You Can't Do That - It's Spot Zoning!


Craig Hullinger, AICP and Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP


Almost every Plan Commission at one time or another, has been chided with the statement that the Commission cannot approved a rezoning request because it will create a spot zone. Most often this statement is made by a disgruntled adjoining property owner who objects to the neighboring property being occupied and used in a certain way. The accusation implies the Plan Commission is doing something wrong and possibly illegal by creating a spot zone.

This article is intended to demystify spot zoning. Spot zoning in actuality, is a misnomer. A spot zone cannot be created if the Plan Commission carefully considers the facts of the property, the proposed land use and relies on an up-to-date adopted Comprehensive Plan as the guide for the application of zoning regulations for the specific property.


Nowhere in planning and zoning legislation is the term spot zone defined or used. Spot zoning is colloquial term developed to describe the application of a specific zoning district classification to a small area which is surrounded by a larger different (usually less intense) zoning district.

Webster defines spot as 1) a particular place of relatively small a definite limits, 2) a mark on a surface differing sharply in color from the surroundings, 3) a position; location and 4) a set of circumstances; a situation, especially a troublesome one.

In fact, the courts concur with this definition. In the case of Landcaster development Ltd. V. Village of River Forest (1st Dist.1967) the court stated for a decision “to constitute spot zoning, two requisites must coexist: First, a change of the zone applicable to a small area and second, a change which is out of harmony with comprehensive planning for the good of the community.”

It is easy to seen why the term spot zoning is often used. It is most often used to describe action where a relatively small parcel of land is rezoned and granted some special benefit . The parcel of land is then shown on the community zoning map as one color within a larger zoning district of a different color. But, the accusation could be made in a number of other rezoning situtations.


In Illinois, there is a specific set of requirements which a Plan Commission must consider when evaluating a request for the rezoning of a parcel of land. These standards were established by the Illinois Supreme Count in two cases; LaSalle and Richton Park. Generally, for a rezoning matter upheld in the Supreme Court the Plan Commission must consider:


Good planning practices will prevent appearances of spot zoning. In fact, adhearance to the standards anfd an up-to-date comprehensive plan describing the intended use of the ;and which is in the best interest of the community virtually eliminates the problem.

Zoning decision making which relies on the eight rezoning standards, clearly establish a rationale why a requested rezoning should be granted, even if provided the opportunity for the the land to be used more profitably. Secondly, the use of the Comprehensive Plan for justification of the decision documents that the decision was made “for the good of the community.”


DO - evaluate each rezoning on its individual merits using the eight standards. A written record of the rationale be prepared.

DO - reference the Comprehensive Plan as documentation for why a decision has been made.

DO - amend the Comprehensive Plan (preferably before granting the rezoning)if a made which is inconsistant with the current plan.

DON’T - succumb to public pressure. Recognize spot zoning is oftentimes used as a threat by those who may object to the rezoning.

DON’T - worry about the size of the parcel(s) of land under consideration. Rather, consider the importance of the proposed land use and its interrelationship with surrounding properties (which may only one abutting property or many properties located in the much larger area).


A spot zoning action can not occur if good planning practices are followed. Careful adherence to the suggested standards and procedures will prevent appearances of preferential benefits being granted by a rezoning action. The best defense, when being chided, is reference to the action being in the best interest of the community documented in the Comprehensive Plan and shown on it’s Future Land use Plan.

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