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.
This is the second in a series of posts on challenges to zoning bylaws and ordinances. An important threshold issue, apart from diagnosing what type of bylaw challenge should be brought, is where to bring these claims. Depending on the circumstances, these claims may be brought in the Land Court, the Superior Court or the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. This post will address the considerations applicable to the Massachusetts Land Court.
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.
On June 29, 2015, the Appeals Court issued an unpublished 1:28 Decision in the matter of Lamar Whiteco Outdoor Corp. v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Webster, 2015 WL 3938606 (Mass. App. Ct. 2015). Even though a 1:28 Decision is merely persuasive authority (not binding), the decision rests upon a couple of relatively under the radar yet interesting cases that hold that billboards, in and of themselves, are not "structures" as that term is used in the Massachusetts Zoning Act (see G.L. c. 40A).
If wrapping your head around the law concerning reconstructing, extending, or altering a pre-existing nonconforming structure wasn't difficult enough already, the Supreme Judicial Court recently felt the need to add yet another layer of complexity for homeowners, zoning boards and courts. In Palitz v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Tisbury, 26 N.E.3d 175 (2015), the SJC firmly pronounced what we already knew - that subdivision control and zoning are independent of one another. However, the decision raises many question about the further expansion of pre-existing nonconforming structures that have already once obtained permission for expansion by variance.
In my previous post concerning the District Court's decision in Industrial Tower and Wireless, LLC v. Haddad ("ITW v. Haddad"), 2015 WL 2365560 (D. Mass. 2015), I discussed the decision as fitting within a small, but significant, line of cases requiring local boards to base their denial decisions on the specific criteria of the local bylaw. Another noteworthy aspect of ITW v. Haddad is that it is one of the first trial-level decisions to apply the Supreme Court's decision in T-Mobile South, LLC v. City of Roswell, Ga., 135 S. Ct. 808 (2015) ("City of Roswell").
As previously posted, on May 18, 2015, P & A won summary judgment, under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the "TCA" / "Act"), against the Town of Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals in Industrial Tower and Wireless, LLC v. Haddad ("ITW v. Haddad"), 2015 WL 2365560, at *17 (D. Mass. 2015). The next two posts will look at two aspects of the District Court's decision that are particularly noteworthy.
Here are a few recent zoning/development articles we thought we'd share as we all enjoy the short work week.