In the real estate market, the zoned use or designation of a parcel of property can significantly affect its monetary value. In a March 8, 2018 land use case, the property at issue was estimated to be worth $250,000 if it was a buildable lot, but only around $85,000 if the property had to be kept vacant. After a local zoning board ruled that a single-family home could be built on the lot, the matter was appealed to the Massachusetts Land Court.
The plaintiff in the case jointly owned the property at issue with his siblings and also owned the neighboring parcel of land. The land court opined that while a decision allowing for a single-family home would typically be desirable to the property owners, the lower value attached to a non-buildable lot would allow the plaintiff to buy out his siblings’ interest in the parcel. Accordingly, he brought the subsequent appeal.
The primary question for the land court was whether a local by-law allowed for a new residence to be built on the property at issue. The relevant section of the by-law provided that, with respect to lawful, non-conforming residential structures, certain alterations as identified in the by-law should essentially be issued an automatic permit. Specifically, in order for a building permit to be issued, there must be a non-conforming single-family structure on the property, the proposed alteration must not constitute a change in use and comply with current setback, building coverage, and height requirements, and the existing structure must be located on a lot that complies with the same requirements or has insufficient frontage.