Approval May Not Be Required, But Sufficient Plans Are

The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently interpreted G. L. c. 41, § 81P, which governs "approval not required" endorsements.
United States Real Estate and Construction
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Meadow Wood LLC v. City of Brockton, 230 N.E.3d 1065 (Mass. App. Ct. 2024)

The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently interpreted G. L. c. 41, § 81P, which governs "approval not required" endorsements.

In Meadow Wood, a developer sought approval for a planned development to be located in Brockton. The developer submitted a plan to the Planning Board of Brockton, which depicted a way running to Brockton's border with West Bridgewater and three buildable lots abutting the way. The Board approved the plan, but subject to the way terminating in a cul-de-sac rather than the West Bridgewater town line. The developer then withdrew the original plan and submitted a revised plan, which retained the road terminating at the city border (without a cul-de-sac), and asserted that the revised plan was entitled to an "approval not required" ("ANR") endorsement because it did not show a subdivision on account of certain land shown on the plan being unbuildable. The Board denied the endorsement on the basis that the plan was "unclear." The Superior Court reversed, and Brockton appealed.

The Appeals Court reversed the Superior Court (therefore affirming the Board) for two reasons. First, the Court concluded that the revised plan was indeed "simply too unclear to permit the board to conclusively determine that [the developer] qualified for an ANR endorsement." Meadow Wood, at 3. Indeed, while the words "not a buildable lot" appeared on the revised plan, there was no indication as to which portions of the property that notation applied. Second, "by including buildable lots on both sides of the proposed way in the [original] plan, the [developer] essentially asserted that at least some portion of the land on each side of the proposed way included buildable terrain." Id. "That claim . . . was contradicted by the [developer's] portrayal of the relevant terrain as unbuildable due to wetlands." As a result, "[t]his contradiction, together with the [revised] plan's lack of clarity, [precludes the Court from concluding] that the board erred in denying an ANR endorsement." Id.

Meadow Wood indicates that courts will look to ensure that development plans include enough substantive detail to justify any relief requested – particularly where relief involves an excusal of regulatory requirements that typically apply. Where an "approval not required" endorsement is sought, the applicant should be sure to demonstrate precisely why.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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