Land use and zoning: are Massachusetts laws too restrictive?

The broad legal authority of local governments to regulate property use through zoning laws was established long ago.

A U.S. Supreme Court case, Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty, made that clear nearly 90 years ago.

But this does not mean that a particular zoning law, as applied, as reasonable. And in Massachusetts, the very age of some of the laws has prompted concerns that they are antiquated. In this post, we will discuss that issue.

The Boston Globe editorialized on the subject last week. The Globe encouraged the Massachusetts Legislature to pass a bill that would amount to an overhaul of zoning laws in the Commonwealth.

The concern is that municipalities have used zoning laws to impose too many restrictions on land use – resulting in a stifling effect on economic development.

With so many restrictions on building in city centers, development often gets pushed out to outlying areas. The ensuing urban sprawl has a lot of downside, from lengthy commutes to environmental degradation.

Zoning reform, however, is no easy task to execute. It involves many detailed rules and a complicated dance between cities, real estate developers and other interests.

The Globe’s concern is with a broader public interest that balances multiple factors. These factors range from the preservation of open space to the need to encourage economic development. Clearly a key concern is the creation of more housing options that are reasonably priced, rather than cookie-cutter “McMansions” in outlying areas.

But regardless of what the Legislature decides, there are invariably legal issues that arise regarding land use and zoning issues. A knowledgeable real estate attorney can help you navigate those issues.

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