In a decision issued this morning in Garrity v. Hingham Conservation Commission (pdf), the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that the Wetlands Protection Act’s (WPA) 21-day deadlines for local conservation commissions to hold a public hearing on a notice of intent and to issue a decision after the public hearing are waivable by the applicant, provided the waiver is (1) intentional, (2) “voluntary in fact,” (3) of a reasonable and definite duration, and (4) publicly noticed. 

thank you for your cooperationWith this backdrop, the SJC held that the plaintiff landowner’s purported waiver of the 21-day decision deadline – based on a form that the defendant conservation commission required all applicants to sign – was invalid because it wasn’t voluntary.  Because there was no valid waiver, the commission’s decision denying the plaintiff’s application under the town’s wetlands protection bylaw – issued 22 days after the close of the public hearing (close, but no cigar) – was a nullity. 

This decision should spell the end of the increasingly common practice of conservation commissions requiring, or coercing, applicants to waive the WPA’s 21-day deadlines.