Zoning Enforcement 101: Lessons from a Baaad Outcome Before a Zoning Board
A recent decision from the Town of Danver’s Board of Appeals demonstrates the importance of Massachusetts zoning restrictions, and their relevance to property owners. This case, involving a homeowner’s keeping of goats on their property, shows how baaad things can happen for not following local zoning controls (pun intended!).
The homeowners in this case had been raising goats in their Danvers home for the last six years. Danvers, like most towns and cities in Massachusetts, uses zoning districts to classify what is allowed, and not allowed, in various sections of the municipality.
The problem in this case? This residential zoning district prohibits “animal husbandry.”
A neighbor started this action by making a complaint to the Town of Danvers, through a request to enforce this zoning requirement against the goat owners. Massachusetts law requires that towns and cities have officials in charge of enforcing zoning restrictions (often designated as building inspectors) and the law allows for written enforcement requests to these officials, if someone believes they are not being followed.
Here, the Town of Danvers agreed with this complaining neighbor, and issued the homeowners an order that the goats needed to go.
Appeal of a Zoning Enforcement Decision
Massachusetts law allows any “person aggrieved” by a zoning enforcement action to appeal, which is generally made to the town or city’s zoning board of appeals. Such an appeal asks the board to determine whether the town or city properly applied the zoning ordinance.
Here, the Town of Danvers Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously agreed with the town’s building inspector that goats were not allowed in this residential district.
This homeowner still has options if she wishes to pursue this matter further. She could file a court action to determine if this interpretation of the zoning ordinance is correct. Or, as the article suggests, she could work to change the town’s zoning laws, to allow goats in residential districts.
This story illustrates the importance of zoning enforcement in Massachusetts, the process for requesting such enforcement, and appealing an unfavorable decision. Many homeowners are unaware of the many, many ways that zoning restrictions regulate how one can use their property. Failure to abide by these land use controls can lead to zoning enforcement consequences.
It is important to note that, in most cases, a homeowner is not permitted to seek a variance for a prohibited use in a zoning district. A variance, which is a requested exemption from a zoning restriction, may be allowed for terms of a zoning ordnance, but not for “a use or activity not otherwise permitted in the district in which the land or structure is located . . .” Property owners need to be aware that the variance process, which allows leeway in particular circumstances where a zoning restriction imposes a hardship, is not an option where a requested use is expressly prohibited.
If you need assistance with a zoning enforcement action, contact me for a consultation.