In its recent rescript opinion in Pelullo v. Croft, the Appeals Court affirmed a Land Court decision that overturned a building inspector’s interpretation of an undefined term in the Natick Zoning Bylaw. The Appeals Court found that the building inspector’s interpretation was unreasonable and therefore not entitled to deference.
At issue was the meaning of the undefined term “lot depth.” The Natick Bylaw provides that undefined terms “shall have their ordinarily accepted meanings or such as the context may imply.” Based on that language, the building inspector issued a building permit for construction of a single-family residence, deciding that, for lots that he considered “oddly-shaped,” lot depth should be calculated based on a diagonal line. Neither the building inspector nor the Board of Appeals (which upheld the building inspector’s decision) offered any reasoned basis for this approach.
In affirming the Land Court’s decision, the Appeals Court noted that the Bylaw provision on undefined terms is not a license to give such terms a meaning that suits the personal views of those charged with enforcement of the Bylaw. While acknowledging the deference usually given to a zoning board’s interpretation of a local bylaw, the court emphasized that unreasonable interpretations are not entitled to such deference.