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Zoning and land use in Massachusetts

On Behalf of | Apr 23, 2024 | Land Use And Zoning |

Zoning and land use dictate how landowners can use their property. In Massachusetts, these concerns are governed by the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40A. This framework enables cities and towns to regulate building development so it encourages safety, health, and the welfare of the community.

For individuals who are purchasing land in this state, learning how it’s zoned and what the acceptable land use is set for a particularly property can let them know if they can use it for a particular intended purpose. With that said, even if the zoning and land use aren’t exactly right, it’s sometimes possible to get them changed via a petition.

Key purposes of zoning

Zoning laws separate residential, commercial and industrial areas to prevent new development from interfering with existing residents or businesses and to preserve the character of a community. These laws control the types of buildings allowed in different areas, regulate lot coverage, building heights and the density of development.

For example, a residential zone might limit buildings to single-family homes with certain setback distances from the street and adjacent properties, but a commercial zone might allow for taller buildings and a mix of office, retail and service uses.

Special permits and variances

In Massachusetts, local zoning ordinances and bylaws often require a special permit or variance for developments that deviate from the standard zoning requirements. A special permit allows for uses that are considered in the public interest, such as educational or religious facilities, but that need to be controlled to protect public health and safety. The special permit process typically involves a public hearing to give community members a chance to voice their opinions.

Variances, on the other hand, are granted when a property owner can demonstrate that the existing zoning regulations impose a significant hardship due to the property’s unique conditions. The applicant must prove that the hardship relates specifically to the property and not to general conditions in the neighborhood.

The process of navigating zoning and land use concerns can be complex, especially when petitions for changes are necessary. Working with a legal representative who can assist with the process may help to encourage the success of a particular petition.


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