Many sections of the greater Boston area are characterized by densely populated neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods were established before the adoption of zoning codes that set minimum side and rear yard setbacks. And even today, in urban settings, there are some zoning codes that allow zero-foot set back criterion in some zoning districts. The result is that there are many structures in the Commonwealth built on, or within, just a few feet of a lot line. And in urban areas, there are row houses with shared party walls and adjoining roof lines. The proximity of these structures to abutting lot lines makes it extremely difficult or sometimes simply impossible for a property owner to make a repair to their property without entering their neighbors' land.
We previously blogged about a case study, which we encountered in representation of a kennel before a local zoning board, regarding how conditions of variances work and how they are applied and enforced. Recently, the Appeals Court published Green v. Board of Appeals of Southborough, adding to the body of law on these issues. In particular, Judge Wolohojian, writing for the panel in Green, explicated the difference between those things which a variance holder must do to "exercise" the variance within one year as required by G. L. c. 40A, § 10, on the one hand; and the meaning and effect of a variance condition, which acts as a condition precedent (a precondition) to a holder being able to take advantage of the variance, on the other. As discussed below, the former refers to those acts necessary to give the variance legal effect, in the first instance; whereas the latter must be fulfilled in order for the variance holder ultimately to make use of the variance.
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.
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).
On February 13, 2017, the Land Court, Scheier, J., issued an Order Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment in Heller v. Conner et al., Land Court Docket No. 15 MISC 0000481 (KFS) in which the court denied a motion for summary judgment against the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Plymouth (the "Board"), and P&A's client, Kingstown Corporation ("Kingstown"). The order rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the failure to mail notice of a zoning hearing to a party-in-interest was a fatal flaw in the public hearing process prescribed by G. L. c. 40A § 11, where that party-in-interest is a plaintiff in the ongoing de novo appeal of the permitting issued through that process.
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.
It's always interesting to read zoning appeal cases that focus on the question of standing, and which, if any, of the plaintiff's alleged harms or injuries will convince the judge that the substantive portion of the case can move ahead.