Massachusetts Homeowners Oppose Adjacent Subdivision Development with Undersized Lots

Changes in land use and the development of nearby property is often a cause of concern for residential homeowners.  In an April 19, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs challenged a zoning board’s decision to grant a special permit to a developer, the defendant in the case.  The special permit allowed for the subdivision of nine acres of woodland into undersized lots.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Land Court, arguing that the requirements for a special permit had not been met.  

The defendant in the case sought to subdivide its property into 14 single-family residential lots.  Although it was possible to divide the property in a way that would conform to the minimum lot area requirement under the local zoning ordinance, the resulting lots would be awkwardly formed with pigtail-shaped areas to have a sufficient lot area.  The defendant thus preferred an alternative plan, which would allow for evenly shaped, compact lots that would be undersized.

The defendant sought a special permit under a zoning ordinance that allows for reduced lots if all of the requirements provided were satisfied.  One of the requirements is that the original property must have existed in its current form prior to 2013.  The defendant’s property, however, was five separate lots in 2013 and later combined as one.  In addition, a piece of one of the five lots was conveyed to another owner so that even when considering the five lots together, it was not in the same configuration prior to 2013.

The plaintiffs based their appeal on the fact that not all of the criteria required to grant a special permit under the ordinance had been met, and they contended that the zoning board’s decision was unreasonable and arbitrary.  Conversely, the defendant argued that even though some requirements had not been met, the board’s decision was reasonable because there would still be 14 lots with the same homes on them in the undersized lots as the conforming lots.

The land court explained that the validity of the defendant’s special permit turned on the zoning ordinance at issue.  The court found that the provision clearly and unambiguously provided that for a special permit to be issued, the zoning board must find that all of the conditions of the ordinance had been satisfied.  After reviewing the facts of the case, the court found that the defendant’s property was not presently arranged as it was before December 1, 2013, and as a result, that requirement was not met.  Nor was the court persuaded that it should allow the special permit merely because the density of the lots would be the same.  Accordingly, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and reversed the zoning board’s decision.

The Massachusetts property lawyers at Pulgini & Norton can represent homeowners and others with residential real estate issues.  We answer questions concerning zoning and land use, mortgages and refinancing, sale and purchase transactions, and other areas of property law.  To schedule your free consultation with a skilled real estate attorney, contact Pulgini & Norton online or call our office at (781) 843-2200.

More Blog Posts:

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

Deed Provision Compels Massachusetts Landowners to Re-Convey Subdivision Lot to Developer, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published February 1, 2017

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