Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 16, 2020

MA Supreme Court Finds Abutting Property Owners Did Not Have Standing to Challenge a Dimensional Zoning Requirement Without Establishing Particularized Injury

This post was authored by Matthew Leoscher, Esq.

In this case, plaintiffs challenged the right of their neighbors, Merriann M. Panarella and David H. Erichsen, to construct a single-family residence on property directly across the street from the plaintiffs’ home. Although the defendants’ irregularly shaped property was sufficiently wide at the street and meets setback requirements, the plaintiffs argued that the property was too narrow at the location where the home would be built. The Zoning Board of Appeals of Sherborn upheld the issuance of the foundation permit, and the plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Land Court. After a trial, a Land Court judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ appeal for lack of standing – finding the plaintiffs were not “aggrieved” by the Board’s decision. The Appeals Court disagreed, finding that noncompliance with the dimensional limits itself was sufficient to establish harm.

At the outset, the court noted that while the plaintiffs had presumptive standing as abutters, that presumption may be rebutted by a showing that, as a matter of law, the plaintiffs’ “claims of aggrievement are not within the interests protected by the applicable zoning scheme.” Here, the plaintiffs claimed that the value of their property would be diminished as a result of the defendants’ proposed development. The realtor who listed the subject lot for sale testified that, in her expert opinion, the addition of a single-family residence on lot 69F would in no way diminish the value of the plaintiffs’ property. Additionally, the judge compared the testimony of the two experts and determined that the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert failed to rebut the defense expert’s testimony that runoff from the subject lot in its proposed developed state would be less than runoff from the lot in its current cleared state. The court therefore affirmed the decision that the plaintiffs were not aggrieved by the Board’s decision, and thus lack standing to pursue the appeal.

 Murchison v Zoning Board of Appeals of Sherborn, 2020 WL 4012766 (MA 7/16/2020)

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