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.

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 aggreived," 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.

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.

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 40A, § 3A: compliance guidelines, Mass. Dept. of Housing and Community Development.
Compliance guidelines and other materials in relation to the multi-family zoning requirement for MBTA communities.

Chapter 40B planning and information, Mass. Dept. of Housing and Community Development.
Provides information "to assist planners and developers in their affordable housing efforts," such as comprehensive permit guidance, design review, housing production plan guidelines, unit sale prices and rents.

Chapter 40R, Mass. Dept. of Housing and Community Development.
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 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.

Zoning and land use resources, Exec. Office of Housing and Economic Development.
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, 5th ed., Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 2022 with supplement.

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

Massachusetts practice series:

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


Last updated: May 23, 2023

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