Bartram v. Zoning commission of City of Bridgeport CT, Supreme Court of Errors of CT (1949)

Facts: A zoning commission rezoned a parcel of land (an amendment) from residential to Business No. 3, with physical requirements designed for businesses in residential districts (30-ft setbacks with parking). The parcel is in a primarily residential area outside the central business district. However, the parcel is located on a 60-ft wide arterial street, with "practically" only one residence directly affected, and 4 nonconforming businesses nearby. The amendment was apparently made in service of a developer proposing a 5-unit retail project complying with Business No. 3. The commission justified the decision as supplying a public need due to lack of shopping nearby the residences, and thereby reducing congestion. The commision also stated that it considered the location to affect few residences and the particular zoning to be in character with the surrounding neighborhood. Inhabitants of 46 residences signed a protest (out of more than 200 within the radius of the outmost signer), concerned with preserving the residential character of their zone and disagreeing that more shopping was needed, and brought suit.

Procedure: Trial Court ruled against the commision, saying the "spot zoning" was not "in accordance with a comprehensive plan" as required.

Issue: Is a zoning commision entitled to a presumption of validity when making an amendment to a single parcel, and if so is there grounds to challenge the public purpose or reasonable means of its action?

Holding: The trial court is reversed and the amendment stands.

Rationale: The zoning commission is a legislative body acting within its authority under state law. The facts that the amendment was supported by only the developer and opposed by a large number of area residents is not material (presumably their remedy is to vote on new commission members). There is no evidence the board did not have a public purpose or reasonable means.

Note: There was a brief dissent. The justice states that the commission's rationale does not show evidence of being part of a comprehensive plan. The justice states that the amendment is a radical departure from the purpose of zoning--to separate businesses from residences--and that such a departure must require a comprehensive plan, not just "the whims of a zoning board."

IMHO, there's plenty of reason to be suspicious of the board's actions, and if their rationale is indeed their policy, they ought to make it official instead of piecemeal. (Also, I disagree with the contention that the physical attributes requested are very in keeping with a nice residential district, but that's an aesthetic issue and related to how the residences reconcile their outlying houses with the forms auto-dependent businesses take.)