Why are "special permits" so special?

All FBI investigators are “special agents.” So, the joke goes, criminal defense lawyers ask FBI witnesses at trial “what makes you so special?” You can ask the same question about “special permits," which are commonly used to approve apartments and mixed-use developments in Massachusetts. In most states, the norm is for cities and towns to zone “by right.” If a development proposal is an allowed use that meets the size and dimensional requirements, the developer is essentially assured of approval. The city or town then works with the developer on details (landscape, lighting, traffic circulation, etc). Therefore, special permits in most of the country are only required where the type or si

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