Daily Development for
Monday, September 11, 1995

by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law

ZONING AND PLANNING; SPOT ZONING: A rezoning from an (A-1) agricultural protection district to an (A-2) agricultural district will be invalid spot zoning when the change is not germane to any object within the county's police power. Little v. Winborn, 518 N.W.2d 384 (Iowa 1994).

The Davenport Shooting Association (Association) successfully petitioned the county planning commission for rezoning of its 223-acre parcel of land, stating that it intended to use less than (5) five acres to build one shooting house and one target house on the property. Neighboring landowners, whose parcels were all zoned A-1, filed a writ of certiorari in district court which resulted int he invalidation of the new zoning due to certain procedural inconsistencies. On appeal, the Association persuaded the Supreme Court that the lower court's evaluation of the procedural issues was incorrect. The court, however, affirmed the trial court on other grounds.

The court noted that spot zoning results when a zoning ordinance creates a small island of property with restrictions different from surrounding properties. Spot zoning is not illegal per se, but once spot zoning is determined to exist, a consideration of whether the new zoning is germane to an object within the police power is required. It is also necessary to determine whether a reasonable basis exists for the different property restrictions. Factors to be considered include the size of the spot zoned, the uses of surrounding property, then changing conditions of the area, the use to which the subject property has been put and its suitability and adaptability for other uses. Finally one must determine whether the rezoning is consistent with the comprehensive plan.

In applying its test to the circumstances presented, the court found that none of the factors which form the basis for valid spot zoning existed, and thus affirmed the district court's invalidation of the zoning ordinance.

Reporter's Comment: While the court's pronouncement of an analytical framework for spot zoning will undoubtedly prove to be useful, it is unclear how to weigh the specific factors in future applications. In supporting its decision, the court used a prospective worst case scenario approach despite the Association's assertions that its use would be limited.

Editor's Comment: The editor, a veteran of many neighborhood association zoning wars, can report that the argument as to whether a zone change is appropriate to facilitate a minor variation in use is one of the most hotly debated issues at the local level. Zoning law offers a variety of alternative approaches, most notably use variances, to deal with this issue, but these devices are not universally available to solve every problem. Often everyone agrees that the proposed use, in and of itself, is inoffensive, but opponents are concerned that the proposed rezoning will authorize a much broader range of activities, and the rezoned owner will be free, five or ten years later, to initiate the feared broader activities with little or no political fallout and no legal obstacles.

One promising approach to the problem is the "zoning contract," by which the landowner agrees, either with the city or with the neighbors, or with some neighborhood group, that it will restrict its activities to only those it initially proposed and otherwise will live within the old zone restrictions. Whether these contracts are enforceable, particularly by injunction, and whether they will be sufficient justifications to prevent a claim of "spot zoning" are issues not fully resolved in every jurisdiction.

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