When you are looking at homes for sale, you consider factors like the square footage, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the asking price, and the location. A nearby church or school may seem like an enhancement, but in fact it calls for investigation and a consultation with a real estate attorney.
The character of a community can be affected by zoning regulations and also by the presence of institutions that are in part exempt from zoning regulations.
The Dover Amendment, Mass. G. L. c. 40A, section 3, exempts religious and educational institutions from local zoning ordinances. However, it does not completely exempt such facilities from local regulation of the following:
- bulk of structures,
- height of structures,
- yard sizes,
- lot area,
- open space,
- parking, and
- building footprints.
Here are some illustrations of how the Dover Amendment has affected communities:
- Gordon College in Wenham decided to erect light towers around its athletic field to enable it to put on night games. The towers exceeded the town’s height limits, and neighbors objected to the brightness of the lights, but the college invoked the Dover Amendment. The college argued that the neighbors had no standing, since their objection, excessive illumination from the lights, was not among the enumerated regulations that local governments were permitted to enforce, even on institutions protected by the Dover Amendment. The Superior Court agreed, holding that in order to bring a valid appeal of a local Dover Amendment decision a plaintiff must allege that he or she is aggrieved by “one of the enumerated cognizable interests that the Dover Amendment is designed to protect.” The neighbors thus did not have standing to proceed with their appeal based on their excessive illumination claim. Murdoch v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Wenham et al. Essex Superior Court Docket No. 2008-00793 (Memorandum and Decision on Defendant Gordon College’s Motion to Dismiss Mar. 2, 2009).
- A Jewish cemetery in Wayland proposed to expand its site and do extensive grading. On the neighbors’ objections, the Land Court found that expansion of the cemetery was for a religious purpose, subject to the Dover Amendment, but at the same time the court also held that the proposed grading was governed by the town’s zoning by-laws, requiring an earth-movement special permit and site plan review. The Land Court ruling was overturned by the Massachusetts Court of Appeals in a decision entitled Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, Inc. et al. v. Board of Appeals of Wayland et al. No. 11-P-91, issued March 7, 2014. The Court of Appeals found that the expansion of the cemetery was for a religious purpose, so it was exempt from zoning rules under the Dover Amendment.
- A Framingham treatment center for eating and mood disorders called the Walden Center for Education and Research, Inc., which some neighbors argued was a for-profit hospital rather than the non-profit education center it purported to be, proposed a significant expansion. The Framingham Building Commissioner determined that the proposed project qualified as an educational use under the Dover Amendment and approved the project. The Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals considered all objections to the proposed facility, and the majority voted against approval. However, the Board’s by-laws required a unanimous vote to overturn a decision by the Building Commissioner, so the project was permitted to go ahead. Board of Appeals Case No. 14-18 Petition of Christopher & Gayle Cassidy et al., decided June 16, 2014.
When deciding whether to purchase a home in the vicinity of an educational or religious institution, it is important to take into account the relative lack of limits on such an institution should it decide to expand or alter its property. An experienced real estate attorney can advise you on the ramifications of such a location.
At Pulgini & Norton, we are familiar with any issues that may arise during the process of purchasing or selling a home or property. As experienced Massachusetts real estate attorneys, we can help you with all of your real estate law needs. If you have a question about any aspect of a home purchase or sale, give us a call today at 781-843-2200 or contact our office online, and we can help legally clear the way for you.
Living off the Grid and Real Estate Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, May 14, 2014
How a Real Estate Lawyer Can Help You With Zoning Restrictions, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, April 9, 2014