Massachusetts Property Owners Object to Modification of Subdivision Plan By Developer

When a local planning board makes a decision regarding a real estate matter, adversely affected landowners may be able to appeal and argue their case.  In Siok v. Planning Bd. of Ludlow (Mass. App. Ct. Oct. 31, 2016), the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reviewed a decision by a planning board, which had approved a developer’s petition to modify a subdivision plan by eliminating an unbuilt roadway known as a spur.  The plaintiffs were owners of an undeveloped, landlocked parcel abutting the subdivision and required access via the spur.  The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the board exceeded its authority in granting the defendant’s new plan and that they had acquired an easement by estoppel over the unbuilt spur.  The decision was affirmed by the land court and subsequently taken to the appeals court.

In Siok, the developer’s plan was originally approved in 2007.  It showed the spur extending from one of the roads in the subdivision to the land owned by the plaintiffs, but it did not require the spur to be built or require an easement to be granted or reserved for the benefit of the plaintiffs.  The spur road was, in fact, never built, and the plaintiffs had no access to their land through the subdivision.  In 2012, the developer sought to remove the spur from the plan, and the local planning board granted the request.  In doing so, the board granted a waiver of the requirement of a second means of access to a subdivision exceeding eight lots.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the waiver exceeded the planning board’s authority.  However, the appeals court reasoned that when the plan was originally approved in 2007 with only one entrance, the second access requirement had already been effectively waived.  Furthermore, even if the spur were built, it would open the plaintiffs’ parcel to the development of additional lots without adding a second entrance to the existing roadway.  Accordingly, the court concluded that there was no error in granting the waiver.

The plaintiffs also claimed that they had an easement by estoppel over the spur, which was created by their reliance on statements from the town planner that if the spur were built and accepted by the town as a public way, the plaintiffs could use it to access their property.  The court disagreed, noting that the doctrine of estoppel is generally not applied against the government or a municipality in enforcing its zoning laws.  Although an easement created by estoppel may be found through dealings involving the grantees against successors in title, such was not in the case in Siok.  Accordingly, the decision was wholly affirmed.

If you have been affected by a zoning or planning board decision, a knowledgeable real estate lawyer can discuss the legal recourse that may be available to you.  At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts land use attorneys have substantial experience handling zoning issues, easement disputes, closing and mortgage concerns, and many other property transactions.  To learn more from one of our dedicated lawyers, call Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or submit our online contact form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Court Affirms Denial of Homeowner’s Application for Zoning Variance, Special Permit, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 14, 2015

Massachusetts Homeowners Win Breach of Contract Claim Against Corporation in Property Dispute, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 5, 2016

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