Appearing Before a Zoning Board: What to Know

Appearing before a zoning board is often required when a property owner is seeking a specific use of their property, or wishes to appeal a decision of a town or city building department. Unlike courts, where most parties are represented by attorneys, it is common for individuals to appear on their own behalf before a zoning board (although having an attorney can help in many cases).

Here, I want to offer some advice on appearing before a zoning board in Massachusetts.

What Are the Zoning Boards in Massachusetts?

The two most common zoning boards in Massachusetts are the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) and the Planning Board. Each town or city has different rules on the specific zoning relief that each of these boards can consider.

Some towns and cities also have zoning decisions heard by the city council or selectboard. Boston has its own, unique system of zoning decision making.

Know What Is Required For What You Are Seeking

Zoning requests have different requirements that an applicant must satisfy. Simply explaining why you want the zoning relief is generally not enough; an applicant must show why their request meets each of the requirements.

Variances have detailed requirements which are generally uniform for all Massachusetts cities and towns. Special permit requirements are often unique for each individual jurisdiction.

Put It In Writing

A good piece of advice on appearing before a zoning board is what you can do before the meeting. You should consider submitting a letter to the board, in advance, that explains what you are looking for and why you meet each of the zoning requirements.

Doing this before the meeting will give the board members time to review your request in advance.

Seek the Support of Abutters

Often, a zoning request can implicate the rights of persons living near the property, known as abutters. Because of this, zoning boards often like to hear that abutters have no objection to the zoning request before them.

If you can, try to obtain a letter of support from such abutters or, even better, ask them to appear at the meeting on your behalf. If an abutter has concerns about the zoning relief you are seeking, try to work this out with them in advance.

Understand the Appeals Process

Anyone aggrieved by a zoning decision has the right to appeal. Such appeals, however, generally come with an extremely tight deadline. If you find yourself having to appeal, be sure to pay close attention to the timing of when the appeal must be filed. You should also consider obtaining an attorney, as zoning appeals can be complicated.

Final Thoughts

Zoning is an incredibly important topic for property owners in Massachusetts. If you find yourself in need of assistance with such a matter, contact me for a consultation.