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10 Things Real Estate Developers and Investors Should Know About Boston Zoning and Local Permitting

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Written by: Geoffrey H. Smith

Major real estate development projects like the former Filenes site downtown and the New Balance “Boston Landing” project in Brighton are clear indications private developers and investors are focusing their attention on Boston with renewed interest in large commercial and mixed use real estate development projects. Many of these developers and investors, especially those from out of state, may not be familiar with the local zoning and permitting framework applicable to their proposed projects. Below is a brief summary of just some of the issues developers and investors should consider when planning such projects in Boston that could have significant impacts on the viability of their project designs and negotiations. 

Statutes of Limitations on Zoning Enforcement Actions in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Zoning

Written by: Andrew Royce

Cautious real estate purchasers or lenders always review their prospective properties for compliance with zoning regulations.  In most cases, they will be able to check off the zoning compliance box on their due diligence checklist – either because:

  • (i) the property complies with current requirements imposed by the zoning bylaw or ordinance, or;

  • (ii) the property complied with the version of the bylaw or ordinance in effect at the time the building was constructed or the particular use was commenced, notwithstanding that restrictive amendments to the bylaw or ordinance would now prohibit such a building or use (in which case it is considered a lawful nonconforming structure or use).


Former Railroad Rights-of-Way

Former railroad right of way

 Written by: Joshua M. Alper

Many cities and towns, particularly in greater Boston, are criss-crossed with former railroad lines and rights of way, some of which have not been used in many decades, and may not be discernible by inspection.  Purchasers and developers of Massachusetts real estate should be aware of two statutes which affect former railroad property:  (i) General Laws chapter 161C, §7 creates a right of first refusal on the proposed sale, transfer, or disposition of railroad property in favor of the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation (the “Secretary”); and (ii) perhaps more troubling , G.L. c. 40, §54A requires the consent of the Secretary prior to issuance of a permit to build a structure of any kind on land formerly used as “a railroad right-of-way or any property appurtenant thereto,” a term which includes former railroad property that may be located outside of the former right-of-way.

In the case of purchases directly from a railroad company, G.L. c. 161C, §7 requires the railroad company to make an offer in writing to the Secretary, who may notify the railroad company in writing of its rejection of such offer, or in the event that no response is received within ninety calendar days from the date upon which such offer is made, then the sale or transfer may be completed.


Hub and Spoke: An Update


Permit Extension Act Extended Once More in Massachusetts

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Written by: Tracey Stockton


LEED Certification – Worth the Cost?


Private Development of Public Land: 7 Key Tips for Developers


5 Basics of Title Insurance Endorsements


What Real Estate Developers Should Know About Affordable Housing

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