A Common Law of Zoning

52 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2019 Last revised: 17 Dec 2019

See all articles by Michael Allan Wolf

Michael Allan Wolf

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: November 12, 2019


This Article for the first time identifies a common law of zoning, describes the typology of this essential and overlooked element of American land use law, and establishes the historical and structural context for its pervasive set of rules and principles. Over the past 100 years, American judges, filling in the gaps and resolving the ambiguities of a surprisingly uniform set of state enabling statutes, have produced this body of common law. The story will take the reader to Iowa cornfields that surround an iconic baseball diamond; to a federal agency that gave an important impetus to the nationwide adoption of this Progressive Era tool at the state and local levels; to early railroad litigation in Massachusetts yielding a workable definition of the common law that was popularized by a legendary set of law school teaching materials; to the provisions of, and cases interpreting, other model legislation; and to the pages of dozens of state court reports from every region of the country. Critics have long raised their voices about the evils of height, area, and use controls; and commentators have directed their attention predominantly to the constitutional and environmental aspects of land use law. In the meantime, state courts, left to their own devices, have continued to frame, adapt, and reshape the common law of zoning.

Keywords: zoning, land use, legal history, common law, planning

JEL Classification: K11, R52, N92,

Suggested Citation

Wolf, Michael Allan, A Common Law of Zoning (November 12, 2019). 61 Arizona Law Review 771 (2019), University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 19-36, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3486032

Michael Allan Wolf (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0934 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.ufl.edu/faculty/wolf/

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