Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 10, 2014

NC Appeals Court Finds Rezoning of 1.1 Acre Tract from Agricultural to Heavy Manufacturing for Operation of a Recycling Center was Illegal Spot Zoning

This appeal arose over a dispute over a 1.1 acre parcel of land (“the property”) owned by Currituck Grain, Inc. (“Currituck Grain”) in the town of Shawboro in Currituck County, North Carolina. Currituck Grain entered into a contract with Daniel Clay Cartwright (“Cartwright”) by which Cartwright would purchase the property to establish what he called a “recycling center,” which would handle, stockpile, and sell scrap metal and materials, rock, mulch, concrete, and dirt. Cartwright’s proposed use was not permitted in an agricultural zoning district, but it was permitted in a heavy manufacturing zoning district with a special use permit. Accordingly, Cartwright submitted an application to have the property rezoned to Conditional District—Heavy Manufacturing. The County Planning Board (“the Planning Board”) reviewed Cartwright’s rezoning application (“the application”) and recommended that it should be denied because, the proposed use was inconsistent with the current rural zoning classification and was inconsistent with the County’s comprehensive land use plan. Despite this, the Board then conducted a hearing and voted to approve the application. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants in Currituck County Superior Court seeking to have the rezoning of the property invalidated. Plaintiffs’ complaint included claims of illegal spot zoning, arbitrary and capricious rezoning, and violation of due process. Currituck County (“the County”) and the Currituck County Board of Commissioners (“the Board”) (collectively “defendants”) appealed from the portion of the trial court’s order granting summary judgment as to plaintiffs’ claim of illegal spot zoning.

Prior to its analysis, the court first defined spot zoning as a zoning ordinance or amendment that singles out and reclassifies a relatively small tract owned by a single person and surrounded by a much larger area uniformly zoned, so as to relieve the small tract from restrictions to which the rest of the area is subjected. In order to establish the validity of such a zoning ordinance, the finder of fact must find: the zoning activity constituted spot zoning as our courts have defined that term; and the zoning authority made a clear showing of a reasonable basis for the zoning. In order to determine whether there was a reasonable basis for a spot zoning, this Court considers the following factors: (1) the size of the tract in question; (2) the compatibility of the disputed zoning action with an existing comprehensive zoning plan; (3) the benefits and detriments resulting from the zoning action for the owner of the newly zoned property, his neighbors, and the surrounding community; and (4) the relationship between the uses envisioned under the new zoning and the uses currently present in adjacent tracts.

Here, defendants conceded at oral arguments that the rezoning at issue constituted spot zoning. The court then looked at the reasonableness of the zoning, and found that he first two factors, the size of the tract and the compatibility of the rezoning with the County’s comprehensive plan, clearly weighed against the reasonableness of the rezoning. Because the defendants failed to make a clear showing that the benefits of the rezoning outweighed its detriments, the court held that the rezoning constituted illegal spot zoning and affirmed the trial court.

Etheridge v County of Currituck, 762 S.E. 2d 289 (NC App. 8/5/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=31116


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