit in this case, concluding that the lot did not qualify for protection under the statute. The appeals court reversed and reinstated the decision of the zoning board of appeals allowing the application for a permit. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed and vacated the land court judge's order, holding that the subject lot had more than fifty feet of "frontage" on a "way," and therefore, the lot was protected as a buildable lot pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6. View "Williams v. Board of Appeals of Norwell" on Justia Law

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In this case involving licenses to operate a retail marijuana dispensary the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Land Court judge ordering the issuance of a special permit to Plaintiff and the issuance of a second injunction, holding that the second injunction exceeded the permissible scope of the judge's authority.After denying Plaintiff's application for a special permit license to operate a recreational marijuana establishment in the City of Taunton the City granted a special permit to a different applicant. Plaintiff filed a complaint challenging the denial of its special permit application. The Land Court judge found the City's denial of Plaintiff's special permit application was arbitrary and capricious and enjoined the City from conducting previously-scheduled licensing proceedings to consider applications from nonparties seeking licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries and from issuing any of the four licenses to the pending applicants. A single justice vacated the preliminary injunction. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the portion of the judgment concerning the city council's licensing hearings and otherwise affirmed, holding that the injunction exceeded the scope of the judge's authority but that the judge did not err in determining that the City's denial was arbitrary and legally untenable. View "Bask, Inc. v. Municipal Council of Taunton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the Land Court determining that, pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94G, 3(a)(1), the town of Mansfield may not prevent CommCan, Inc. from converting to a retail marijuana establishment, holding that there was no error.Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94G, 3(a)(1) exempts, with some exceptions, medical marijuana dispensaries from zoning ordinances that would prohibit them from converting to retail marijuana sales. Plaintiff, the president of CommCan, received authorization from the town to construct a building that would house a medical marijuana dispensary. Before construction began, chapter 94G legalized the sale of recreation marijuana. Plaintiff sought a determination that, pursuant to section 3(a)(1), the town may not prevent CommCan from converting to a retail marijuana establishment. The Supreme Judicial Court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the town's arguments on appeal lacked merit. View "CommCan, Inc. v. Mansfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Land Court's judgment affirming the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals of the town of Lynnfield upholding the decision of the building inspector ordering Plaintiff to cease and desist offering his family home for short-term rentals, holding that there was no error.On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the use of his home for short-term rentals constituted a prior nonconforming use that was exempt from the town's zoning bylaw that, as amended, expressly forbade short-term rentals in single-residence zoning districts. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that Plaintiff's use of the property for short-term rentals was not a permissible use under the town's zoning bylaw as it existed prior to its amendment. View "Styller v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Lynnfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the Land Court dismissing Plaintiffs' complaint challenging a dimensional zoning requirement, holding that Plaintiffs were not persons aggrieved for purposes of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 17 and, therefore, lacked standing to challenge the decision of the zoning board of appeals.Plaintiffs' neighbors received a foundation permit to construct a single-family resident on property directly across the street from Plaintiffs' home. After the zoning board of appeals of Sherborn upheld the issuance of the permit Plaintiffs filed this complaint in the Land Court. The Land Court dismissed complaint for lack of standing, concluding that Plaintiffs were not aggrieved by the board's decision within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws 40A, 17. The Appeals Court reversed. The Supreme Judicial Court ordered dismissal of the complaint, holding that the Land Court judge did not err in deciding that Plaintiffs were not aggrieved by the board's decision and therefore lacked standing to pursue the appeal. View "Murchison v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Sherborn" on Justia Law

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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