Many people consult with a Massachusetts land use attorney before engaging in a particular activity on their residential property in order to understand relevant zoning restrictions. While zoning is generally determined by the local government, in some cases, federal or state law may have an effect, as illustrated in a January 8, 2018 case before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.
The plaintiff in the case was a licensed helicopter pilot. He used his helicopter to travel to his various family homes and business appointments, but not for any commercial purpose. Following the plaintiff’s request for a private helicopter landing area, the Federal Aviation Administration recognized his property as a licensed private use heliport. The town building inspector issued an enforcement order, stating that the plaintiff was in violation of the local bylaws, since a heliport was not allowed in any zoning district of the town. The plaintiff filed an appeal, which was denied by the zoning board. The land court reversed the decision, and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted direct appellate review of the matter.
Pursuant to Massachusetts statutes, before a town acquires property to construct or improve an airport or restricted landing area, it must first apply to the Department of Transportation for approval of the site. However, a private landowner who wishes to establish a noncommercial private restricted landing area does not need prior approval; the landowner must simply inform the Department and ensure that the area is safely built and maintained in order not to endanger the public. A later amendment to the statute provided cities and towns with the authority to enact rules and regulations, with Department approval, governing the use and operation of aircraft.