Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 1, 2012

S.C. Supreme Court Says Rezone is not Illegal Spot Zoning as it Permits Building Height Conformity

The Historic Charleston Foundation (hereinafter “Foundation”) initiated this action claiming the rezone of a parcel of land in the heart of the historic section of the City of Charleston was an act of illegal spot zoning.  The master invalidated the rezone as illegal, and the City appealed.  The Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed.

The subject parcel is governed by various zoning provisions that set forth different building height regulations.  In effect, the ordinances regulated height based on splitting the property and setting one height requirement for the side facing the street, and requiring a different height for the interior side.  In conjunction, the regulations provided that the 60% of the building facing King Street was classified as 3X and the interior 40% was classified as 55/30.  These height requirements resulted in an anomaly in the area, as the building was permitted to be taller on King Street side and had to be shorter on the interior side.  The City rezoned the parcel making it similar to the other parcels on King Street, designating the building as 100% 3X, which allowed the building to be as tall as three times the distance from the center of King Street to the façade of the building.

The Foundation claims that the rezone of the parcel constituted an illegal spot zoning.  The Supreme Court of South Carolina defined spot zoning as “process of singling out a small parcel of land for use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area, for the benefit of the owners of that property and to the detriment of other owners.”  The court stated that rezoning the interior portion of the property as 3X resulted in identical treatment with the 60% portion of the building adjacent to King Street.  In addition, the zone change resulted in the building receiving the same height classification as the other buildings on King Street.  These facts illustrated that the rezone was not an illegal spot zoning resulting in a classification different than neighboring properties, but rather was an attempt to achieve conformity with the surrounding area.  The court found this conclusion was not undermined by the lower height requirement set on an abutting property not on King Street.

Thus, the Supreme Court of South Carolina found the rezone was not an act of illegal spot zoning.  The court further noted that even if it had found the rezone was spot zoning, the Foundation failed to meet their heavy burden of rebutting the presumption that zoning ordinances are valid.

Historic Charleston Foundation v. Charleston, 2012 WL 4903040 (S.C., 10/17/2012).

The opinion can be accessed here.


Responses

  1. The dissent by Justice Hearn presents a thorough analysis of the rezoning in the context of the comprehensive plan and the evolution of the City’s zoning policy.


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