These summaries of case decisions are intended for informational purposes only. They are not intended to be interpretations of the law, nor do they encompass the subtleties of each case. Therefore, reference to the original text is indispensable.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shirley Wayside v. Board of Appeals

Supreme Judicial Court  February 7, 2012

Procedural history:  
Shirley Wayside Limited Partnership (Wayside) appeals from Appeals Court’s reversal of a Land Court’s decision to overturn the town of Shirley zoning board’s denial of Wayside’s application for a special permit to expand its mobile home park in Shirley.  

Holding:  Decision of the Land Court is affirmed.

Facts:  Wayside owns and operates a mobile home park on approximately twenty acres of land partially located in a residence 3 (R3) zoning district and partially located in a residential rural (RR) zoning district in the town of Shirley.

In 1985, Shirley amended its zoning bylaws and removed mobile home parks as a permitted use in all zoning districts.  Wayside, which has existed since the 1950s, was protected as a preexisting nonconforming use.  In 2005, Wayside applied for a permit to replace an abandoned mobile home and to add an additional fourteen mobile homes.   The bylaws, § 2.8.4, permit expansion of preexisting nonconforming uses if the landowner satisfies three conditions: (1) expansion shall not exist 25% of its area on said lot, (2) the expansion is “not substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood than the existing nonconforming structure or use” and (3) the expansion “must be physically located within the perimeter of the lot.”  § 2.8.4.  The board denied Wayside’s application, despite it fulfilling the first and third conditions, finding that Wayside “did not satisfy the burden that this expansion will not be more substantially detrimental to the neighborhood due to the density of the expansion and the encroachment of the 25% rule.”

Standard of Review:  In reviewing the zoning board’s decision, the trial judge makes his own findings of fact and accords deference to a local board’s reasonable interpretation of its zoning laws.  The judge then determines whether the board has applied those standards in an “unreasonable, whimsical, capricious or arbitrary” manner.  Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers of N.Y., Inc. v. Board of Appeal of Billerica, 454 Mass. 374, 382 (2009) (citation omitted).  On appellate review, the judge’s findings of fact will not be set aside unless they are “clearly erroneous” or “there is no evidence to support them.”  DiGiovanni v. Board of Appeals of Rockport, 19 Mass. App. Ct. 339, 343 (1984).  This Court reviews the judge’s determinations of law, including interpretations of zoning bylaws, de novo. 

Issue: Should the zoning board have granted Wayside’s application for expansion?

Yes.  First, with regard to the lot requirement of the applicable zoning bylaws, a mobile home park falls within “[o]ther [u]ses,” which sets minimum size at 15,000 square feet in R3 zoning districts and 80,000 square feet in RR zoning districts.  Because Wayside’s twenty-acre property far exceeds the minimum lot size in both R3 and RR, Wayside satisfies the minimum lot size requirement.

Second, with regard to the frontage and setback requirements, even if the proposed expansion violates the setback bylaws as the Court has interpreted it, the Court declines to apply that bylaw retrospectively to this project because the application of the requirements are novel and unforeseen, the potential deficiency is not egregious, and denying the special permit because of the thirty-foot setback requirement would impose considerable hardship on Wayside.   Based on those findings, the Court agrees with the Land Court judge that no rational view of the facts supports the board’s decision, and that the board’s decision was therefore arbitrary and capricious. 

On the board’s alternative claim that denial of expansion was justified because of increased traffic, the trial judge’s findings have evidentiary support and were not clearly erroneous, therefore, they will not be set aside.  Finally, because Shirley expressly permits expansion of nonconforming uses subject to the bylaw requirements, the board’s argument that it was justified in rejecting the proposed expansion simply because it expands a non-conforming use is without merit.