Issues in Land Use Law & Zoning

Understanding Spot Zoning

November 7th, 2013

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Occasionally, planning boards or commissions are faced with a petitioner’s request to re-zone property only to be challenged with an objector’s claim that doing so would constitute illegal spot zoning. The plan commission often has a quandary; approve the development and risk making an improper, if not illegal decision, or deny the development which would have financially improved the community. To better assist with this difficult decision, it is beneficial for the commission to understand exactly what “spot zoning” is.

What Constitutes Spot Zoning

Zoning illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb
illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb

The “classic” definition of spot zoning is “the process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property into the detriment of other owners.

Spot zoning is, in fact, often thought of as the very antithesis of plan zoning. When considering spot zoning, courts will generally determine whether the zoning relates to the compatibility of the zoning of surrounding uses. Other factors may include; the characteristics of the land, the size of the parcel, and the degree of the “public benefit.” Perhaps the most important criteria in determining spot zoning is the extent to which the disputed zoning is consistent with the municipality’s comprehensive plan.

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