One day after hearing oral argument in the case of Murchison v. Zoning of Sherborn Board of Appeals (SJC-12867), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that an abutter must suffer actual harm to have standing to challenge a real estate development project. In a highly unusual move, the court didn’t wait to issue a written decision when it reinstated on March 6, the Land Court’s prior dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint for lack of standing, thereby overturning an earlier decision of the Appeals Court.
The HBRAMA submitted an amicus brief in support of the defendants who were seeking to build a in a residential district of Sherborn that require a minimum lot of 3 acres. The Land Court had found that the plaintiffs were not entitled to challenge a decision of the Sherborn Zoning Board of Appeals that approved the defendant’s plans because they could not demonstrate any “particularized harm” (e.g., loss of privacy, objectionable noise, additional traffic, light pollution, excessive storm water runoff, etc.). But in a decision that surprised most land use attorneys, the Appeals Court reversed the Land Court and held that the mere fact that the plaintiffs home is directly across the street from an alleged zoning violation was sufficient basis to confer standing to sue.
The HBRAMA argued that giving abutters the right to appeal zoning decisions without demonstrating actual harm would enable residents of wealthy, residential, low-density communities to block new housing simply because they live across the street from a proposed development. If it had not been overturned by the SJC, the Appeals Court’s decision would have exacerbated the current housing shortage in the Commonwealth by arming the forces of NIMBYism with an effective weapon to thwart desperately needed housing production. Attorney Benjamin Fierro of Lynch & Fierro LLP wrote the HBRAMA’s brief. A copy of the brief can be found here.