State and Local Legal Blog

Spot Zoning — a pit to avoid! | August 19, 2009

Spot zoning is defined as a small island of relatively intense use surounded by a sea of less intense use.  And cities are not supposed to engage in spot zoning.

This was reiterated recently in the Mississippi Supreme Court case of  Modak-Truran v. Johnson, No. 2008-CA-00104.  This case arose over action taken by the Jackson City Council to amend the Jackson zoning ordinance to include a Class B use (beds and breakfast with restaurant) in R-2 areas (one and two family dwellings).  Prior to this amendment, the only other special uses allowed were schools, churches and group homes.

To make matters worse, the amendment allowed beds and breakfast with restaurants to operate the restaurants “as a matter of right” — the practical result of which was that operators did not have to apply for a use permit.

The bed and breakfast in question in Jackson was the Fairview Inn,  which is located on Fairview Street and backs up (or sides up) to commercial property on the corner of North State and Fairview Street.  Besides the commercial property on North State, the remainder of the immediate neighborhood is essential single family dewllings.  Amazingly, the two families who lived immediately across the street from the Fairview Inn were owned by 3 lawyers.

And so the litigation began. 

While the Circuit Court of Hinds County approved the city council’s adoption of the amendments to the city’s zoning plan, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that it was spot zoning.  The Court stated that a determination of the existence of spot zoning is determined by the particular circumstances of each case, but that it is generally invalid wen it is primarily for the private interest of the owner of the property affected and not related to the general plan for the community as a whole.  The Supreme Court found that the amendment circumvented the stringent procedural requirements for rezoning.  The court further found that the city had not provided evidence of change in the neighborhood sufficient to justify the rezoning of such a small track of land.

Particularly in small communities, friends will seek out newly elected aldermen for favors.  Be careful of the spot zoning pit.  It is easier to step into than to step out of!

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