In general, new homes must be constructed pursuant to the current requirements of local Massachusetts real estate zoning bylaws. Under some circumstances, however, the zoning bylaw may provide for an exception, such as for existing structures. In an October 7, 2019 opinion, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts considered whether a cottage that had been destroyed by a tornado could be reconstructed under a local bylaw provision for existing structures.
The plaintiff and the defendant in the case were two of the five family members who owned a parcel of land. The property had contained a non-conforming, 800 square foot seasonal cottage built in 1939 by the previous owners. In June 2011, the cottage was destroyed by a tornado that ripped through the area. A dispute arose between the plaintiff, who wished to rebuild the cottage, and the defendant, who wished to maintain the property as open land for private conservation and recreational purposes.
The plaintiff nevertheless contacted the local building commissioner to inquire about a building permit for a new single-family residence. The building commissioner agreed to allow the residence pursuant to an exception for existing structures under the local bylaw. The decisions issued by the zoning board and Land Court were appealed and the matter subsequently came before the Appeals Court of Massachusetts.