Law Office of Isaac J. Mass -- Greenfield, Massachusuetts
 
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Earlier this month, in Shirley Wayside Limited Partnership v. Board of Appeals of Shirley, SJC-10869, (2012), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a mobile home park in Shirley can expand from 65 to 79 units.

Wayside owns and operates a 55 and older mobile home park on approximately twenty acres of land currently contains sixty-five mobile homes, one of which is abandoned.

At trial, Wayside presented evidence of trip generation in the form of a vehicle counting study. The study showed that 434 vehicles per day currently and their expert predicted that the proposed expansion would generate an additional sixty to seventy-five trips per day. The board neither performed its own traffic study nor had the Wayside traffic study reviewed by its own consultant.

In 1985, Shirley amended its zoning bylaw which permits expansion of preexisting nonconforming uses if the landowner satisfies three conditions including one:

1)      The board must find "that such extension, alteration, reconstruction or repair is not substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood than the existing non conforming structure or use."

In 2005, Wayside applied for a permit to replace the abandoned mobile home and to add an additional fourteen mobile homes. The proposed expansion will be toward the rear of the property, in an area well screened by trees and other buffers. The board denied Wayside's application, finding that Wayside "did not satisfy the burden that this expansion will not be more substantially detrimental to the neighborhood due to the density of the expansion and the encroachment of the 25% rule."

In reaching this conclusion, the board considered the following factors: (1) "present zoning regulations do not allow additional [mobile homes] in the Town of Shirley"; (2) "the impact of the additional residents on the area and the infrastructure of the Town of Shirley, in particular the possible economic burden on the school system, as the tax base for [mobile homes] is much less than the tax base for residential homes"; (3) encroachment on wetlands; (4) groundwater runoff; (5) density of the existing area and expansion area; (6) property devaluation to abutters; (7) the heavy amount of traffic on the road; and (8) the closeness of the proposed expansion to the twenty-five per cent allowed under the rule, which left no room for error.

Following a trial de novo, the Land Court judge addressed each of the reasons offered by the board in denying the permit. He concluded that no rational board could have drawn the same conclusions and that, accordingly, the board's decision was arbitrary and capricious. The judge vacated the decision and remanded with instructions to issue a special permit.

The Shirley zoning board had refused to grant a special permit, finding that the park owner failed to establish that the expansion would not be substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood than the existing mobile home park.

But the SJC upheld the Land Court judge in reversing the board’s decision.

“We conclude that the expansion complies with the zoning bylaw at issue, which we interpret as imposing minimum lot size dimensions on the entire mobile home park and not on individual mobile homes, governed only by board of health regulations,” Justice Robert J. Cordy wrote for a unanimous SJC. “We further agree with the Land Court judge that there is no evidence that either the density within the mobile home park expansion or the modest increase in traffic will be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood.”

A Zoning Board must do more than consider a list of factors, they must articulate a reasonable reason why those factors in each case as applied fail to meet the zoning bylaws requirements.  Additionally, the Zoning Boards decision must be supported by evidence.

If you are bring a project before a zoning, planning board or other administrative agency, and want a consultation on your project contact the Law Office of Isaac J. Mass.  Attorney Isaac Mass has over a decade of experience serving on municipal boards and is currently a member of the both the Massachusetts Bar Associations Property Section Council, but also the Real Estate Bar Association.

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(c) 2012 Law Office of Isaac J. Mass, 289 Main Street, Suite 201 Greenfield, MA 01301