We reported in November, 2010 on the Appeals Court’s decision in Shirley Wayside L.P. v. Board of Appeals of Shirley (pdf). To our surprise, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) granted further appellate review and, in a decision (pdf) issued earlier this month, the SJC reversed the Appeals Court.
The facts of the case aren’t unusual. The defendant Shirley Board of Appeals denied a request for a permit to expand a mobile home park, which was a lawful nonconforming use. The Land Court vacated the board’s decision on the basis that there was no evidence at trial to justify denial of the permit. The Appeals Court then reversed the Land Court, finding that while some of the reasons the board cited for denying the permit were inadequate, the increase in density resulting from expansion of the park was a legitimate ground for denial.
As we noted in 2010, what made Shirley Wayside interesting was that it was decided by a five-judge panel of the Appeals Court. The three-judge panel that heard the oral argument had decided to affirm the Land Court judge, but when the draft decision was circulated to the other Appeals Court judges, a decision was made to enlarge the panel by two judges. Those two judges decided that the zoning board’s decision should be affirmed because density was a legitimate basis for denial of the permit, thus turning a 2-1 loss for the board into a 3-2 victory.
The SJC agreed with the Land Court judge that there was no evidence that either the density within the mobile home park or the modest increase in traffic would be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood. The SJC could have reversed the Appeals Court simply on the basis that there was adequate evidentiary support for the trial judge’s findings. The SJC’s opinion, however, includes an interesting discussion of how to apply certain dimensional requirements (setback and minimum lot size) to a grandfathered use that is now a prohibited use. We’ll provide some further thoughts on this aspect of the decision in a future post.