The Massachusetts Appeals Court today dismissed a lawsuit against Esh Circus Arts and the Somerville zoning board, saying the person who brought it does not live close enough to be legally aggrieved by the circus center's request to use some vacant office space in its building.
In 2015, the zoning board approved Esh's request for permission to renovate and use a roughly 850-square-foot vacant office space for a new lobby and reception area. Claudia Murrow, who lives across and down the street, promptly sued, saying the move would cause "detrimental health, safety, and welfare effect on Murrow and Esh's surrounding neighbors."
In its ruling, though, the appeals court agreed with a lower-court judge that Murrow lived too far down the street to be the sort of person who could legally make that kind of claim under state zoning laws. Basically, immediate neighbors of a property and their immediate neighbors, at least up to 300 feet away from the property in question, as well as people who live directly across the street, are considered "parties in interest" who can file suit against zoning decisions which they feel aggrieved by.
Although Murrow lives within 300 feet of the circus school, she is not an immediate neighbor of an immediate neighbor of the school, nor does she live directly across the street, and so is not legally allowed to appeal a zoning decision, the court said.
Murrow also argued that the city of Somerville certainly felt otherwise, because it included her on a list of people who had to be notified about the zoning hearing. The court shot that out of a legal cannon as well, saying that while the list of people notified about the hearing might include "parties in interest," that doesn't mean the city certified the list it used was only of people who might be covered by state zoning laws.
At the same time, the court rejected Esh's demand that Murrow be required to reimburse it for its legal fees - and pay additional damages:
Although Murrow has failed to persuade us that the judge erred in dismissing her claims, sanctions are not warranted as this appeal is neither frivolous nor was it initiated in bad faith.