Thursday, October 27, 2011

Questions of Standing

In an interesting case for Massachusetts, the court dealt with the issue of standing to challenge the decision by the board of zoning appeals. In Massachusetts,

Certain “parties in interest,” as defined under G.L. c. 40A, § 11, are entitled to a presumption of standing as “persons aggrieved,” including (1) abutters, (2) property owners directly opposite the locus (i.e., directly across the street from), and (3) abutters to abutters within three hundred feet of the property line of the Locus. “[T]hose entitled to notice of the proceedings are presumed to have the requisite interest” under G.L. c. 40A and thus enjoy a rebuttable presumption that they are “persons aggrieved.”
The plaintiffs in this case indicated that they were "adjacent abutters." The court concluded that the presumption of standing was adequately rebutted by the applicant and the zoning board, and the burden of production and persuasion then shifted back to the neighbors to demonstrate that they were in some way aggrieved by the decision of the zoning board.

In this case, the plaintiffs hired a traffic engineer to demonstrate that the additional traffic would cause harm to their properties. However, the traffic engineer testified that the increased traffic would only be seven additional trips per day (10 trips per residential household, 17 trips for this elderly care facility). The court concluded that there was insufficient aggrievement for the plan is to have standing and dismissed the case.
Nihtila v. City of Brockton Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 2011 WL 3925596.

In Tennessee, I would suggest that the standing rules at least with regard to certain petitions are more liberal. For example, in Citizens for Collierville v Town of Collierville, 977 S.W. 2d 321 (Tenn App 1998), an allegation that the representative members of a local nonprofit Corporation lived within 2000 feet of the proposed development was accepted as sufficient for standing. in another interesting case, McCrae v Knox County, 2004 WL 1056669 (Tenn. App. 2004), the court accepted as sufficient allegations of "a diminution in the value of their property and loss of use and enjoyment due to the obstruction of their view of the Holston River and glaring lighting allegedly caused by the billboards." 

Because no proof is actually permitted under the terms of the common law writ of certiorari, to the extent that proof of standing is going to be admitted, it should be admitted before the local administrative tribunal. It is not been admitted there, then probably the issue of standing is been waived in any event.

From my perspective, it is far better for the courts to be somewhat relaxed on this issue so long as the neighborhood challengers live reasonably close to the proposed development. One of the reasons that standing should be liberally granted is because many zoning boards frequently blithely ignore the zoning regulations and the State enabling statutes in granting approvals for construction projects. In the McCrae case cited above, the board granted a variance which was clearly illegal. If the neighborhood challengers lacks standing, the clearly illegal decision of the zoning board would have stood. Liberal rules of standing allow neighbors to challenge governmental decisions which many times in the case of local zoning and planning commissions are suspect. If the courts restrict standing, many of these cases where the boards have granted developmental rights illegally will never be overturned.

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