Massachusetts Top Court: Towns May Block Development That’s Out of Character with Neighbors

The state’s highest court affirmed that towns have the right to prevent developers from building homes that are out of character with their neighbors. In Norwell, a developer had been trying for years to get approval to tear down a 675 square-foot house and replace it with a 1,920 square-foot house. Yesterday’s Boston Globe reports:

The court upheld the Town of Norwell and the state’s Land Court, which said the town’s zoning board could deny one developer’s plan to build a larger house if the new structure did not fit in with the characteristics of neighboring houses. Town officials are concerned that one new McMansion can trigger a domino effect as large, expensive houses replace older, more affordable, small houses.

Communities that want to preserve affordable housing “may permissibly exercise their police power to attempt to limit these potential adverse effects,” the court said…

With available land for residential building in short supply in Massachusetts’ suburbs, the trend to tear down smaller homes gained momentum during the housing boom and continues today, fueled by developers who can earn bigger profits by building big houses for higher prices.

See also:

Planning Board Adopts Sustainable Northampton Plan
We are encouraged by language like “ensure that new development does not degrade the quality of existing neighborhoods and mitigates traffic” and “encouraging designs compatible with historic neighborhoods”…

1991: Zoning Board of Appeals Member Vetoes Proposed Multi-Family Project as Out Of Character for Woodmont Road Environs
Announcing his vote, Brushway said he was against the project because the multi-family dwelling would be out of character with what he described as a neighborhood of “predominantly” single family homes, “especially in the immediate neighborhood.”

[Today, of course, we are faced with Kohl Construction’s proposal for 26 condo units in the area bounded by North Street and the bike trail–several times the scale of the project rejected in 1991.]

Robert H. Kuehn Jr.: “Thinking Like a Developer”
The more a given development proposal is in keeping with the character of the community and otherwise complimentary to that community’s own purposes, the more likely the proposal will be accepted. Therefore, the first decision about the site selection is a critical one for any development initiative…