Massachusetts contains thousands of private streets and ways; on and along those ways innumerable residents of this Commonwealth live. We know that the Derelict Fee Statute operates to resolve ownership questions regarding these private ways. However, the "statute pertains only to the question of ownership of the fee [in a private way]"; it does not govern use, maintenance, or other rights and/or obligations over a way, which, for the purposes of this blog post, fall within the province of the common law of easements. Adams v. Planning Bd. of Westwood, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 383, 389 (2005).
In run of the mill zoning appeals, the plaintiff must persuade the trial court that a local zoning decision "is based on a legally untenable ground, or is unreasonable, whimsical, capricious or arbitrary" in order to have the local decision annulled. Davis v. Zoning Bd. of Chatham, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 349, 355 (2001), ultimately quoting MacGibbon v. Board of Appeals of Duxbury, 356 Mass. 635, 639 (1970) (quotations omitted). This standard is applied to the particular action of the local board, not the bylaw under which it has acted. In many zoning cases, however, there may be a basis to attack the local bylaw itself, and derivatively the decision of the board, as it is based on a legally-invalid bylaw. This is the first of a series of posts, discussing challenges to zoning bylaws. In this post, the basics of these challenges will be discussed.
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.
A recent Land Court case, Bassin v. Fairley, 11 MISC 451773 (AHS) (Mass. Land Ct. June 17, 2014), provides a good reminder of the kind of inquiry a court will make when deciding whether a landowner can remove a tree that straddles a common boundary line.
It is certainly not unusual to hear about tree cutting cases where a landowner wants to trim the branches of a neighbor's tree that overhang the common boundary line-which is lawful, to a point-or even those cases where a person trespasses onto the land of another to trim or cut down trees entirely situated on that lot-which is unlawful. Whatever the underlying motivation for such trimming and cutting, Massachusetts law is fairly clear about whether liability and damages will ensue under those circumstances.