Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 184, § 30 provides that no restriction shall be enforced or declared to be enforceable unless it is determined that the restriction is, at the time of the proceeding, of actual and substantial benefit to a person claiming rights of enforcement; even if a restriction is found to be of such benefit, it shall not be enforced except by award of money damages if any of several enumerated conditions are found to exist.
Petitioners owned two parcels of land -- one a vacant lot and the other the site of the Ritz-Carlton hotel -- separated by an alley. Petitioner property owners planned to build on the former lot a 285 foot high hotel-apartment building, with a twelve-story structure as a bridge over the alley, connecting it with the Ritz-Carlton. The respondents owned a parcel adjacent to the petitioners' vacant lot and backed on the same alley. This property contained an eight-story building with eight apartments on each floor except the first, half facing Commonwealth Avenue and half the alley in back; the thirty-two rear apartments derived their principal light and air from one window in each apartment on the alley. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts created restrictions in 1850, and among them was the requirement to keep a passageway open in the area that was now the alley. Petitioner property owners filed suit seeking a determination and declaration that certain restrictions on their parcel of land were obsolete and unenforceable. After proper notice was give to other property owners, respondent apartment building owners opposed the petition contending petitioner's plan to build a 12-story hotel-apartment building violated the restrictions. At the conclusion of the hearing the judge found that since the imposition of the restrictions various public bodies have been given control over the basic design structure of buildings on premises subject to the restrictions, that there has been a radical change in the character of the neighborhood surrounding the petitioners' and the respondents' properties, and that as a result the restrictions are obsolete. Damages were found to be nominal and the final decree declared the restrictions obsolete and unenforceable and that there would be no rights to any damages. Respondent apartment building owners sought review of the decision.
If restrictions would impede the reasonable use of land, must the restrictions be specifically enforced?
The court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 184, § 30, which allowed for the removal of restrictions on petitioners' parcel, was constitutionally applied, as the evidence showed that the public interest would not be served by the enforcement of the restrictions. The court held that the restrictions would not be specifically enforced, as the properties and neighborhood had drastically changed and because the restrictions would impede reasonable use of the land. A balance of the equities and a consideration of public interest required that respondents accept money damages by way of enforcement of the restriction. The court REVERSED the trial court's final decree which had held that respondents had no rights to any damages and REMANDED the cause to determine damages for loss of benefit in light and air.