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.