Massachusetts law about zoning

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on zoning law.

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.

Massachusetts city and town zoning ordinances

Massachusetts city and town bylaws

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."

All About Variances, Donahue and Grolman, November 5, 2006
"This week we cover the importance of securing a variance before building."

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, Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development
Gives an overview of the statute with links to separate web sites to help developers, local officials and concerned citizens.

Housing Regulation Database, Pioneer Institute and Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston
This source allows you to compare housing ordinances from cities and towns across eastern Massachusetts in one simple interface. "The searchable database contains a unique, comprehensive set of information on the zoning codes, subdivision requirements, and environmental regulations that as of 2004 governed land use in 187 communities in eastern Massachusetts." You can search by town or subject. Excellent resource!

Manual of Instructions for the Survey of Lands and Preparation of Plans, 2006. Mass. Land Court
"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:

Print sources



Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only


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