Massachusetts law about zoning

Laws, cases, and web sources on zoning law in Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 40A Zoning
Gives cities and towns authority to adopt ordinances and bylaws to regulate the use of land, buildings and structures. Sections 9-9B, 11 govern special permits, and variances are covered under sections 10 and 11.

  • § 3A Multi-family zoning as-of-right in MBTA communities
    Requires that an MBTA community shall have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as-of-right and meets other criteria set forth in the statute.

MGL c. 40B Regional planning
Permits a city or town to plan jointly with other cities or towns to promote development and prosperity within their area. Sections 20-23 of Chapter 40B specifically deal with affordable housing. Chapter 40B is also referred to as the "Anti-Snob Zoning Act" or the "Comprehensive Permit Statute."

MGL c. 40R Smart-growth zoning
Encourages "smart growth" to preserve open space while increasing affordable housing.

MGL c. 40Y Starter home zoning districts

Massachusetts city and town zoning ordinances

Selected cases

Bjorklund v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Norwell, 450 Mass. 357 (2008) 
McMansions. Town's zoning board could stop a homeowner from tearing down a small house and replacing it with a bigger one. "Our decision recognizes that many municipalities do not welcome the building of structures that represent the popular trend of 'mansionization.' This is especially so when the structures involve reconstruction on nonconforming lots."

Murrow v. Esh Circus Arts, LLC, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 233 (2018)
Extensive discussion of "parties in interest," "parties aggrieved," and "standing."

Spenlinhauer v. Town of Barnstable, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 134 (2011)
A town ordinance limiting overnight off-street parking on private property of single-family residences should be done through a zoning ordinance and not a general ordinance.

Tracer Lane II Realty v. City of Waltham, 489 Mass. 775 (2022)
A proposed access road was protected under MGL chapter 40A sec. 3 paragraph 9, and deemed to be part of a solar energy facility.  To determine if a zoning bylaw is unreasonably restrictive, the interest advanced by a local bylaw is weighed against the impact on the protected use.

Valley Green Grow Inc. v. Town of Charlton, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 670 (2021)
Post-harvest processing of marijuana was an appropriate accessory use to marijuana cultivation under the town’s zoning bylaw.

Web sources

1953 House Bill 2249: Report of the special commission on planning and zoning, December, 1952.
Commission reviewed issues of municipal planning, zoning and subdivision control and made recommendations for changes in the law.

1972 House Bill 5009: Report of the Department of Community Affairs relative to proposed changes and additions to the Zoning Enabling Act, January 1972.
Further recommendations made for changing Chapter 40A and explanations given for not adopting certain proposals.

Appeals under M.G.L. c. 40A, § 17: de novo review and deference to boards, Jeffrey Angley, 2012.
Explains the judicial standard of review for litigants in zoning appeals filed under M.G.L. c. 40A, § 17.

Chapter 40B planning and information, Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.
Provides affordable housing information, including comprehensive permit guidance, design review, housing production plan guidelines, and unit sale prices and rents.

Chapter 40R, Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.
Contains an explanation of the law and general information including links to local bylaws and design standards.

Land Court 2006 manual of instructions for the survey of lands and preparation of plans, 2006. 
A guide to the minimum requirements for preparing surveys and plans to be filed in the Land Court.

MBTA Communities Law

The law requires 177 cities and towns to establish "at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right."  Where possible, the district must be within a half mile from public transportation (commuter rail, bus station, ferry terminal or subway). MBTA Communities must permit the development of housing suitable for families with children, and may not impose age restrictions, within the district.

Chapter 40A, § 3A: compliance guidelines, Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.
Compliance guidelines and other materials in relation to the multi-family zoning requirement for MBTA communities.

MBTA Communities Law Q&A, Mass. Office of the Attorney General.

MBTA Communities Zoning Law advisory, Mass. Office of the Attorney General.
The advisory clarifies that all MBTA communities must comply with the multifamily housing zoning district requirement under Mass. General Laws, chapter 40A section 3A.  Civil enforcement may be taken against covered communities for failure to comply.

Multi-family zoning requirement for MBTA communities, Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.
"This page includes Compliance Guidelines on new Section 3A of MGL c. 40A and related materials."

Print sources

Commercial real estate practice in Massachusetts, 2nd ed., MCLE, Chapter 1 Zoning and subdivision laws applicable to commercial real estate projects.

George P. Davis’ Massachusetts conveyancers’ handbook with forms, 4th ed. Thomson/West, 2008 with supplement, Chapter 11 Zoning.

Handbook of Massachusetts land use and planning law : zoning, subdivision control, and nonzoning alternatives, 5th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2022 with supplement.

Litigating residential real estate disputes in Massachusetts, 3rd ed., MCLE, Chapter 11 Land use litigation.

Massachusetts environmental law, 4th ed., MCLE, looseleaf, Chapter 19 Land use planning and Chpater 20 Zoning, subdivision and nonzoning land use controls.

Massachusetts municipal law, 2nd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 29 Land use regulations.

Massachusetts practice series:

Massachusetts zoning manual, 7th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about zoning

Last updated: May 6, 2024

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