• Spot Zoning Not Always an Abuse of Discretion
  • January 27, 2014 | Authors: Seth Merewitz; Ethan Walsh
  • Law Firms: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Los Angeles Office ; Best Best & Krieger LLP - Sacramento Office
  • The Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District recently ordered publication of the decision in Foothill Communities Coalition v. County of Orange to clarify the law regarding spot zoning in two respects. First, spot zoning may occur whether a small parcel of property is subject to more or less restrictive zoning than the surrounding properties. Secondly, to determine whether impermissible spot zoning has occurred, a court is required to conduct a two-part analysis. After determining that spot zoning has actually occurred, the court must determine whether the record shows the spot zoning is in the public interest.

    The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and Kisco Senior Living, LLC, wanted to build a living community for senior citizens on a parcel of real property owned by the Diocese, which is located in an unincorporated area of Orange County. The County Board of Supervisors created a new zoning definition for senior residential housing and applied it to the project site; found the project was consistent with the County’s general plan and the relevant specific plan; and found the project complied with the California Environmental Quality Act. Foothill Communities Coalition, an unincorporated association of grassroots community groups and area homeowners, challenged the County’s decisions. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the coalition. The County challenged the trial court’s conclusion that the County’s acts constituted impermissible spot zoning and the Appellate Court ruled in favor of the County.

    In this case, applying the required standard of review, which is deferential to the County, the Appellate Court concludes that the Board of Supervisor’s findings that the project would be consistent with the County’s general plan and with the relevant specific plan were supported by substantial evidence. The creation of the new senior residential housing zone and its application to the project site were not arbitrary or capricious, or lacking in evidentiary support. Although the Board’s actions constituted spot zoning, the spot zoning was permissible because the zoning change was in the public interest, based on the County’s findings.