Making a significant change to residential property in Massachusetts typically requires approval from the local zoning authority. That decision may be subject to several levels of appeals by the homeowners and other parties aggrieved by the outcome. Proceeding with the changes, despite a pending appeal, may cause complications further down the road, as illustrated in a May 30, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case before the Court of Appeal.
In 2008, the owner sought a building permit to construct a 6,800-square-foot residence on his property overlooking Cape Cod Bay, and to convert the existing cottage into a studio. The proposal was put forth as an alteration of the existing cottage, which was a pre-existing non-conforming structure. The permit was approved, but a group of individuals filed multiple appeals. Nevertheless, the owner began construction of the residence immediately, despite the Land Court’s warning that he was proceeding at his own risk.
In 2011, the Court of Appeals revoked the building permit, holding that as a matter of law, the house could not be considered an alteration of the existing cottage. After that decision, the local building commissioner issued an order requiring that the house be torn down, which the owner appealed. Ultimately, the owner and the town settled the matter, and the house was allowed to stand in exchange for a significant cash payment to the town and a multi-million dollar payment characterized as a charitable gift.