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.
In many M.G.L. c. 40A, § 17, appeals, courts are required to interpret the local zoning bylaw or ordinance to address the underlying substantive issue. The judge's standard of review in these cases must give "substantial deference" to a board's reasonable interpretation of its zoning code. However, erroneous interpretations, are not entitled to deference. And it is interesting to see how this dynamic plays out both during a case and after the fact. The recent case of Mauri v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Newton, 83 Mass. App. Ct. 336 (2013) (on appeal from the Land Court) provides a good example.
Massachusetts cities and towns use zoning districts (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) to set forth the type of land use(s) and structures permissible within a given geographical area. Chapter 40A, § 4, requires that these "districts shall be uniform within the district for each class or kind of structures or uses permitted."