Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 26, 2020

MA Appeals Court Finds Property Used for Behavioral Healthcare Services, Counseling Services, or Talk Therapy Sessions Did Not Constitute a “General Office”

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.
Prior to plaintiff North Charles Mental Health Research and Training Foundation, Inc., leasing the subject property and beginning its use at that location, uses of the property from 2008-2014 included toy design, offices for a “cloud” telecommunications service provider, and a contracting firm engaged in HVAC and sheet metal design and servicing. After entering into a lease for the property, but before commencing occupancy and operations there, North Charles applied for and obtained a building permit to construct a medical examination room, a medical records room, two doctors’ offices, seven offices, twenty-three consultation rooms, and a waiting area. Soon thereafter, the Cambridge building commissioner issued a cease and desist order, and the Cambridge board of zoning appeal (“BZA”) affirmed that denial.

The Land Court determined that the vast majority of the services provided at the property are individual and group talk therapy sessions. Thus, the uses fit the definition of a “social service center” as that use was defined in the ordinance. Since North Charles’s use fell within a specifically defined use category under the ordinance, distinct from the general commercial uses on which prior use of the property was protected as a lawfully commenced preexisting nonconforming use, and since the regulatory framework applicable to that use category was based on its identifiably different impacts on the surrounding area, the court upheld the BZA and the Land Court judge’s holdings that the property was not exempt from current zoning as a lawfully commenced preexisting nonconforming use.

North Charles Mental Health Research and Training Foundation, Inc. v City of Cambridge, 2020 WL 1488531 (MA App. unrep. 3/26/2020)


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