After rejections by the Weston Zoning Board of Appeals and the Land Court, Regis College put its “Regis East” project into the hands of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). At issue is whether the project, which would provide housing, healthcare and education to senior citizens, qualifies for exemption from most of Weston’s local zoning requirements as an “educational” use under the Dover Amendment, G.L. c. 40A, §3, second par. Judge Alexander H. Sands, III of the Land Court had granted summary judgment to the Town finding that Regis East’s educational purpose “seems subordinate to [its] desire to provide elderly housing and/or a source of revenue.” The SJC reversed.
The SJC’s ruling, however, is not a green light for the controversial Regis East project. The SJC reaffirmed prior case law on the Dover Amendment stating that Regis must show that the project’s “primary purpose” is educational. Based on affidavits submitted by Regis describing the educational aspects of the project, the SJC ruled that the issue must be decided at trial where “credibility determinations” can be made, rather than at summary judgment. The SJC remanded the case to the Land Court for trial on the merits.
This case represents the confluence of competing and oftentimes conflicting interests. Available property is becoming more scarce each day, and the need for senior housing is growing. At the same time, educational institutions are seeking out new sources of revenue, developers are looking avoid local zoning limitations, and municipalities are pushing back. Expect to see more of these disputes.