Heard: February 12, 2019.
action commenced in the Land Court Department on November 9,
2016. The case was heard by Karyn F. Scheier, J.
W. Murphy for the plaintiffs.
Merriann M. Panarella, pro se.
H. Erichsen, pro se, was present but did not argue.
Present: Rubin, Sullivan, & Neyman, JJ.
an appeal from a judgment of the Land Court dismissing the
claims asserted by the plaintiffs, Robert and Alison
Murchison (plaintiffs), for lack of standing to challenge the
grant of a foundation permit to Merriann M. Panarella and
David H. Erichsen (defendants) for a single-family home in
Sherborn. Because we conclude the plaintiffs could establish
standing on the basis of alleged harm resulting from the
violation of a density-related bylaw, we reverse the judgment
of the Land Court and remand for further proceedings.
following facts are taken from the Land Court judge's
findings of fact and rulings of law. The plaintiffs own a
single-family home in Sherborn. The defendants own a vacant
three-acre lot across the street from the plaintiffs'
property. Both lots are in Sherborn's Residence C zoning
district. Sherborn's bylaws impose a requirement that
each lot in this district have a minimum lot width of 250
29, 2016, Sherborn's zoning enforcement office (ZEO)
issued a foundation permit for a single-family residence on
the defendants' property (proposed development). On July
19, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal to
the Sherborn zoning board of appeals (board), which held a
public hearing on the matter on September 14, 2016. On
October 5, 2016, the board upheld the ZEO's issuance of
the permit. The plaintiffs then appealed the board's
ruling to the Land Court under G. L. c. 40A, § 17.
Land Court, the plaintiffs argued among other things that the
proposed development violated the bylaws because the lot had
insufficient width. The bylaws state that "minimum lot
width" is to be "[m]easured both at front setback
line and at building line. At no point between the required
frontage and the building line shall lot width be reduced to
less than [fifty] feet, without an exception from the
Planning Board." The bylaws define "Width,
Lot" as "[a] line which is the shortest distance
from one side line of a lot to any other side line of such
lot, provided that the extension of such line diverges less
than [forty five degrees] from a line, or extension thereof,
which connects the end points of the side lot lines where
such lines intersect the street right-of-way." There is
no definition of "front setback line." The
definition of "building line" is "[a] line
which is the shortest distance from one side line of the lot
to any other side line of the lot and which passes through
any portion of the principal building and which differs by
less than [forty five degrees] from a line which connects the
end points of the side lot lines at the point at which they
intersect the street right-of-way." The plaintiffs
argued that, applying these definitions, the lot widths were
209.56 feet and 192.42 feet at the front setback line and
building line respectively, neither of which satisfied the
minimum lot width requirement of 250 feet. The defendants
argued that their proposed development satisfied the minimum
lot width requirement. After a four-day trial, the Land Court
judge issued a judgment that did not reach the merits of the
case, and instead dismissed it for lack of standing. This
Laws c. 40A, § 17, allows any "person aggrieved by
a decision of the board of appeals" to challenge that
decision in the Land Court. "A 'person
aggrieved' is one who 'suffers some infringement of
his legal rights.'" Sweenie v. A.L. Prime Energy
Consultants, 451 Mass. 539, 543 (2008), quoting
Marashlian v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Newburyport,
421 Mass. 719, 721 (1996). Our courts grant a rebuttable
"presumption of standing" to all parties satisfying
the definition of "parties in interest" in G. L. c.
40A, § 11. See 81 Spooner Rd., LLC v. Zoning Bd. of
Appeals of Brookline, 461 Mass. 692, 700 (2012). This
definition includes "owners of land directly opposite on
any public or private street or way." G. L. c. 40A,
§ 11. Since the plaintiffs are owners of land directly
opposite the lot in question, they satisfy the definition of
"parties in interest" and are therefore entitled to
a rebuttable presumption of standing. This rebuttable
presumption does not displace the general rule that a