Sylvania Elec. Products, Inc. v. City of Newton

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtWHITTEMORE; KIRK; As Ronan
Citation344 Mass. 428,183 N.E.2d 118
Decision Date31 May 1962

Roger Allan Moore, Boston (W. Lincoln Boyden, III, Boston, with him), for petitioner.

Carlton W. Spencer, Boston (Frank G. Allen, Jr., and Henry W. Keyes, Boston, with him), for respondent landowners.

Matt B. Jones, City Sol., for City of Newton, concurred in the brief submitted in behalf of petitioner.



This appeal under G.L. c. 231, § 96, and c. 185, § 15, by landowners in Newton, challenges the decision of the Land Court which held valid an amendment to the Newton zoning ordinance enacted on June 27, 1960. The amendment changed from a single residence A district to a limited manufacturing district the classification of 153.6 acres of land now of the petitioner (Sylvania) situated on the southerly side of Nahanton Street in the southerly end of the city and bounded on the west and south by a strip of land of the metropolitan district commission along the Charles River. The locus is diagonally across the river from the development of the New England Industrial Center in Needham which lies between Route 128 and the river. The limited manufacturing district classification had been added to the ordinance on September 21, 1959. One other parcel had been placed in the classification prior to the amendment.

The judge viewed the locus and its environs. His decision states facts in apparently full detail and incorporates all the exhibits.

1. The validity of the ordinance in all aspects, other than that discussed in point 2 below, is shown by the facts stated in the decision. It was not spot zoning; it did not violate the requirement of uniform classification; it was not invalidated because made after other nearby land had been for a long time classified for residences. Caires v. Building Com'r. of Hingham, 323 Mass. 589, 83 N.E.2d 550; Cohen v. City of Lynn, 333 Mass. 699, 704-705, 132 N.E.2d 664, and cases cited; Elmer v. Board of Zoning Adjustment of Boston, Mass., 176 N.E.2d 16, and cases cited. 1 It was an appropriate zoning reclassification of the locus in the light of the physical characteristics of the land and very substantial changes in the use of land in the vicinity. Raymond v. Commissioner of Pub. Works of Lowell, 333 Mass. 410, 413, 131 N.E.2d 189. We do not reach the issue whether the judge's conclusion in respect of these points must be taken in any event because of his consideration of other facts not stated. See Harrington v. Anderson, 316 Mass. 187, 192, 55 N.E.2d 30; Barney & Carey Co. v. Town of Milton, 324 Mass. 440, 449, 87 N.E.2d 9; Ide v. Bowden, 342 Mass. 22, 172 N.E.2d 88. The appellants do not contend that the amendment was invalid because fewer acres were reclassified than were described in the proposal of which statutory notice was given. See Town of Burlington v. Dunn, 318 Mass. 216, 218-219, 61 N.E.2d 243, 168 A.L.R. 1181; Doliner v. Town Clerk of Millis, Mass., 175 N.E.2d 925. 2

2. The principal issue is the effect of Sylvania's imposition of restrictions on the locus in connection with the enactment of the amendment ordinance and of steps taken by the planning board, and others acting for the city, to cause Sylvania so to do.

In respect of this issue the judge found these facts: Sylvania on April 14, 1960, having an option to purchase a parcel containing 180 acres, inclusive of the rezoned locus, petitioned the board of aldermen (aldermen) to reclassify the parcel. On May 11, 1960, the planning board, after a public hearing held jointly with the aldermen's committed on claims and rules, reported that it had asked the city's planning consultant to review the petition and had decided to withhold action until he should report. On June 2, 1960, the board reported to the aldermen its vote to approve Sylvania's petition except that it recommended retaining in the residence A district a substantial frontage on Nahanton Street, including a parcel of about eighteen and one-half acres on the east side of the parcel adjacent to the property of the Charles River Country Club.

'Meanwhile, Sylvania, in consultation with the planning consultant * * * and members of the planning board and the claims and rules committee * * *, had agreed to certain restrictions upon its use of * * * [the locus],' 3 and had agreed to cede three acres, comprising the southeasterly tip of the parcel, to 'Oak Hill Park Association' to be restrictions, to be operative The restrictions, to be operative for thirty years from September 1, 1960, were set out in a draft of a deed attached to a proposed option agreement whereby Sylvania would give the city an option to purchase, within a thirty year period, for $300, a strip of land on the west and southwesterly side (the river side) of the parcel, adjacent to the land of the metropolitan district commission, containing thirty and one-half acres. By the option agreement Sylvania would agree to abide by the restrictions in the draft deed during the option term pending the city's exercise thereof. The intention would be to give the city a dominant estate capable of enforcing the restrictions. The deed was to convey the thirty and one-half acres subject to the restriction for the benefit of Sylvania's adjoining premises that for a period of fifty years no buildings or structures (other than fences) should be erected or maintained on the granted premises.

The proposed restrictions limited the floor area of all buildings to be constructed on the premises to 800,000 square feet; required that sixty per cent of the ground area, or seventy-three and nine-tenths acres, be maintained in open space not occupied by buildings, parking areas or roadways; set back the building line from forty to eighty feet; imposed a sliding scale of height restrictions; called for a buffer zone of comparable size to the three acres to be ceded to Oak Hill Park Association and adjacent thereto, on which no structures might be erected; restricted the number and type of signs and the type of lighting; limited the use of buildings to certain, but not all, of the uses permitted in a limited manufacturing district; and established a pattern for traffic in connection with construction on the premises.

On June 27, 1960, the aldermen's committee on claims and rules reported its approval of the petition as modified by the planning board in its formal vote of approval except that the committee recommended that the strip of Nahanton Street reserved for the residence district be increased in depth from 140 to 180 feet. There was submitted to the June 27 meeting a memorandum by the planning consultant, addressed to the mayor and to the alderman who was chairman of the committee on claims and rules. This memorandum summarized 'the acreage breakdown on the Sylvania site, based upon the tentative deed restrictions as of June 23, 1960,' and included a sketch map of the site delineating the areas and restrictions.

Thereafter, at the June 27 meeting, the aldermen enacted the ordinance which approved Sylvania's petition as modified in accordance with its committee's recommendation 'and in connection therewith passed [the] order * * * authorizing the mayor to accept the proposed option agreement.'

Sylvania took title to the Nahanton Street parcel on July 6, 1960, and thereafter on that day executed the option agreement with attached form of deed. Certified copies of the ordinance of June 27, 1960, which amended the zoning ordinance and of the order which authorized the mayor to accept the option bear the indorsement 'Executive Department Approved July 7, 1960.' The deed form and option agreement were recorded on July 8, 1960.

In several other jurisdictions votes to rezone on the express condition that the owner impose restrictions (sometimes called 'contract zoning') have been held invalid. Hartnett v. Austin, 93 So.2d 86 (Fla.). Baylis v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 219 Md. 164, 148 A.2d 429; Rose v. Paape, 221 Md. 369, 157 A.2d 618; Carole Highlands Citizens Ass'n, Inc. v. Board of County Com'rs of Prince George's County, 222 Md. 44, 158 A.2d 663; V. F. Zahodiakin Engr. Corp. v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment of City of Summit, 8 N.J. 386, 86 A.2d 127. See Houston Petroleum Co. v. Automotive Prod. Credit Ass'n, 9 N.J. 122, 87 A.2d 319.

Rathkopf, The Law of Zoning and Planning (3d ed.) pp. 74-79, states that 'The basis of such rule is that the rezoning of a particular parcel of land upon conditions not imposed by the zoning ordinance generally in the particular district into which the land has been rezoned is prima facie evidence of 'spot zoning' in its most maleficent aspect, is not is accordance with a comprehensive plann and is beyond the power of the municipality.'

The only decision squarely to the contrary which has come to our attention is Church v. Town of Islip, 8 N.Y.2d 254, 259, 203 N.Y.S.2d 866, 869, 168 N.E.2d 680, 683, which the judge in the Land Court found persuasive. The change of zone, sustained in a majority opinion by Desmond, C. J., had been voted on condition that the owners agree that the building should not occupy more than twenty-five per cent of the area, that a six foot fence be erected five feet within the boundary line, and that shrubbery be planted and maintained at fence height. The court said: 'Since the Town Board could have, presumably, zoned this * * * corner for business without any restrictions, we fail to see how reasonable conditions invalidate the legislation. * * * All legislation 'by contract' is invalid in the sense that a Legislature cannot bargain away of sell its powers. But we deal here with actualities, not phrases. To meet increasing needs of Suffolk County's own population explosion, and at the same time to make as gradual and as little of an annoyance as possible the charge from residence...

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