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Close Enough for Mass.
by Ron Davis

A liberal interpretation of local parking standards has cleared the way for construction of a new shopping center in Massachusetts.

Plans call for construction of the shopping center in Chelmsford, and its location will be directly across the street from an existing shopping center, Eastgate Plaza. As such, the two centers will directly compete for local customers, since each will house a supermarket.

But because plans for the new shopping center do not comply with Chelmsford parking requirements for a supermarket of its projected size, the owners of Eastgate Plaza have contested the competing construction. They argue that parking needs will fall short of standards by nearly 100 spaces.

The Chelmsford planning board consequently conducted public hearings to settle the matter. And after hearing from both parties, the board granted a special parking permit that allows the parking shortfall.

Such permits are justified only if the board determines that the adverse effects of a proposed land use will not outweigh its merits with regard to the impact on the local community. The board found that the reduction in parking spaces “will benefit the project, the town, abutters, and the environment by reducing the paved area, avoiding the sea of concrete, and permitting treated storm water drainage to flow cleaner and more naturally into the ground and groundwater.”

The owners of Eastgate Plaza appealed those findings, contending that the basis of the planning board’s findings was faulty. They pointed out, for example, that the planning board used data that members derived from urban locations. Chelmsford, they added, is a suburban community, where traffic and automobile use are much different than they are in urban areas.

A Massachusetts land court initially agreed with Eastgate Plaza’s owners, based on the standards for parking at a project the size of the new shopping center. But on reconsideration, the court noted that local bylaws allow a planning board to override standards under certain conditions. Explained the judge, “The evidence presented upon which the board based its decision is reasonable and supports the finding that parking space plans meet the parking demand of the project…. The planning board arrived at a legally tenable conclusion that the projected parking spaces will adequately serve the project…. The planning board did not act in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner, nor base its decision on a legally untenable ground, in granting the parking request.” (Valley Properties, Inc. v. Pinnacle Partners, Inc., 2008 WL 3909243 [Mass.Land Ct.])

Decision: September 2008

Published: September 2008



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