Property II


Zoning is pre-dispute planning where the government restricts the purposes that land can be used for in order to prevent nuisances.

A zoning ordinance can only be found unconstitutional if its "provisions are clearly arbitrary and unreasonable, having no substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare." Village of Euclid.

There are four basic types of zones:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Agricultural
  • Industrial
Cumulative Zoning vs Noncumulative Zoning Diagram
Cumulative Zoning

Cumulative zoning is when the zoning levels go from restrictive to permissive, allowing all previous uses while accumulating further uses.

E.g., residential zoning only allows residential uses, commercial zoning allows commercial or residential, agricultural allows all three, etc.

It is also known as Euclidean zoning after the Euclid case.

Noncumulative Zoning

Noncumulative zoning is when the zoning districts are exclusive and each zone only allows one type of development.

Spot Zoning

Spot zoning is when a small tract owned by a single person is given different restrictions than a surrounding area that is uniformly zoned differently.

For spot zoning to be legal, it requires a clear showing of a reasonable basis therefor.

  • Factors used is determining reasonableness 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.

Illegal spot zoning is an unreasonable, arbitrary application of zoning laws to some people but not others.

Contract Zoning

Illegal contract zoning is when a landowner and his zoning authority undertake reciprocal obligations in a bilateral contract.

There are three ways a change can occur in the authorized or prohibited uses:

  1. A community's legislative body may amend the zoning ordinance.


    Upzoning means switching an area from one type of zone to a less restrictive zone.


    Downzoning means switching an area from one type of zone to a more restrictive zone.

  2. If the ordinance allows it, the community may issue a special use permit.

    Special Use Permit

    A special use permit, also called a conditional use permit, allows a parcel to be used in a manner it is not zoned for, but the ordinance must also authorize officials to grant permission for this specific use.

    Nonconforming Use

    A nonconforming use is a pre-existing use that does not conform to the zoning ordinance but is grandfathered in.

    This prevents the community from dictating what a private individual can do with his land.

    However, nonconforming uses cannot be expanded. This is to encourage the landowner to move to a properly zoned area and to promote the ultimate elimination of nonconforming uses.


  3. The community may grant a particular landowner an administrative variance from the strict application of the zoning classification to his parcel.


    Most zoning acts allow boards to grant variance from the strict letter of the zoning ordinance. This allows an alternative when individual landowners would otherwise suffer special hardship from the application of the ordinance, but it should be exercised sparingly.

    There are two types of variances:

    Area Variance

    An area variance authorizes deviation from the dimensional limitations of the property, such as restrictions on the size or height of buildings or buildings' placements.

    Use Variance

    A use variance is one which permits a use other than what is prescribed by the zoning ordinance.

    Use variances are not permitted in all jurisdictions.

    For a variance to be granted, the applicant must show that relief is necessary to prevent unnecessary hardship to the property owner and that it is not contrary to the public interest.

    • Unnecessary hardship means that the property owner is unable to yield a reasonable return due to the unique character of the property.