For more than 40 years, Pierce Atwood's interdisciplinary Land Use attorneys have been advising regional and national developers, retailers, utilities, and property owners on complex issues related to their real estate development projects. We help our clients turn their renderings and plans into profitable, tangible development projects by providing guidance at every stage in the process from initial planning through permitting, construction, and occupancy.

Each development project presents a unique set of challenges and potential solutions, and many “land use” issues are not confined to traditional planning and zoning considerations. Our relationships with local planning boards and state and federal regulators, as well as our in-depth knowledge of state and federal land use laws, allows our lawyers to simplify and expedite the land use permitting process. We have successfully obtained federal, state, and local approvals for significant development projects in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and throughout New England.

Our land use attorneys are skilled at identifying potential synergies and business considerations, and we draw upon the depth of the firm, as needed, to meet client objectives. For example, a significant commercial development may involve our land use team, and our state and local tax attorneys for advice on tax increment financing, our real estate attorneys for advice on title, transactional, or ownership documentation, our environmental attorneys for guidance on site assessment, remediation, and technical licensing issues, our construction attorneys to address the bidding process, and our litigation attorneys in judicial appeals.

Areas of Expertise

Administrative & Judicial Appeals

We represent our clients in all types of administrative and judicial appeals to both challenge and defend agency decisions. We have successfully represented clients on land use issues before administrative agencies such as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, as well as hundreds of local boards of appeals.

While the goal is always to achieve the desired result without litigation, our lawyers have the expertise and experience to advise clients during the agency process on ways to improve the odds of success on appeal, such as by building an adequate record during the permitting process and preserving legal arguments that pay dividends later in court.

Development Permitting & Site Planning

Once a site is chosen, we help our clients design a strategy for efficient project approval by local, state, and federal regulators. We then work with clients to obtain the permits required for a project, including, for example, site plan, zoning, subdivision, wetland, and shoreland approvals. Having reviewed thousands of site plans and successfully managed the permitting process for major commercial, residential, and industrial development projects throughout New England, we regularly identify permitting needs, issues, and solutions. We work closely with consultants to help manage the permitting process from start to finish, avoiding delays and delivering positive results for our clients by saving time and money up-front in the process.

Environmental Legislation & Rulemaking

Environmental and land use policy decisions directly affect our clients.  Our attorneys understand the intricacies of both existing environmental and land use laws and the legislative process.   Whether seeking to advance a client's own bills or respond to bills proposed by others, we develop an overall strategy to achieve favorable legislative results.  This may involve counseling a client through the legislative process, actively working with legislators and legislative committees, and forming coalitions.  We also represent clients in rulemakings conducted at the national and state levels, including under the Superfund Law, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Federal Power Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and state air, natural resource, water, solid waste, land use, and superfund laws.

Project Development Public Relations

Projects requiring environmental permits are closely scrutinized by regulators and often by other interested parties. We assist clients in dealing with project opponents, selecting appropriate professional consultants, and developing effective public relations campaigns. We have close relationships with a number of public relations specialists who handle regional and national accounts.

Property Acquisition

We work closely with our clients to manage the risks of their development projects even before a site is chosen. Our pre-acquisition due diligence process involves reviewing prospective sites to identify the regulatory requirements that would need to be met and to outline the permits required to develop a given location. We also work with our environmental attorneys to review environmental site assessments on contaminated properties to help clients identify risks and seize opportunities for redevelopment.


Working closely with our real estate attorneys, we help our clients identify, analyze, and comply with the zoning codes that govern their development sites. Sometimes a development project calls for contract zoning or zoning amendments to existing zoning codes. In these instances, we represent our clients before local planning boards and, when necessary, propose zoning changes that support economic development, urban planning, and conservation goals, while still preserving the experience of a community.