Board of Appeals Guide

Board of Appeals Guide to Zoning Terms & the Hearing Process

Variances, Special Permits, Appeals:

  • Variances are authorizations to use land or structures in a manner that is otherwise prohibited by the Zoning By-Law.
    • Dimensional Variances relate to such zoning requirements as area, frontage, width or depth.
    • Use Variances relate to regulation of categories of uses in particular zoning districts.
  • Special Permits are authorizations to use land or structures for a specific use which is expressly permitted by the Special Permit, provided general guidelines as detailed in the By-Law and specific conditions arising from the review process itself are met. Special Permits are designed as a flexible tool to assure that the use is in harmony with the intent and purposes of the By-Law.
    • Special Permits A2 require site plan review by the Planning Board, after which the conditions imposed by the Planning Board are binding upon the Board of Appeals and incorporated into the grant of the permit. Joint hearings of the Board of Appeals and the Planning Board may be held at the discretion of the Boards.
  • Appeals are reviews of the decisions or orders of zoning officials by the Board of Appeals. The Board may uphold, reverse or modify the official's decision. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of the date of the decision or order.
To determine if you need zoning relief:
  • Refer to the Zoning By-Law at the Town Hall or on the Town’s website.
  • Inquire of the Building Commissioner or Zoning Administrator.
  • Consult an engineer or attorney familiar with Hingham's regulations.
To file a zoning application:
  • Study the sections of the Zoning By-Law which give the review standards for Special Permits and Variances. Be sure to address these points in the materials you file with the Board.
  • Fill out the application forms completely and collect the supporting documentation (Previous decisions on the subject property, deed/owner's authorization, plans etc.).
  • File 1 copy of the entire package with the Town Clerk and pay the filing fee at that time. A check payable to Town of Hingham is preferred.
  • Leave the specified number of duplicate copies of the application package with staff at the Board of Appeals office.
    • It is likely that the Board's administrator will be able to tell you your hearing date at that time.

Hearing Schedule:

By law the Board of Appeals must open its hearing on your application not later than 65 days after the filing date. To allow time for the legal advertising and notice, hearings are generally scheduled within 40 days.

Hearings are generally held on Tuesday evenings via Zoom. All meetings are open to the public. 

Notice of the hearing will be advertised in the Hingham Journal for 2 consecutive weeks, with the first publication 14 days prior to the hearing date. Notices to abutters are mailed shortly before the first ad run date, or about 2 weeks before the hearing.

Decision Deadlines:

Any of the statutory hearing and decision deadlines may be extended by mutual agreement of the Board and the applicant. Notice of such agreement is filed with the Town Clerk by means of a letter from the applicant to the Clerk.

At the same time the Board's written decision is filed with the Town Clerk copies of it will be mailed to the applicant, and property owner if other than the applicant. Copies of the decision are also posted on the Town’s website. Notice of the decision is mailed to abutters, who may obtain a copy at the Board's office.

Court Appeals:

Zoning decisions may be appealed to Superior Court during the 20-day period after the date the written decision is filed with the Town Clerk. During that time no construction permits will be issued; no work may commence.

Decision Recording:

After the appeal period has run with no suits brought, a certified copy of the Board's decision must be filed with the Registry of Deeds or Land Court in Plymouth for a nominal filing fee. The Building Commissioner will ask to see evidence of that recording when you apply for a Building Permit. The Hingham Town Clerk's office will prepare a certified copy of the decision for you at no cost.

Lapse of Zoning Relief:

If the rights granted by a Variance are not used within 1 year of the decision filing date, the Variance lapses. The Board of Appeals is authorized to extend the time period for exercise of Variance rights for one 6-month period, provided the extension is requested prior to expiration of the Variance. Under the Hingham Board’s Rules and Regulations that authority is delegated to the Zoning Administrator.

The rights granted by a Special Permit lapse after 2 years. Special Permits may be extended for good cause, at the Board's discretion, after new notice and hearing.