Public Land Use Controls – How Your Project May Be Affected
Almost any commercial real estate project, large or small, may likely have Public Land Use Controls as a key component of successful navigation toward completion. Single Use Zoning, or Euclidean Zoning (taken from an early Supreme Court case involving the Village of Euclid, Ohio) has long been the basis of land use ordinances. In this type of land use control, areas of a jurisdiction are divided into residential, commercial, or industrial areas. These areas are known as zoning districts with each district having specific use guidelines and criteria for their development. Sometimes, navigating these guidelines can make or break the success of a project.
The first step in navigating the zoning process is starting early in the development cycle to identify the implications of the subject zoning ordinance on the parcel or parcels of land contemplated to be developed or re-developed to a specific use. Your local zoning officer or planning staff member should be able to help get this process started by helping to identify the zoning district of the subject parcel, the permitted uses in that district, and the type of permit, if any, needed for the proposed use. Types of zoning permits include but are not limited to Special Use Permits, Conditional Use Permits, or simply a certificate of compliance that the subject land use in its current zoning district is allowed by right. Further, a developer may find themselves in a situation in which the proposed use is not allowed in the zoning district in which it is located. In this instance, the process of re-zoning a parcel of land may be the only option if the project is to go forward. Re-zoning a parcel is not to be taken lightly and will generally require a land-use attorney to become involved given the complexities of the process. These complexities include the nature of the zoning transition in the area, nearby uses, and public opinion toward the project. Such cases are usually heard by an elected body such as the City Council or Board of County Commissioners, depending on the jurisdiction. Their decision can often hinge on the matter of “Spot Zoning”.
Spot Zoning is the application of zoning to a specific parcel or parcels of land within a larger zoned area when the rezoning is usually at odds with a city’s master plan and current zoning restrictions. Spot zoning may be ruled invalid as an “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable treatment” of a limited parcel of land by a local zoning ordinance. While zoning regulates the land use in whole districts, spot zoning makes unjustified exceptions for a parcel or parcels within a district.
The small size of the parcel is not the sole defining characteristic of a spot zone. Rather, the defining characteristic is the narrowness and unjustified nature of the benefit to the particular property owner, to the detriment of a general land use plan or public goals. The rezoning may provide unjustified special treatment that benefits a particular owner, while undermining the pre-existing rights and uses of adjacent property owners. This would be called an instance of spot zoning. On the other hand, a change in zoning for a small land area may not be a spot zone, if it is consistent with, and furthers the purposes of the general area plan.
When determining how zoning may affect your project, it is important to work directly with the local jurisdiction. Further, it may be of critical importance, in certain instances, to hire a land-use attorney to help navigate the process in order to increase the likelihood of the successful zoning of your project.
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