In Pinecroft Development, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Appeals of West Boylston, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reviewed a case of “split lot” zoning—a situation where a single lot extends over two or more zoning districts and is therefore subject to multiple or inconsistent use or dimensional regulations. The question is which zoning applies, and to what extent?
Case law has established general principles for resolving such questions, but local bylaws can supplement these principles. In general, where a use is permitted on one portion of a split lot, but prohibited on the remainder, the more restrictively zoned land area cannot be used for the prohibited use, but it can be passively counted towards meeting dimensional requirements. To illustrate, the lot in Pinecroft permitted multifamily housing on one portion but prohibited it on the rest. Under the case law, the multifamily use could be physically located only on the portion of the lot where it was allowed, but the more restrictively zoned land area could be used to meet lot area, setback, coverage, or other dimensional requirements.
The Appeals Court found that the Town of West Boylston had adopted a bylaw that, for split lots that preexisted the zoning boundary that created the split, permitted a proposed use to extend 30-feet into the more restrictive zoning district. The Court also found that, because the Town had not adopted a zoning bylaw that applied to split lots created after the creation of a zoning boundary (e.g., though merger), such lots would be governed by the general rule described above. The West Boylston Zoning Board of Appeals argued that its bylaw extended both use and dimensional regulations into the more restrictive zone by 30 feet, but that, in contrast to the general rule, the balance of the lot could not be used to passively satisfy dimensional requirements. The Appeals Court disagreed, finding that, where the general rule would apply to newly created split lots, it would be unreasonable to interpret the Town’s zoning to prevent crediting the more restrictive area towards dimensional requirements on a preexisting split lot.
The case highlights the need to adopt zoning bylaws that either address the issue with precision or cede control to the case law.