What is zoning?
Zoning is a regulatory tool used to manage land use, development, and growth in a community. In Massachusetts, zoning ordinances and by-laws are governed by M.G.L. c. 40A, also known as the Zoning Act.
The Town's Zoning Ordinance has two components:
- Zoning Map - Illustrates how land in the Town is divided into different zoning districts
- Text Articles - Describes the land-use regulations that apply in each district
The Town's Zoning Ordinance regulates the type of buildings (commercial, residential, mixed-use, etc.) that can be built in a given district, the size and scale of those buildings, the amount of parking required, and other aspects of land use and site design. For some types of land use, a developer is required to obtain a special permit from the Town's Board of Zoning Appeals. Special permits may be issued only after a public hearing and only for uses which are in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the Zoning Ordinance. Special permits may also impose conditions, safeguards, and limitations on time or use.
If a proposed building or land use does not comply with the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance, a developer must seek a zoning variance. A variance may only be granted by the Board of Zoning Appeals and only after a public hearing. To grant a variance, the Board of Zoning Appeals must determine that "owing to circumstances relating to the soil conditions, shape, or topography of such land or structures and especially affecting such land or structures but not affecting generally the zoning district in which it is located, a literal enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance or by-law would involve substantial hardship, financial or otherwise... and that desirable relief may be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and without nullifying or substantially derogating from the intent or purpose of such ordinance or by-law."
How is zoning changed?
M.G.L. c. 40A, §5 details a procedural process that all municipalities must follow when adopting or amending a zoning ordinance. Find a description of the zoning amendment process here.