Spot Zoning Exception

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Spot zoning is the placing of a small area of land in a different zone from that of the neighboring property. For instance, because it serves a useful purpose to neighborhood residents, a park or school might be granted this zoning exception in a strictly residential area.

Is Spot Zoning Legal?

In general, spot zoning is recognized as a legitimate exception to zoning. Illegal spot zoning is uncommon. It’s used by organizations that add a certain value to the community around them. So it’s not seen as a disruption. The organization owner either seeks a permit to use his land differently than presently permitted under the local zoning law, or he requests that this zoning ordinance be changed for his intended activity. Therefore, he must get the approval of his local governmental agency before being granted the spot zoning exception.

However, in some areas of the country, the courts have found spot zoning illegal on the grounds that it is incompatible with existing land use zoning or with the overall community zoning plan. Whether the exception carved out is reasonable and supported by the particular facts often turns on public interest, the effect spot zoning has on the current uses of neighboring properties, and any ramifications created by the zoning. It often comes down to the zoning authority’s discretion.

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Is Spot Zoning the Right Choice for Your Organization?

Impermissible spot zoning could get you in a lot of trouble, and you may have to undo a lot of work. So it’s important to always check local zoning classifications and go through the proper steps to research ahead of time. Even if local property owners are on your side, it only takes one complainer to turn you in.

If you’re opening a business, the first choice is typically to try to choose an area already zoned for business. Many times, it’s people who want to run a business out of their home looking for other options.

Once you decide on a parcel in question, the next step is to develop a comprehensive plan. This will help if you need a business loan or if you want to apply for a zoning exception. Then go to your zoning board and present your proposal in plain language. You want to be able to relate to board members and help them see your vision.

Once your application is approved, it will be time to execute the plan. Start calling your chosen vendors. Make arrangements to work during business hours without being overly disruptive to your neighbors. Determine if you need public utilities and how you will connect to them. Most importantly, make sure you understand the limitations of the zoning approval you got.

If you have a property attorney, let them help you get off on the right foot. They can answer questions, file motions, and help you avoid trouble whether you’re working on a 0.57-acre tract or a 100-acre tract.

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