August 31, 2010
Illegal Spot Zoning
A judge in Charleston, SC, determined by order dated August 20, 2010, that the City of Charleston's attempt to rezone an area within its historic district to allow the construction of an otherwise aesthetically incompatible high-rise hotel constituted illegal spot zoning. Of note for preservation lawyers, the court recognized the standing of the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Historic Charleston Foundation, based on injuries they suffered as owners of preservation facade easements on properties adjacent to the proposed development site. During trial, the preservation groups argued, among other injuries to their easement programs, that the City's zoning decision diminished the value of their ownership interests in the easements in proportion to the increased risk of loss to the area's historic setting and context, one of the factors employed by the U.S. Department of Interior in granting National Register status.
Ultimately, the court accepted the arguments of the preservation plaintiffs that the City's spot zoning amounted to an arbitrary and capricious decision. The court reached its decision after noting multiple conflicts between the City's decision to rezone and provisions of the City's governing comprehensive plan that seeks to preserve the lower scale of the historic skyline. For a copy of the court's order in PDF format, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a copy of the controlling spot zoning test applied by the court, see Knowles v. City of Aiken, 407 S.E.2d 639 (S.C. 1991).
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
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