Property II, Pages 856–865

Chrismon v. Guilford County

Supreme Court of North Carolina, 1988


Defendant ran a business next to his house of buying, drying, storing and selling grain and selling fertilizer, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals. The land was zoned as agricultural, which permitted drying and storing grain, but not selling the other products. However, since defendant had been doing this since before the ordinance was enacted, he was allowed to continue as long as he did not expand.

Defendant sold some land to plaintiffs on the other side of the road, and eleven years later, he moved his business across the road as well, putting it adjacent to plaintiffs' lot. in the move, he generally expanded his operation. Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the country inspections department, which notified defendant that the expansion constituted an impermissible expansion, yet informed him that he could request a rezoning.

Defendant applied to have the tracts rezoned to a conditional use district and applied for a conditional use permit. The request was approved after hearing testimony from both parties and several others and reading a petition defendant had signed by eighty-eight others. Plaintiffs sued to have the zoning amendment and use permit declared invalid.

Procedural History:

  • Trial court concluded that the rezoning was neither "spot zoning" nor "contract zoning" and that the county had not acted arbitrarily.

  • Court of appeals reversed, finding that the rezoning was illegal "spot zoning" that was not called for by:

    1. Any change of conditions on the land
    2. The characteristics of the area
    3. The classification and use of nearby land


Was defendants' conditional use zoning valid?


  • Spot zoning requires a clear showing of a reasonable basis therefore.


    LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 861, Paragraph 3

    Among the factors relevant to this judicial balancing are

    • the size of the tract in question;
    • the compatibility of the disputed zoning action with an existing comprehensive zoning plan;
    • the benefits and detriments resulting from the zoning action for the owner of the newly zoned property, his neighbors, and the surrounding community; and
    • the relationship between the uses envisioned under the new zoning and the uses currently present in adjacent tracts.

    See Also:

    Spot Zoning
  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 864

    [T]he principal differences between valid conditional use zoning and illegal contract zoning are related and are essentially two in number.

    1. First, valid conditional use zoning features merely a unilateral promise from the landowner to the local zoning authority as to the landowner's intended use of the land in question, while illegal contract zoning anticipates a bilateral contract in which the landowner and the zoning authority make reciprocal promises.
    2. Second, in the context of conditional use zoning, the local zoning authority maintains its independent decision-making authority, while in the contract zoning scenario, it abandons that authority by binding itself contractually with the landowner seeking a zoning amendment.


  • Defendant's operation is beneficial to the members of the farming community surrounding him, members of which spoke out and signed a petition in favor of him. While only plaintiff lives next to defendant, plaintiff is the only one who has spoken out against the business. The need of the community for such a service takes precedence over neighbors' objections.

  • This use is also similar to the zoning of the surrounding land. The grain storage and sale is already allowed under the current zoning. Just adding the sale of agricultural chemicals does not change much. There is also not some conformity that it is disrupting as there are already many different types of buildings in the area such as homes, sawmills, hatcheries, farms, hospitals, and grain mills.

  • This is also not illegal contract zoning as the board did not make any promises to defendant and did not abandon its position as an independent decision-maker.


Defendants' conditional use zoning was valid. Reversed.