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Seeing Spots

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Most planning commissioners have heard the impassioned cry that a particular rezoning decision will constitute an invalid “spot zoning.” This allegation typically arises where the community is considering the rezoning of a single lot or small parcel of property held by a single owner and the rezoning will permit land uses not available to the adjacent property.

Because spot zoning often focuses on the single parcel without considering the broader context, that is, the area and land uses surrounding the parcel, it is commonly considered the antithesis of planned zoning. While rezoning decisions that only affect a single parcel or small amount of land are most often the subject of spot zoning claims (as opposed to rezonings of larger areas), a locality can lawfully rezone a single parcel if its action is shown to be consistent with the community’s land use policies.

As I will discuss shortly, courts look to the community’s comprehensive plan, or to other planning studies, in determining whether the rezoning is, in fact, consistent with local land use policies. …

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