MA Appeals Court Decides “Lot Depth” Means Just What It Says

The Appeals Court ruled in Pellulo v. Croft that the term “lot depth,” despite being undefined in the Natick Zoning Bylaw, should be interpreted according to the ordinary meaning of the term and the Building Inspector’s decision to measure the defendant’s lot diagonally was improper. As a result, the defendant was not entitled to a building permit.  As the Court stated, “The use of a diagonal line to measure the depth of a rectangular lot is contrary to the ordinary and accepted meaning of the term lot depth.”

The Court also confirmed that, as the trial court stated, no deference is due the Building Inspector’s interpretation because “the right of the public to have the zoning by-law properly enforced cannot be forfeited by the actions of a municipality’s officers.”  Moreover, the addition of two other lots failed to remedy the problem because, while the width increased, the depth was still insufficient.

This decision reaffirms that creative bylaw interpretation which is contrary to the usual meaning of terms will likely lead to problems on appeal.

Full Decision