The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has made another contribution to the ever-evolving law of zoning standing. In Kenner v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Chatham (pdf), the court considered the plaintiffs’ challenge to a special permit that the defendant zoning board granted to the plaintiffs’ neighbors in South Chatham. The permit authorized the neighbors to demolish, rebuild and expand their house. The plaintiffs appealed, asserting that they were “aggrieved” within the meaning of M.G.L. c. 40A, § 17 (pdf) – and thus had standing to sue – because, as rebuilt, the neighbors’ house would be about seven feet taller than it had been, and would block the plaintiffs’ view of the ocean. After a trial, the Land Court determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that, even if they had standing, they did not prove that the zoning board had acted unlawfully. The plaintiffs appealed, and in an unpublished decision (pdf), the Appeals Court reversed the Land Court’s decision. The zoning board and the neighbors then requested further appellate review by the SJC, which granted that request, reversed the Appeals Court, and affirmed the Land Court’s decision.
The SJC first noted that, ordinarily, the view from a particular property is not an interest protected by zoning. The court acknowledged, however, that an impaired view can be a basis for standing if the zoning bylaw at issue specifically provides such protection. Turning to the Chatham bylaw at issue, the court considered a provision stating that, when granting a special permit, the zoning board shall consider the “[i]mpact of scale, siting and mass on neighborhood visual character, including views, vistas and streetscapes.” The court found that this provision (some form of which appears in many zoning bylaws) expresses an intent to protect the visual character of the neighborhood as a whole – not the view from any particular neighboring property. The court went on to find that, even if this provision did protect individual views, the plaintiffs had not established that the potential impairment of their view was more than de minimis. As to the plaintiffs’ other claimed bases for standing – an alleged diminution in the value of their property and traffic safety concerns – the SJC found no basis in the record to disturb the Land Court’s judgment that the plaintiffs had failed to prove any appreciable harm to those interests.