by Barry R. Crimmins, Esquire
Town governments in New England are taken very seriously. Each municipality throughout the region has its own elected and appointed officials who oversee the governing of their respective communities and are tasked with charting and shaping the growth of their towns. These are the people who approve (or do not approve) requests for new construction or expansion on the part of a business or institution. As a result, those looking to expand or develop new areas should get to know these individuals, and understand the processes of the town government, very well.
To start, recognize that each community differs somewhat in its zoning and planning regulations. What may fall under existing regulations in one community may require a special permit in another. The process which takes an idea from concept to (hopefully) final approval may not look exactly the same from community to community, but there are common guidelines everyone should follow in attempting to navigate a remodeling or new construction process.
As you plan your project, learn who the key players and decision-makers are in the town. Typically some basic information is available from that community’s website. Additionally, make sure you understand that community’s specific zoning and planning bylaws. In this situation, your architect, engineer, or attorney (or all three) should be able to contribute information that will help with the navigation of these officials and departments.
Once you’ve determined who the key players are, seek out opportunities to meet with them. In a less formal setting, you can introduce yourself and your project, and determine if they have any suggestions that might make your plan more appealing to the town, or any requirements or “strong recommendations” to make the application progress more smoothly. Not only is informing them about the project early on incredibly helpful, but these conversations can help to avoid surprises down the road.
As you prepare your project application, consider the following questions:
- Is this proposed project an already permitted use? In other words, does the proposed expansion conform to existing zoning bylaws?
- If not, and it requires a special permit, what is the procedure for doing so?
- In turn, which municipal boards, and in what order, should review the necessary applications?
Once you have successfully answered these questions, you are ready to submit your formal application. Be sure to provide detailed plans that go with your application – engineering or architectural plans are much more impressive than simple sketches. After its submission, hearings will most likely be held before a number of boards, with meetings open to the public
Hopefully given this level of preparation, foresight, and research, your project will be greeted positively. Be sure to recognize, though, that even affirmative votes by individual boards are generally subject to a waiting period while abutters and other “aggrieved parties” have the chance to appeal the board’s decision. The seemingly slow pace at which governmental approval can proceed can be frustrating to an applicant. But from the community’s point of view, they’re trying to look out for the safety and well-being of the town they are elected or appointed to represent.
As you work your way through the permitting process, knowledge is power. Knowing how to navigate the municipal process can greatly enhance the chances of success for your new development. Be prepared, be patient, and be thorough – hopefully the hard work and time you put into this endeavor will be greeted with excitement and approval from the surrounding community.
Barry R. Crimmins is an attorney in Stoughton, MA, who has specialized in zoning and land use regulations, as well as elder and estate law, for 30 years. For more information visit his website at www.brc-law.com.