Massachusetts Legal Blog

Massachusetts Local Zoning Laws FAQ’s

Zoning Laws in Massachusetts

Zoning laws in Massachusetts can vary greatly from community to community. These local and regional laws are specifically designed so the community members can maintain a certain level of control over how structures and land are used in their community. Aside from specific Massachusetts city and town Zoning laws, communities may join with neighboring communities to determine regional Zoning laws. Anyone looking to invest in residential real estate, commercial real estate or any endeavors that affect the land or any structure must be aware of the local laws and how those laws may apply to the plans they have for any structure or land.

Types of Zoning Laws

Zoning laws can specifically dictate the legality of changes to residential neighborhoods, the addition of commercial or retail space, what kind of establishments can be within a certain footage or schools or religious establishments (this often applies to the building or opening of adult-oriented businesses), the building of assisted living or low income housing properties, and what can or can’t be done to land in general, such as wetlands or other protected natural habitats. In Massachusetts, there are a number of Zoning laws and regulations that pertain specifically to historic sites or standards. These historical ordinances can dictate how plans for additions may be approved and even, in some Massachusetts communities, what color certain historically significant homes and structures can be painted. Neighborhood associations can also enact their own Zoning laws that can detail what is and what is not acceptable within their subdivision. The allocation and distinction of single family homes and rental homes that can accommodate a certain number of individuals can fall under Zoning laws near college campuses also. As for retail establishments, certain “chain” stores or restaurants may be specifically outside the realm of approval and face a massive challenge when trying to get the permits they need in certain Massachusetts communities.

Zoning Requirements

Anyone who wishes to embark on any kind of residential or commercial project to a new or existing structure must apply for the necessary permits pertinent to the local Zoning laws. While this process can go smoothly and many projects and real estate ventures go through the approval process rather quickly, there are times when a Zoning law or even public opposition can stall, lengthen or even halt the entire project. Public opposition may typically be the greatest obstacle for some ventures, particularly in communities where historical zoning requirements or national retail bans are part of the equation. Any kind of disruption to the progress of any project can affect the cost, timeline, or even deter potential or existing investors.

By Anna Shapiro