Massachusetts Homeowner Appeals Zoning Variance Issued to Historical Society

Whether or not a property owner can challenge a zoning decision regarding another property depends on his or her standing.  The Massachusetts Land Court decided a March 13, 2017 case in which the defendants argued that the plaintiff lacked standing to object to a local zoning board decision.  The court provided a thorough explanation of the issues and requirements relating to injury and standing.

The case arose out of the proposed construction of a two-story addition that would be used to store the archives of a historical society.  The historical society sought a variance from the zoning board to construct its addition outside of the side-yard setback allowed by local regulations.  The plaintiff owned and resided at a property across the street from the historical society building, approximately 240 feet from the site of the proposed addition.  When the zoning board granted the variance, the plaintiff filed a complaint appealing the decision.

Under the Massachusetts Zoning Act, only a person aggrieved has standing to challenge a decision of a zoning board of appeals.  Abutters, landowners directly opposite on any public or private street or way, and abutters to abutters who are within three hundred feet of the property line of the petitioner are entitled to notice of zoning board hearings and have a rebuttable presumption that they are aggrieved by a decision concerning another property.  The defendant may rebut the presumption by showing that the plaintiff’s claims are not interests that the Zoning Act is intended to protect.

The plaintiff in the case was presumed by law to be aggrieved because she owned property abutting the historical society’s property.  In particular, the plaintiff alleged that she would be aggrieved because the proposed addition would have a negative impact on traffic and parking, the value of and view from her property, and the character of the neighborhood.  The historical society challenged the plaintiff’s standing with evidence and arguments to rebut the presumption.

After reviewing the evidence, the land court concluded that the proposed addition would only draw two staff or volunteer visits daily and at most two visits from researchers per week, resulting in a de minimus increase in parking and traffic.  The court also noted that, generally, concerns about the visual impact of a structure are not sufficient to confer standing unless a bylaw expressly states an intention to protect views.  Finding no such intention, the court went on to hold that even if view was protected under the bylaw at issue, the impact on the plaintiff’s view would be so minimal that it could not constitute a true injury.

In response to the plaintiff’s allegation that the historic character of the neighborhood would be impacted, the court explained that changes to the aesthetic character or feeling of a neighborhood are not legally cognizable grounds for standing.  Finally, the historical society presented the opinion of a licensed real estate appraiser, who stated that there was no objective market data supporting a diminished property value as a result of proximity to the proposed addition.  Accordingly, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint for lack of standing.

The Massachusetts property lawyers at Pulgini & Norton have experience representing individuals in all aspects of residential real estate law.  We are dedicated to helping our clients achieve their goals and protecting their interests in purchase and sales transactions, home inspections, title searches, and many other property matters.  Schedule an appointment with one of our skilled attorneys by calling Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Property Owners Object to Modification of Subdivision Plan By Developer, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published November 7, 2016

Massachusetts Landowners Successfully Challenge Permit Issued for Housing Development Next to Their Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 19, 2016

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