Wednesday, September 19, 2007, 7:17 AM

Spot Zoning Deuce

Yesterday the Court of Appeals (COA) decided not one, but two "spot zoning" cases, one against Yadkin County, the other against Randolph County. The cases are McDowell v. Randolph County and Childress v. Yadkin County.

What's spot zoning? It's zoning action that singles out and reclassifies a relatively small tract owned by a single entity and surrounded by a much larger area uniformly zoned, to relieve the small tract from restrictions to which the rest of the area is subjected or to impose on the small tract greater restrictions than the rest of the area is subjected.

What's the significance of a finding of spot zoning? In a normal zoning case, the regulation is presumed reasonable and valid, so the burden's on the challenger to show otherwise. In a spot zoning case, the presumption is reversed, so the burden is on the zoning authority to make a clear showing of a reasonable basis for the spot zoning. If the zoning authority fails to carry that burden, the spot zoning will be deemed unreasonable and thus illegal.

How does a court determine whether spot zoning is reasonable? It considers four factors: (1) the size of the tract in question; (2) the compatibility of the disputed action with an existing comprehensive plan; (3) the benefits and detriments for the owner, his neighbors and the surrounding community; and (4) the relationship of the uses of the envisioned under the new zoning and the uses currently present in adjacent tracts. (Hmm. Reminds me of some of the tests that Justice O'Connor used to dream up.)

In yesterday's cases, which involved two separate panels, the COA held that Randolph County engaged in illegal spot zoning by re-zoning a portion of a lumber company's property to a less restrictive classification, but that Yadkin County didn't engage in illegal spot zoning when it re-zoned a property from rural agriculture to restricted residential.

In the Yadkin County case, the COA disagreed with the parties' stipulation that there was spot zoning (and then held that even if there was, it was reasonable). The COA concluded there wasn't spot zoning, because the re-zoned land in question wasn't transformed from a very restrictive zoning classification to a very expansive zoning classification, and there were important similarities between the two classifications.

Anyhow, it was certainly a big day for spot zoning fans.


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