Massachusetts Homeowner Faces Legal Obstacles Appealing a Special Permit Granted to Circus School

The consequences of a zoning board decision are not limited to the subject property but may also affect the neighborhood and wider community.  In certain situations, someone who believes a decision will negatively affect them may challenge a Massachusetts zoning board ruling.  However, Massachusetts law restricts the group of people with standing to bring such appeals, as explained in a May 17, 2018 case before the Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

The case concerned a local zoning board’s approval for modification of a special permit granted to the defendant, which operated a for-profit circus school for instruction in arts, skills, or vocational training.  After the plaintiff received notice of the zoning board’s decision, she filed a complaint in the Massachusetts Land Court, alleging that the changes would cause a detrimental health, safety, and welfare effect on her and her neighbors.  The Land Court dismissed the complaint due to her lack of standing, and the plaintiff appealed.

To have standing, and thus the right to bring suit, to challenge the decision of a municipal zoning authority in Massachusetts, the plaintiff must be a person aggrieved as defined by law.  This requires a plaintiff to show she has suffered a specialized, clearly identifiable injury, rather than merely articulating the general concerns of the community.  If the plaintiff falls under the category of people defined by statute, however, she is presumed to be aggrieved.  The statute applies to people on abutting property, abutters to abutters within 300 feet of the property at issue, and the owners of land directly opposite from the property at issue.

In the case, the plaintiff lived across the street from the defendant’s property, but not directly opposite.  She argued instead that she lived within 300 feet of the defendant’s property.  The court disagreed, explaining that she must be an abutter to the properties abutting the defendant’s property as well as within 300 feet.  Since she lived across the street on property that was not abutting, she did not meet the criteria.

The plaintiff also argued that she had standing because she received notice of the public hearing and the zoning board’s decision, and by virtue of appearing on the certified abutters list, she qualified for the presumption.  The court rejected the notion, finding that the list did not override the failure to meet the statutory requirements for a presumption of standing.

Finally, the court analyzed whether the plaintiff qualified for standing as an aggrieved party, apart from the statutory presumption.  The court concluded that the plaintiff’s general allegations regarding the detriment to her and her neighborhood were conclusory and failed to contain any particularized details that would establish status as an aggrieved party.  Accordingly, the court held that, without standing to contest the zoning board decision, the plaintiff’s appeal must be dismissed.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts real estate attorneys handle all areas of residential property law.  We can assist with home financing, title actions, building permits, purchase and sale agreements, and many other matters relating to your property.  Call our office at (781) 843-2200 or contact us online to schedule an appointment with one of our professionals.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Property Owner Appeals After Zoning Board Denies Building Permit, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published May 15, 2017

Massachusetts Homeowner Argues Deed Restrictions on Her Property Are Against Public Policy, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published May 8, 2018

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