Sturges v. Town of Chilmark

Decision Date27 March 1980
Citation380 Mass. 246,402 N.E.2d 1346
PartiesJulia G. STURGES et al. 1 v. TOWN OF CHILMARK et al. 2
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Thomas B. Bracken, Boston, for defendants.

Eugene L. Tougas, Waltham, for plaintiffs.

Howard R. Palmer, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the Commonwealth, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.


WILKINS, Justice.

The plaintiffs, who jointly own several parcels of land in the Martha's Vineyard town of Chilmark, commenced this proceeding in the Land Court in November, 1977, seeking a determination concerning certain statutory and local regulatory provisions which might be applied to restrict their right to use and develop their land.

The issues, which are before us on the cross-appeals of the plaintiffs and the town, principally concern two zoning by-law amendments adopted by the town in March, 1976. One of these zoning changes created, for certain younger Chilmark residents, a youth lot exemption from lot size requirements. The other zoning change imposed time based restrictions on the construction of residential dwellings in the town. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the youth lot by-law and thus did not pass on its constitutionality. He ruled that the rate of development by-law was unconstitutional. Additionally, the plaintiffs challenge the Land Court judge's ruling that their unregistered land shown on certain subdivision plans was subject to the subdivision control law. Finally, the town challenges the judge's ruling that two lots which meet at a point are not "adjoining" within the meaning of the word in G.L. c. 40A, § 6, and thus, in the circumstances, each is a buildable residential lot. We granted the town's application for direct appellate review.

We conclude that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the youth lot by-law but are not entitled to the relief they seek; that they have standing to challenge the rate of development by-law but that they have not established its unconstitutionality; and that the judge was correct in ruling that (a) certain of the plaintiffs' land shown on recorded subdivisions is subject to the subdivision control law, and (b) two of the plaintiffs' lots meeting at a point are not "adjoining" within the meaning of the word in G.L. c. 40A, § 6. 3

1. At a special town meeting, held on March 15, 1976, the town adopted an exception to the minimum lot size requirements of its zoning by-law. This exception, which has been characterized as the youth lot by-law, was adopted "(f)or the purpose of helping young people who have grown up in Chilmark and lived here for a substantial portion of their lives and who, because of the rising land prices, have been unable to obtain suitable land for their permanent homes at a reasonable price, and who desire to continue to live in Chilmark." The by-law authorizes the town's board of appeals, subject to certain conditions, to grant a special permit to build a single-family dwelling, generally for owner occupancy, on an undersized lot, provided the applicant has not attained his thirtieth birthday and has been a resident of the town for eight consecutive years. One such permit may be issued for every thirty-six acres held in common ownership on the effective date of the by-law.

The judge of the Land Court declined to pass on the validity of the youth lot by-law because he concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the by-law since they were benefited rather than harmed by it. It is not clear what arguments the plaintiffs presented in the Land Court. Their complaint sought a determination that the youth lot by-law was invalid but only as to two lots, which, as will be seen, are exempt in any event from the minimum lot requirements. 4 Before us, the plaintiffs argue that they should be entitled to sell all their "under-three-acre lots affected by" the youth lot by-law "without regard to the age, residence or economic condition of the purchaser." All undersized lots appear to be "affected by" the youth lot by-law. The nature and scope of the plaintiffs' claim, as applied to their land, is unclear. 5

In so far as the plaintiffs assert a right to sell undersized lots (at least one for each thirty-six acres of commonly held land) without regard to the age or residency of the purchaser, they have standing to challenge the by-law. G.L. c. 240, § 14A. They are objecting to the by-law's age and residency restriction or limitation on their right to sell undersized lots and as the owners "of a freehold estate in possession" may bring a petition in the Land Court against the town "for determination as to the validity of a . . . by-law" in the respect claimed. G.L. c. 240, § 14A, as amended by St.1975, c. 808, § 5. See Harrison v. Braintree, 355 Mass. 651, 654, 247 N.E.2d 356 (1969). We view § 14A, a remedial statute, as intended to permit any landowner to petition for a decision concerning the validity or invalidity of any zoning restriction applicable to his land. Id. at 654-655, 247 N.E.2d 356. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co v. Reading, 354 Mass. 181, 184-185, 236 N.E.2d 188 (1968).

The plaintiffs' argument appears to rest on the fallacious assumption that, if the age and residency requirements of the by-law were struck, special permits could be obtained generally under what remained of the by-law. Considering the clearly expressed purpose of the by-law, that assumption cannot be accepted. If the age and residency provisions were not in the by-law, the town would not have adopted it. Consequently, the entire youth lot by-law would have to be treated as a nullity if the age and residency requirements were invalidated. Hence, the plaintiffs' position that they may rely on the youth lot by-law with its allegedly invalid conditions excised is unsupportable, and the affirmative relief which they seek cannot be granted.

The plaintiffs have sought declaratory relief, however, and are entitled to a declaration concerning the issue on which they seek an answer. A judgment should be entered, in this aspect of the case, stating that the plaintiffs are not entitled to sell any of their under-three-acre lots for residential uses pursuant to the terms of the youth lot by-law to persons who do not meet the age and residency requirements of the youth lot by-law. This declaration disposes of the position for which the plaintiffs have argued, as far as we can determine. It will be within the judge's discretion to permit the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to seek declaratory relief concerning the youth lot by-law in other respects.

2. At the March, 1976, special town meeting, the town adopted another amendment to its zoning by-law, this one concerning the "rate of development" of real estate in the town. The parties construe this by-law, which is set forth in full in the margin, 6 as limiting the issuance of building permits for residential construction to one tenth of the lots in a "subdivision" in the year the lots are subdivided and a further one tenth of those lots in each of the subsequent nine years. 7

The plaintiffs present what they characterize as a facial attack on the rate of development by-law, arguing that the town lacked statutory authority to adopt it and that it is unconstitutional. We agree with the judge of the Land Court that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the validity of the rate of development by-law. The by-law affects the ready marketability of their property. In any event, from our previous discussion concerning the plaintiffs' standing to challenge the youth lot by-law, we think it clear that under G.L. c. 240, § 14A, the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the application of the rate of development by-law to their property.

The authority of a municipality to impose time based zoning controls on local development has been the subject of considerable litigation and discussion. 8 The first question in such a case is whether the municipality had statutory authority to act as it did. Next, there often is, as here, the claim that there is a denial of due process of law on the ground that there is no rational basis for the limitations imposed. 9 This court has not often dealt with time-based zoning limitations. We did deal with such a provision in Collura v. Arlington, 367 Mass. 881, 329 N.E.2d 733 (1975), where, under prior zoning enabling legislation, we upheld a two-year moratorium on the construction of apartment houses in certain areas of the town. We held that that form of interim zoning, enacted to prevent uncontrolled growth pending the town's review of its comprehensive plan, was authorized by statute and that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that the zoning provision was unrelated to the furtherance of any of the general objects of The Zoning Enabling Act. Id. at 886-887, 329 N.E.2d 733. However, no constitutional question was presented in the Collura case, and the by-law restriction was of limited effect because it applied only to apartment house uses for a period of two years.

A Massachusetts city or town has the authority to adopt zoning measures which control orderly growth. We hold that a municipality may impose reasonable time limitations on development, at least where those restrictions are temporary and adopted to provide controlled development while the municipality engages in comprehensive planning studies. The purposes of The Zoning Act, inserted by St.1975, c. 808, support such limitations. 10 A municipality may enact zoning provisions to deal with a variety of matters, including fire safety; density of population and intensity of use the adequate provision of water, water supply, and sewerage; the conservation of natural resources; and the prevention of pollution of the environment. See St.1975, c. 808, § 2A. From the wide scope of the purposes of The Zoning Act, it is apparent...

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