MA Land Court Interprets Overlapping Zoning Definitions for Hot Tubs and Swimming Pools

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

A Massachusetts case decided in August considered the Town of Nantucket’s zoning definitions for “hot tub/spa” and “swimming pool.” Specifically, the zoning code defined a “hot tub/spa” as a structure with less than 150 square feet of surface area and more than two feet of depth, while a “swimming pool” was defined as a structure either with more than 150 square feet of surface area or containing more than 1,000 gallons of water. The definition created a dilemma because of the structure “could at the same time have less than 150 square feet of surface area and contain more than 1,000 gallons of water, thus being at the same time a spa and a pool.”

The court determined that the 1,000 gallon threshold in the “swimming pool” definition should be read into the definition for a “hot tub/spa.” As the court explained: “Restricting what constitutes a “Hot Tub/Spa” by interpreting the statute’s independent clauses in the definition of a “Swimming Pool” does not make the statutory definition of a “Hot Tub/Spa” entirely meaningless or dubious… . The practical effect of interpreting the definition in this way would allow for both definitions to continue to exist without the court having to substitute its judgment for that of the town.”

The court also observed that its interpretation was consistent with the context of the zoning code as a whole, since the prohibition of pools in the historic district suggested that the town’s intent was to “prevent pools in the [historic] district because of their size—either due to large surface area or large volume.” Finally, the court dismissed the argument that it should follow the town’s previous determination that applied the “hot tub/spa” definition to another property, since the property owners in this case were not challenging that previous determination and rather sought a decision as to how the code should be interpreted as applied to their property. The previous determination, the court explained, “provides insight into the view of the town generally but does not address the specific question regarding how these definitions apply to the potential future use of their properties.”

Bartlett v. Town of Nantucket, 2022 WL 3335657 (Mass. LCR 8/12/22).

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