In Farrington v. City of Cambridge (pdf), an “unpublished decision” issued under the court’s Rule 1:28, an Appeals Court panel recently affirmed a Land Court decision upholding a rezoning by the City of Cambridge. The rezoning included a zoning map revision and changes to various dimensional requirements, all intended to enable Lesley University to move the newly-acquired Art Institute of Boston (AIB) to a Lesley-owned site in Cambridge. In connection with the rezoning, Lesley agreed to contribute $500,000 towards streetscape improvements and other mitigation. Several abutters challenged the rezoning, arguing that it amounted to illegal “spot zoning.”
Spot zoning occurs when a municipality singles out a parcel of land for different zoning treatment than neighboring parcels, all for the economic benefit of the landowner. However, just because the landowner realizes an economic benefit doesn’t mean the rezoning is invalid. As the panel in Farrington notes, a spot zoning claim will fail unless the plaintiff can show that the rezoning is “arbitrary and unreasonable, or substantially unrelated to public health, safety . . . or general welfare,” and bears no rational relation to the public good.
The evidence showed that, prior to the rezoning, Cambridge conducted a three-year planning process that identified numerous public benefits to moving the AIB to Cambridge. In light of this evidence, the panel affirmed the Land Court’s judgment that the rezoning was valid. The panel also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that Lesley’s $500,000 mitigation commitment turned the rezoning into illegal “contract zoning,” observing that there is “no persuasive authority for the proposition that an otherwise valid zoning enactment is invalid if it is in any way prompted or encouraged by a public benefit voluntarily offered.”