September 12, 2011
Land use cases often suggest that “spot zoning” is bad. What is “spot zoning”? One New York Court defines it as as 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 said property to the detriment of other owners”. Citizens for Responsible Zoning v. Common Council, 868 NYS 2d 800, 802 (3d Dept. 2008). To determine whether this test is met, courts “may consider several factors, including whether the rezoning is consistent with a comprehensive land use plan, whether it is compatible with surrounding uses, the likelihood of harm to surrounding properties, the availability and suitability of other parcels, and the recommendations of professional planning staff.” Id.
I’ve never understood the point of the label "spot zoning". If a rezoning is to the detriment of surrounding owners (and to the detriment of the public generally) it is problematic whether it is different from the surrounding area or not. So the “spot zoning” label adds nothing to an overall public interest inquiry.
Furthermore, compatibility with surrounding land uses is not necessarily a good thing. Much of suburban America is dominated by houses with nothing to walk to except more houses. As a result, people have to drive miles to get groceries or fulfill any other useful function, thus making our air dirtier and our bodies less fit. One way to alleviate this difficulty is to allow landowners to put stores and shops somewhere in this great mass of housing- in short, to allow spot rezoning. So maybe there should be a presumption in favor of spot zoning.
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