I am currently house hunting in Massachusetts. One problem that I have is that some of the properties have houses that are either too small or else are not configured with a kind of space I need to house my library, so I may want to build an addition for that purpose.

Assuming that the lot is large enough (over an acre) with plenty of frontage and setbacks, am I safe in assuming I should be able to get town approval to do that, or could I still run into zoning problems?

(I realize I could answer this by reading zoning laws, but I don't have the time to read the zoning laws for 20 different towns.)

My question basically is: are there towns in Massachusetts that are so uptight that they will block additions, no matter how big the lot is; or will I be more or less immune to that kind of problem, as long as I have a big enough lot?

In the way of researching this question, I did try to read some of the ginormous zoning rules of Lincoln, which is one of the snootiest and most restrictive towns in Mass, on the theory that if I can build there, I can build anywhere. The worst restriction I could find was that any addition that would make the gross square footage over 6,500 square feet requires planning board approval, so as long as I stay under that limit, I need no approval, as far as I could see. Is this kind of thing going to be the worst case scenario, or will I find towns with you-must-get-approval-to-build-a-doghouse type regulations?

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    Some common issues are property line setback, wetland intrusion, and total height. There are a plethora of uncommon issues that we can't hope to address here, but I've never encountered a city like you describe in your horror scenario. The only conclusive way to know is to check with the city in which you're looking at buying. – isherwood Jun 6 '17 at 19:00
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    I agree with @isherwood mostly, I have had to get a permit for a free standing tarp type carport that was a joke, but they would not let me build a garage on that 3/4 acre lot. I put up one of those ugly things and painted it green with pink flowers (done by my 12 year old daughter) and the neighbor quit opposing the permanent structure. So there are areas that the city can be a pain especially if approval by neighbors is required. – Ed Beal Jun 6 '17 at 19:15
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    Massachusetts is, on average, uptight. nutty rule-wise. But I sincerely doubt that picking one town's rules for their reputed uptightness isolates you in any way from other towns being uptight in different ways. This is the essence of all Local authority having jurisdiction questions - they are LOCAL. If 100 yards moves you over a political boundary, everything can change. You can't predict how without examining each one's particular rules. Historic Districts and houses pose a whole additional level of restrictions. – Ecnerwal Jun 7 '17 at 0:04

There are two types of planning/zoning regulations: 1) administrative, and 2) conditional.

1) Administrational can review your plans and see that you comply with setbacks, height limitations, etc. and then give you approval "administratively."

2) Conditional approval requires a hearing. Basically, a hearing requires a public meeting and notices sent to all your neighbors within a certain radius (usually 300 ft.). Usually Conditional approvals have many more requirements and you'll need to show how you plan on solving all the requirements, (i.e.: color of house, size of entry canopy, size and type of landscape irrigation heads, etc., ) Where I live, there's a town that has this type of planning/zoning. Most people can't get through all their requirements so they hire me. I tell my clients it takes 1-year to get all the approvals and they still want to build there...go figure...but it keeps me busy.

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