Quoc Tu Pham v. City of Chattanooga

2009 Tenn. App. LEXIS 445 (Ct. App. July 20, 2009)



In order to constitute "illegal spot zoning," a zoning ordinance: (1) must pertain to a single parcel or a limited area, ordinarily for the benefit of a particular property owner or specially interested party; and (2) must be inconsistent with the city's comprehensive plan, or if there is none, with the character and zoning of the surrounding area, or the purposes of zoning regulation, i.e., the public health, safety, and general welfare. In addressing a claim of improper spot zoning, the most important factor is whether the rezoned land is being treated unjustifiably different from the similar surrounding land, thereby creating an island having no relevant differences from its neighboring property.


A property was zoned Convenience Commercial C-2, permitting restaurants among other types of businesses in the property. The owners of the property leased the property to tenants who opened a VIP Lounge in the restaurant part of the building. In response to noise, parking, and traffic problems relating to the presence of the VIP Lounge, neighboring residential property owners sought a change of zoning.  As a result, the property was rezone from C-2 to Neighborhood Commercial C-5. The owners brought a declaratory judgment action against the city and city council to invalidate the Ordinance, asserting that the actions of the city and city council were unreasonable, discriminatory, arbitrary, capricious, and unconstitutional. They contended that there was no rational or legally justifiable basis for changing the zoning classification of part of a building by rezoning a section of a parcel of land. The Chancery Court invalided the ordinance. The city and city council appealed.


Should the ordinance changing the zoning of the property be valid?




The judgment of the chancery court was affirmed. The appellate court noted that the question presented on appeal was whether the reasons advanced by the city and city council for the ordinance were fairly debatable. The appellate court noted that the landowners' property was zoned C-2. Every property on the same side of the road as the subject property was zoned C-2. All but two properties on the other side of the road were zoned C-2. All of the properties along their rear boundaries, like the landowners' property, were adjacent to residential properties. Thus, the express purpose of the Ordinance was clearly to prohibit the targeted business from continuing its operations. The record reflected that a restaurant had operated on the landowners' lot for many years. At least four other restaurants operated along this area, as well as an automobile repair shop. In addition to eliminating some restaurants, C-5 zoning would also bar automobile repair shops. C-5 zoning therefore did not reflect the zoning in the surrounding area.

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