Spot Zoning Laws

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What Does “Spot Zoning” Mean?

Spot zoning refers to a practice related to zoning ordinances and laws.  Generally speaking, most cities are divided into different “zones”, such as residential, business, agricultural zones, etc.  Zoning laws define which types of activities and buildings are permitted in a certain zoned area.

Spot zoning occurs when the use of a parcel of land differs from the surrounding properties in that zone.  For example, if a home is allowed to be used for business purposes in what would otherwise be a residential area, this could be considered spot zoning.  In other words, one plot of land or building may be granted an exception, thus creating a “spot” in the overall zone.

How is Spot Zoning Usually Accomplished?

Spot zoning generally occurs after the zoning laws have been established for a particular zone.  What happens is that a tenant or business owner may seek to establish activities that may not be allowed in that zone.  They can sometimes accomplish spot zoning by:

A special use permit or variance allows the party to use the land in ways that actually deviate from the uses that are permitted by local zoning laws.  These usually last for a specified time, and only allow the activities that are specifically addressed in the permit.

Some examples of spot zoning requests include: conducting business activities in a residential area (and vice-versa); adding new features or structures to an existing building; accessing natural resources that were previously protected; changing the appearance of a building; or changing property boundary lines.

Is Spot Zoning Legal?

Spot zoning is generally held to be legal, since any non-conforming uses need to be approved by a local government board.  However, many view the practice of spot zoning as unfair, since one portion of land is basically given special treatment compared with the rest of the zone.  

When considering whether to approve spot zoning or not, the local government will usually consider several factors, include: how the changes would affect the surrounding neighborhood; whether the activities are generally acceptable in the area; and whether there is a history of granting variances for such requests.

Some less controversial forms of spot zoning may include: allowing non-conforming activities only for a certain time until the entity is able to implement other options; temporarily allowing non-conforming uses to continue after a new zoning law is enforced; or granting variances to businesses already in existence in the area. 

In other words, it’s usually easier to obtain spot zoning approval for operations that have already been in existence for a time, rather than trying to implement new uses in a zone.

Do I Need Lawyer for Assistance With Spot Zoning Laws?

Spot zoning may sometimes be necessary for some types of residential and business purposes.  If you need assistance with zoning laws, you may wish to contact a lawyer in your area for advice.  Whether you are seeking to apply for a variance, or are trying to prevent spot zoning from occurring in your neighborhood, the services of an attorney are going to be indispensable.  A qualified lawyer can explain your options under local laws. 

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Last Modified: 05-07-2012 02:23 PM PDT

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