The Massachusetts Zoning Act sets forth a thorough process for those persons seeking or opposing zoning relief to have their grievances adjudicated. Usually, the first stop is at the local building inspector or zoning enforcement officer. If unsatisfied, an appeal is typically available to the zoning board of appeals. Finally, after "exhausting" this administrative process, a party may file an appeal to the Land Court or Superior Court. If the dispute has arisen from the issuance or denial of a building permit (or other zoning relief), the foregoing process is obligatory (with a few rare exceptions). This obligation is referred to as the duty to "exhaust" administrative remedies.
Recently we were asked to address the right of lot owners in an approved subdivision to enforce the terms of a covenant imposed by the Planning Board as part of the definitive subdivision approval. The restriction barred further division of lots. The Planning Board, however, approved a further division by endorsing an Approval Not Required (ANR) plan pursuant to G.L. c. 41, § 81L. Multiple lot owners in the subdivision brought suit in the Land Court challenging the ANR Plan as legally-untenable because it violated the terms of the underlying subdivision approval and covenant. This post explores the nature of such planning board covenants and who can enforce them.
One of the most vexing issues involving zoning and land use practice in Massachusetts is how site plan review decisions, rendered by local planning boards, are appealed. In fact, we were recently asked by Mass. Lawyers Weekly to comment on this topic, as well as a recent Land Court decision on the same.
A few years ago, I posted a two-part review of the state of the law for standing under the Zoning Act. Standing refers to a claimant's legal right to bring a claim. Not every person has the right to bring every claim. As previously discussed, this principle is especially true and significant in zoning appeals brought by neighbors, abutting property owners, rather than by applicant property owners. While the decisional law has not substantially changed since my post from 2015, our office recently encountered a case that involved some interesting questions about standing under G. L. c. 40A:
Recently one of our clients was forced to confront a challenge to the operation of their dog kennel business, which had been operating lawfully in a residential zoning district pursuant to a use variance granted in 1973. The challenge was that the variance authorized the kennel business, but not the use of exterior play yards that allowed the dogs to socialize and come to the kennel for day care. The case required an exploration of the scope of conditions that attach to variances. Based upon the analysis that follows, our office successfully protected our clients' business.
This is the fourth in a series of posts on challenges to zoning bylaws and ordinances. Before reaching the merits of zoning challenges, one more jurisdictional issue should be considered: standing-also referred to in the case law as "harm", "injury" or "aggrievement". "'The question of standing is one of critical significance. "From an early day it has been an established principle in this Commonwealth that only persons who have themselves suffered, or who are in danger of suffering, legal harm can compel the courts to assume the difficult and delicate duty of passing upon the validity of the acts of a coordinate branch of government.'"' Ginther v. Commissioner of Ins., 427 Mass. 319, 322 (1988), quoting Tax Equity Alliance v. Commissioner of Revenue, 423 Mass. 708, 715 (1996), ultimately quoting Doe v. The Governor, 381 Mass. 702, 705 (1980).
On September 22, 2016, the Boston Housing Court, Muirhead, J., issued an Order on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment in Goureev, et al. v. Zoning Board of Appeal, the City of Boston, et al., No. 16H84CV000137, in which the Court granted summary judgment for P & A's clients, the plaintiffs, Csaba Toth and Andre Goureev, annulling the decision of the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal which granted zoning variances to defendant, Ryan Connelly.
On October 19, 2016, the Massachusetts Land Court issued a Memorandum and Order on Cross Motions for Summary Judgment in Roma, III, Ltd. v. Town of Rockport Board of Appeals, Land Court Case No. 15 MISC 000074 (RBF), granting P & A's client, the plaintiff, Roma, III, Ltd.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, annulling a decision of the Town of Rockport Board of Appeals.
In a perfect world, we would all get along with our neighbors -- and maybe even enjoy a few summertime barbecues. However, in the real world, this is not always the case and there are times when squabbles with neighbors turn into all out legal disputes.