Spot Zoning: New Ideas for an Old Problem

48 The Urban Lawyer 737 (Fall 2016)

Washington University Law, Legal Studies Research Paper Series, PAPER NO. 17-02-02

49 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2017

See all articles by Daniel R. Mandelker

Daniel R. Mandelker

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: February 3, 2017


I describe spot zoning, an archaic and elusive concept, and compare it with conditional uses and hardship variances as a method for zoning change. Spot zoning is usually the only option but may create unfair wealth transfer, may suffer from political capture by developers or landowners, may be an unacceptable zoning strategy, and may use a legislative process that does not meet democratic values. Process problems include the standing to sue of objecting neighbors, whether the presumption of constitutionality applies, and the standard of judicial review courts should use. Courts use a multifactor test to consider the validity of spot zoning. Size of site and purpose are not useful as decision factors, and mitigating measures can resolve compatibility problems. Community-based policies in comprehensive plans are the preferred basis for changes in the zoning ordinance.

Keywords: Zoning, spot zoning, comprehensive plans, wealth transfer, political capture, standing to sue, judicial review, conditional use, variance, equal protection, taking of property, rent control, Growth Machine theory, Homevoter theory, ward courtesy, zoning process, quasi-judicial, presumption of consti

Suggested Citation

Mandelker, Daniel R., Spot Zoning: New Ideas for an Old Problem (February 3, 2017). 48 The Urban Lawyer 737 (Fall 2016). Available at SSRN:

Daniel R. Mandelker (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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