Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 6, 2009

No Prohibited Conflicts of Interest for Zoning Board Members With Respect to Project Developer

The Massachusetts Land Court concluded that the failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest, when such conflicts could not reasonably be seen as influential, is not sufficient grounds to invalidate the adjudication of a vote upholding the decision of a building inspector.  The vote in question was the unanimous upholding of a decision by the Merrimac Building Inspector, with two of the four votes coming from board members who had family members living in homes owned by the defendant.  The court determined that the connections were not such that the affirmation of the vote by the zoning board should be invalidated.


The building inspector’s decision not to require a special use permit or site plan review for a demolition and construction on a parcel of property was challenged by the planning board, and it was subsequently upheld by the zoning board following a public hearing.  The planning board then sought to have the decision annulled on the grounds that two of the four members of the zoning board had conflicts of interest that they failed to disclose prior to the vote, and they failed to recuse themselves.  Specifically, one of the board members was the father of a woman who rented an apartment owned by the proposed developer.  The other board member personally resided on property owned by the proposed developer.  The planning board argued that these conflicts negated the result of the vote. 


The Massachusetts Land Court disagreed, noting that the allegation of a conflict on the part of the father of a tenant was “fairly attenuated” and insufficient to show that the board member was improperly influenced.  With respect to the allegation that a second board member and the proposed development share a residential address, the Court determined that a reasonable person would not conclude that this influenced that board member.  However, even if it did, the connection was not sufficient to justify overturning the vote.


Having concluded that there were no ethical violations, the Court upheld the decision of the zoning board of appeals.


Merrimac Planning Bd. v. Moran, 2009 WL 191840 (Mass. Land Ct. 1/28/2009).


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