Section 11. (a) A city or town may incorporate provisions within the smart growth district zoning ordinance or by-law that prescribe contents of an application for approval of a project. The ordinance or by-law may require the applicant to pay for reasonable consulting fees to provide peer review of the applications for the benefit of the approving authority. Such fees shall be held by the municipality in a separate account and used only for expenses associated with the review of the development application by outside consultants and any surplus remaining after the completion of such review, including any interest accrued, shall be returned to the applicant forthwith. The smart growth zoning district ordinance or by-law may provide for the referral of the plan to municipal officers, agencies or boards other than the approving authority for comment. Any such board, agency or officer shall provide any comments within 60 days of its receipt of a copy of the plan and application for approval.
(b) An application to an approving authority for approval under a smart growth zoning ordinance or by-law shall be governed by the applicable zoning provisions in effect at the time of the submission, while the plan is being processed, during the pendency of any appeal and for 3 years after approval. If an application is denied, the zoning provisions in effect at the time of the application shall continue in effect with respect to any further application filed within 2 years after the date of the denial except as the applicant may otherwise choose.
(c) An application for approval under this section shall be filed by the applicant with the city or town clerk and a copy of the application including the date of filing certified by the town clerk shall be filed forthwith with the approving authority. The approving authority shall hold a public hearing for which notice has been given as provided in section 11 of chapter 40A. The decision of the approving authority shall be made, and a written notice of the decision filed with the city or town clerk, within 120 days of the receipt of the application by the city or town clerk. The required time limits for such action may be extended by written agreement between the applicant and the approving authority, with a copy of such agreement being filed in the office of the city or town clerk. Failure of the approving authority to take action within said 120 days or extended time, if applicable, shall be deemed to be an approval of the plan. The applicant who seeks approval of a plan by reason of the failure of the approving authority to act within such time prescribed, shall notify the city or town clerk, in writing within 14 days from the expiration of said 120 days or extended time, if applicable, of such approval and that notice has been sent by the applicant to parties in interest. The applicant shall send such notice to parties in interest by mail and each such notice shall specify that appeals, if any, shall be made pursuant to this section and shall be filed within 20 days after the date the city or town clerk received such written notice from the applicant that the approving authority failed to act within the time prescribed.
(d) The approving authority shall issue to the applicant a copy of its decision containing the name and address of the owner, identifying the land affected, and the plans that were the subject of the decision, and certifying that a copy of the decision has been filed with the city or town clerk and that all plans referred to in the decision are on file with the approving authority. If 20 days have elapsed after the decision has been filed in the office of the city or town clerk without an appeal having been filed or if such appeal, having been filed, is dismissed or denied, the city or town clerk shall so certify on a copy of the decision. If the plan is approved by reason of the failure of the approving authority to timely act, the clerk shall make such certification on a copy of the application. A copy of the decision or application bearing such certification shall be recorded in the registry of deeds for the county and district in which the land is located and indexed in the grantor index under the name of the owner of record or recorded and noted on the owner’s certificate of title. The fee for recording or registering shall be paid by the owner or applicant.
(e) The project shall be approved by the approving authority subject only to those conditions that are necessary: (1) to ensure substantial compliance of the proposed project with the requirements of the smart growth zoning district ordinance or by-law; or (2) to mitigate any extraordinary adverse impacts of the project on nearby properties. An application may be denied only on the grounds that: (i) the project does not meet the conditions and requirements set forth in the smart growth zoning district ordinance or by-law; (ii) the applicant failed to submit information and fees required by the ordinance or by-law and necessary for an adequate and timely review of the design of the project or potential project impacts; or (iii) it is not possible to adequately mitigate significant adverse project impacts on nearby properties by means of suitable conditions.
(f) Any court authorized to hear appeals under section 17 of chapter 40A shall be authorized to hear an appeal from a decision under this section by a party who is aggrieved by such decision. Such appeal may be brought within 20 days after the decision has been filed in the office of the city or town clerk. Notice of the appeal, with a copy of the complaint shall be given to such city or town clerk so as to be received within such 20 days. Review shall be based on the record of information and plans presented to the approving authority. To avoid delay in the proceedings, instead of the usual service of process, the plaintiff shall within 14 days after the filing of the complaint, send written notice thereof, with a copy of the complaint, by delivery or certified mail to all defendants, including the members of the approving authority, and shall within 21 days after the entry of the complaint file with the clerk of the court an affidavit that such notice has been given. If no such affidavit is filed within such time, the complaint shall be dismissed.
(g) A complaint by a plaintiff challenging the approval of a project under this section shall allege the specific reasons why the project fails to satisfy the requirements of this chapter or other applicable law and allege specific facts establishing how the plaintiff is aggrieved by such decision. The approving authority’s decision in such a case shall be affirmed unless the court concludes the approving authority abused its discretion under subsection (e) in approving the project. The applicant and all members of the approving authority shall be named as defendant parties.
(h) A plaintiff seeking to reverse approval of a project under this section shall post a bond in an amount to be set by the court that is sufficient to cover twice the estimated: (i) annual carrying costs of the property owner, or a person or entity carrying such costs on behalf of the owner for the property, as may be established by affidavit; plus (ii) an amount sufficient to cover the defendant’s attorneys fees, all of which shall be computed over the estimated period of time during which the appeal is expected to delay the start of construction. The bond shall be forfeited to the property owner in an amount sufficient to cover the property owner’s carrying costs and legal fees less any net income received by the plaintiff from the property during the pendency of the court case in the event a plaintiff does not substantially prevail on its appeal.
(i) An applicant for plan approval who appeals from a project denial or conditional approval shall identify in its complaint the specific reasons why the approving authority’s decision fails to satisfy requirements of this chapter or other applicable law. The approving authority shall have the burden of justifying its decision by substantial evidence in the record.
(j) The land court department, the superior court department and the housing court department shall have jurisdiction over an appeal under this section and shall give priority to such an appeal.
(k) The first paragraph of section 16 of chapter 40A shall not apply to applications for projects within a smart growth zoning district.
(l) A project approval shall remain valid and shall run with the land indefinitely provided that construction has commenced within 2 years after the decision is issued, which time shall be extended by the time required to adjudicate any appeal from such approval and which time shall also be extended if the project proponent is actively pursuing other required permits for the project or there is other good cause for the failure to commence construction, or as may be provided in an approval for a multi-phase project.