Abutter Who Only Claims Diminution in Property Value Lacks Standing To Challenge Zoning Decision

A party’s right to appeal a decision from a zoning board is governed by Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40A, Section 17. Only a “person aggrieved” by a decision of a zoning board has standing to appeal it. The appeal is one made by filing a complaint in the Land Court or the Superior Court within 20 days of the zoning decision.

In Pobeda RT II, LLC v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Watertown, the Appeals Court recently addressed what it means to be a “person aggrieved” by a zoning board decision. In that case, the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) of Watertown granted a special permit to build a three-story research and development facility on a land situated within an industrial zone. The abutter of the land, an LLC that owned three properties in a nearby residential area, appealed the ZBA decision, on the ground that the proposed project would severely devalue its properties. The holder of the special permit filed a dispositive motion contesting the abutter’s standing. The motion judge agreed, finding that the abutter failed to provide credible evidence of aggrievement. Concluding that the abutter did not have standing, the motion judge dismissed the case. The abutter appealed, claiming that it would be aggrieved by the proposed project because its properties would diminish in value. In rebuttal to the alleged aggrievement, the holder of the special permit argued that such diminution in property value is not an interest that the Watertown’s zoning bylaw intended to protect.

The Appeals Court affirmed the judgment. Emphasizing that only a “person aggrieved” has standing to challenge a ZBA decision, the Court explained that, as an abutter, the plaintiff is entitled to a rebuttable presumption of aggrievement. The presumption can be rebutted in two ways: (1) either by showing that the claims of aggrievement are not interests that the Zoning Act is intended to protect; or (2) by providing credible affirmative evidence that refutes the presumption of aggrievement.

The Court observed that diminution of property value is not in and of itself sufficient to give standing when contesting a zoning decision. The Court referred to Kenner v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Chatham, in which abutters challenged their neighbors’ building permit because  the permitted house  would obstruct their ocean view and diminish their property value. The SJC found that the abutters did not have standing because their potential economic loss was not tied to the community’s zoning scheme (“zoning legislation is not designed for the preservation of the economic value of property, except in so far as the end is served by making the community a safe and healthy place in which to live.”). It held that the obstruction of an ocean view and the potential diminution in property value are not sufficient to grant standing. Similar to Kenner, the Pobeda RT Court concluded that the abutter did not have standing to challenge the special permit because its only grievance – the property value diminution – was not tied to any broader public interest protected by the Watertown zoning ordinance.


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