City's Land Use Restriction Found to be "Spot Zoning" and a Constitutional Taking

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A California Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court's conclusion that the City of San Clemente's zoning of "Residential, Very Low Density" ("RVL") on an undeveloped 2.85 acre parcel in the middle of a residential tract otherwise zoned "Residential, Low Density" ("RL") constituted a constitutional "taking." The RVL designation limits parcels to one dwelling per 20 acres while the RL allows at least four dwellings per acre. Back in 1983, the City had originally approved plans to subdivide the parcel allowing for four single family lots, however, the construction never occurred. Neighborhood opposition desired the parcel to be declared "open space." A decade later the City amended its general plan to create the RVL zoning and impose it on several properties, including the subject property. All the parcels surrounding the subject property were and continued to be zoned RL. None of the owners of the parcel found out about the downzoning until 20 years later. After hiring a civil engineer to help them again try to develop the property, the owners submitted a development application to build four dwellings (seeking a general plan amendment, zoning amendment, tentative parcel map, site plan permit, conditional use permit and variance), the application was denied with the city council later approving the denial.

The owners served a writ of mandate alleging, in part, inverse condemnation based on spot zoning of the property. The trial court granted the writ concluding that the City did not give adequate notice of the downzoning, the RVL restrictions were arbitrary and capricious as applied to the property, and the owners' suit was timely under the applicable statute of limitations. The writ declared the City's resolution denying the owner's land use application null and void and ordered the City to adopt a new resolution. The inverse condemnation trial resulted in a judgment of "just compensation" in the amount of $1.3 million dollars. The court of appeal affirmed the writ and judgment but remanded to allow the City to decide which action it desired to do - - either pay the compensation, or, allow the property owners to develop the property under a new resolution.

For the full decision see Avenida San Juan Partnership v. City of San Clemente (December 14, 2011) 2011 DJDAR 17887.

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