On May 13, 2016, the Appeals Court issued its decision in Hanlon v. Town of Sheffield, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 392 (2016), wherein it concluded that in order to regulate "the use and operation of aircraft or [an] airport or restricted landing area" for both commercial and noncommercial private purposes, the Town of Sheffield was required, first, to seek and obtain approval of such regulations from the Aeronautics Division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (the "Aeronautics Division"). The decision gives clarity to an awkwardly framed statute, and fresh hope to aeronautics enthusiasts across the Commonwealth for the establishment of private landing areas for their aircraft. It will also cause headaches for cities and towns around the Commonwealth because their regulatory authority over the use and operation of aircraft or landing areas in their communities is now entirely subject to review and approval by the Aeronautics Division. Municipal regulation, absent such pre-approval, is void.
Municipal zoning regulations are in a constant state of flux - especially when considered in relation to the long life span of many Massachusetts' residential and commercial structures. As such, many homes and commercial properties do not conform to current zoning regulations, particularly concerning issues like frontage, side and rear yard setbacks, and floor-to-area ratio (square footage of a structure in relation to the total area of the lot). Often, these structures were built in conformance with the applicable zoning regulations, but have subsequently fallen out of compliance due to increasingly strict requirements. These structures are thus categorized as "pre-existing nonconforming", and are protected from the more restrictive zoning requirements as long as the structures remain unchanged.
Rule 1:28 decisions (unpublished decisions rendered by the Massachusetts Appeals Court) often contain concise synopses, if not reminders, of settled areas of law. Although they are not binding precedent in other cases (at best, they offer persuasive value), Rule 1:28 decisions give lawyers and potential litigants a sense of what the outcome might be if an appeal were pursued under a similar set of facts. Incidentally, they are also particularly helpful when the appellate courts have not recently adjudicated certain issues of law.