An abutting landowner’s legal right to challenge a neighbor’s permit may be “under renovation” by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

On March 5, the SJC heard arguments in the case of Murchison v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Sherborn, in which the Plaintiff-appellants challenged a foundation permit to build a single family house on a 3-acre vacant lot located across the street from the plaintiffs’ properties. The Plaintiff-appellants challenge the Land Court’s decision that they lacked legal standing to challenge the permit.

In a decision which surprised some members of the development and construction industry, as well as the Land Court, the Appellate Court took a different view of the standing issue, holding that the plaintiffs indeed had the legal standing required to challenge the permit. In so doing, the Appeals Court held that, as landowners, the plaintiffs’ concern that the proposed construction across the street would result in overcrowding was sufficient to establish their legal standing. Of the Appeals Court’s decision, Land Court Judge Robert B. Foster stated, “The effect of the Murchison decision is to give abutters standing per se – that is, without any need to demonstrate particularized harm – when the interest of density is at issue”, adding that such interpretation goes against how courts have historically interpreted this issue under Massachusetts zoning law.  In addition, the Real Estate Bar Association, along with others in the real estate community, has filed an amicus brief with the SJC, urging it to overturn the Appeals Court’s decision to prevent what it sees as a detrimental effect that the decision will likely have on permitting and construction.

We at Healey, Deshaies, Gagliardi & Woelfel, PC, appreciate the significance of this decision on local zoning matters and litigation, and will be watching closely for the Supreme Court’s decision.

Althea Volper, Esq.