Owners of vacant parcels of land often seek to construct single-family homes on the empty lots. In most situations, Massachusetts property owners will need to obtain a permit from the local zoning authority to build a new home. The plaintiffs in a September 27, 2018 case sought approval to build a single-family dwelling on each of the two vacant lots they owned. The building inspector denied the permits, finding that the two lots lacked legal frontage, and therefore, were not buildable without a variance. When the building inspector’s decision was upheld by the local zoning board, the plaintiffs appealed to the Massachusetts Land Court.
The lots owned by the plaintiffs were bordered by roads on their east and west property lines. Under the local bylaw, a house lot must have at least 150 feet of frontage to a qualified way between its side boundary lines. The primary issue in the case was whether one of the roads bordering the plaintiffs’ lots qualified as a way that would allow them to satisfy the frontage requirement for a lot with a house.
Massachusetts law defines a way that qualifies for frontage as: (1) a public way or a way that is maintained and used as a public way; (2) a way shown on an approved plan in accordance with the subdivision control law; or (3) a way in existence before the subdivision control law became effective, which provides for the traffic needs of the abutting land and for the installation of municipal services to serve the land.