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).
Boston is a historical city, and there are dozens of important historical sites and old valuable properties scattered across the city. Because of this, the city authorities uphold a strict zoning code in order to protect the history of Boston, the integrity of neighborhoods and the preservation of certain buildings.
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.
This is the third in a series of posts on challenges to zoning bylaws and ordinances, and the second addressing the question of where to bring a challenge to a zoning bylaw or ordinance. The prior post covered the Land Court. The Land Court, however, is not the only court of competent jurisdiction to hear these cases. As the Department of the Massachusetts Trial Court having general jurisdiction, the Superior Court has the authority to hear all manner of claims challenging zoning bylaws and ordinances. As discussed below, the United States District Court, depending on the type of challenge, has the subject matter jurisdiction to hear these types of cases as well.
Utility easements are something most business owners probably do not even think about until it affects their site planning and development. Suddenly, they find themselves wondering not only what a utility easement is, but also how to circumnavigate the restrictions that come with these easements.