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Wetlands Protection

Wetlands Protection (6)

A conservation commission may want to enforce the Wetlands Protection Act (hereinafter,  the “Act”) and its wetland bylaw or ordinance (hereinafter, “bylaw”) against a project that was built a while ago without commission approval. The impetus might be a tip from a resident or new observation by a commissioner or agent.  A recent decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court provides important guidance and useful reminders.

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The Appeals Court in Parkview Electronics Trust, LLC v. Conservation Commission of Winchester, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 833 (2016), reinforced the well-established principle that a local conservation commission can have regulatory authority under a wetlands bylaw or ordinance (hereinafter “bylaw”) that is independent from, and in addition to, its authority under the state Wetlands Protection Act (“Act”).

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The Appeals Court in Parkview Electronics Trust, LLC v. Conservation Commission of Winchester, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 833 (2016), recently rejected a challenge to the well-established principle that a conservation commission can have regulatory authority under a local wetlands bylaw or ordinance that is independent from, and in addition to, its authority under the state Wetlands Protection Act (“Act”). This is so as long as a commission relies on a provision of its local wetlands law that is more stringent than the Act and complies with the timeframes set forth in the Act. Otherwise a commission risks having its decisions under both state and local laws superseded by MassDEP in an appeal under the Act.

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court’s decision in Tremont Redevelopment Corporation v. Conservation Commission of Westwood, 73 Mass. App. Ct. 1127 (2009), provides guidance for municipalities concerned about the limits of Home Rule for local wetland protection ordinances or bylaws.   The Court applied the Home Rule Doctrine in light of several prior decisions1 and ruled that the Westwood Conservation Commission’s disapproval of a project under its Wetlands Protection Bylaw was invalid.2  

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The state Appeals Court recently ruled that a Conservation Commission cannot deny work without explicit and objective reasons why the Commission is rejecting the applicant's uncontested evidence. In Pollard v. Conservation Commission of Norfolk, the Massachusetts Appeals Court (the "Appeals Court") said that the Commission, in disbelieving or rejecting uncontradicted evidence, cannot simply say that the applicants' evidence was "not credible" and that the applicants "failed to sustain their burden."

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An open-ended waiver of the state Wetlands Protection Act's twenty-one (21) day deadline for issuing a decision after the close of a public hearing is invalid when required as part of a Notice of Intent application package.

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