What Is Spot Zoning?

Esther Ejim

Spot zoning is a legal term that is used in reference to a situation where a limited parcel of land or real estate is zoned in a manner that is contrary to the general zoning law of the area in which it is located. In other words, the spot zoning creates a sort of mini island within a larger island in relation to the zoning designation of the area under consideration. Some reasons for the application of spot zoning include the perception that such an action will have some form of value that exceeds the confusion from the zoning practice and the feeling that there is some other sort of identified necessity for the designation of a zone exception. Such a zoning practice might be more common in areas that do not have any kind of zoning laws, in which siting arbitrary structures will create a contrast to the surroundings that will not have much of an impact. It might also be allowed in areas with laxly enforced zoning laws where the authorities might not react so harshly to such an occurrence.

Spot zoning may be used to create a residential "island" in an area that is zoned for other uses.
Spot zoning may be used to create a residential "island" in an area that is zoned for other uses.

One of the reasons for the application of spot zoning in cities with clearly demarcated zones and clear zoning practices could be due to a desire by the local authorities to allow such a contradiction to established zoning laws in order to enable some form of benefit. An example of this could occur when the said authorities allow a school to be sited within an area that may have been specifically designated as residential in the master plan of the city. In this situation, the spot zoning of the school could be due to the perception that a school located near homes would benefit the parents who live in that area by giving their children easier access to the school.

Another example of the application of spot zoning can be seen in a case where a type of building is allowed to have a different pattern or structure than what is specified by the city zoning plan. The reason for allowing such a building to remain different from its neighbors could be due to the fact that the authorities have deemed that particular building to be of some significance to the community at large, flowing from some kind of attachment to it. Whatever the case, the application of this sort of zoning practice is not always legal and may be challenged in court by other residents or concerned citizens.

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