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.

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.

Massachusetts city and town zoning ordinances

Selected case law

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.'"

Dwyer v. Gallo, 73 Mass. App. Ct. 292 (2008)
Abutters appealed decisions of the zoning board of appeals which granted landowners' petitions for construction of two homes on adjacent undersized lots

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

Spenlinhauer v. Town of Barnstable, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 134 (2011)
A town ordinance limiting off-street parking on private property of single-family residences was really a zoning ordinance, not a general ordinance, and “the town’s attempt to use its general ordinance power to regulate off-street parking undercuts 'the assorted protections contained in' c. 40A, in the process frustrating the purposes for which c. 40A was enacted.” 

Web sources

1953 House Bill 2249: Report of the special commission on planning and zoning, December, 1952.
"The assignment of this Commission to look into the problems of municipal planning, zoning and subdivision control, is also a manifestation of an aroused public interest on the subject."

Appeals Under M.G.L. c. 40A, § 17: De Novo Review and Deference to Boards, Jeffrey Angley.
Explains the judicial standard of review for litigants in zoning appeals filed under M.G.L. c. 40A, § 17

Chapter 40B planning and information, Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development
Provides information to assist planners and developers in their affordable housing efforts.

Manual of instructions for the survey of lands and preparation of plans, 2006. 
"This manual is issued for the information and guidance of land surveyors preparing surveys and plans to be filed in the Land Court. It is intended as a guide to the minimum requirements for what is commonly referred to in this commonwealth as a "Land Court Survey". Compliance with these instructions is mandatory, and no survey or plan will be accepted for filing unless these requirements have been fulfilled to the satisfaction of the Land Court's Survey Division."

Zoning and land use resources, Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development
A great collection of resources to "aid planning boards, zoning boards of appeals, other municipal officials, and interested residents in the area of zoning and land use." Site includes:

  • Overview of the Subdivision Control Law (2009)
  • The Zoning Act (2016)
  • Adopting and Amending Zoning Bylaws (2009)
  • Decision Making Requirements of the Zoning Act (2009)
  • Grandfathered Lots and Plan Protection (2009)
  • Nonconforming Structures and Uses (2009)
  • Procedural Requirements of the Subdivision Control Law (2009)
  • The ANR Handbook (Approval Not Required Plans) (2009)
  • Municipal Planning and Subdivision Legislation (2008)

Print sources

Handbook of Massachusetts land use and planning law : zoning, subdivision control, and nonzoning alternatives, Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, with updates.
Overview of Massachusetts land use regulation -- Zoning : authority and constitutionality -- Zoning amendments -- Exemptions and immunity -- Vested rights -- Nonconforming uses and structures -- Administration and enforcement -- Variances -- Special permits -- Procedural requirements in special permit and variance decisions -- Appeal and judicial review of zoning decisions -- Aspects of zoning -- Zoning in Boston -- Overview of the subdivision control law -- Procedural requirements in subdivision control decisions -- Appeal and judicial review of subdivision control decisions -- Aspects of subdivision control -- Comprehensive permits -- Nonzoning land use controls Appendix A. Forms -- Appendix B. Boston Zoning Act -- Appendix C. I. Citations to Boston Zoning Acts and selected special acts -- II. Comparison of zoning provisions : Enabling Act, Boston Zoning Code, and Zoning Act -- Appendix D. Model planning board fee regulations.

Mass. practice v.17C (Prima facie: proof and defense) , West Group, with updates.
Chapter 65: Zoning Variances.

Massachusetts zoning manual , 6th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf.

The zoning and land use handbook, ABA, 2016
Zoning : historical perspective -- Definition of zoning -- Comprehensive plan -- Types of zoning -- Definition of family -- Group homes -- Regulation of churches and religious institutions -- Home occupations -- Special uses, conditional uses, variances and variations -- Floating zone -- Contract zoning -- Spot zoning -- Aesthetic considerations -- Regulating signs -- Amortization of signs -- Nonconforming use or structure -- Regulation of wireless communications facilities siting -- Federal law -- Takings : action for inverse condemnation -- Vested rights -- First Amendment : adult uses -- Impact fees, exactions, takings -- Land use moratoria -- The right to a fair hearing -- Standing to challenge or enforce zoning ordinances -- Determining validity of classification : trial of a zoning case -- Form of complaint and answer -- Discovery -- Trial preparation -- Conduct of the trial -- Settlements and consent orders -- Fracking -- Wind energy -- Affordable housing.



Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only


Reference librarians online Chat with a law librarian 
Reference librarians via email


Administrative office (no law library at this location)
2 Center Plaza
9th Floor
Boston, MA 02108
Last updated: July 25, 2019