A residential real estate developer sought to construct four dwellings on a parcel zoned by the city to allow six dwellings per acre, known as a residential low density zone. Local citizens protested the development, calling for rezoning of the parcel citing a recent landslide in the area as a reason. Without conducting a study to prove the environmental necessity for rezoning, the city rezoned the parcel and limited development to one dwelling per 20 acres, known as a residential very low density zone. The developer applied to the city for the necessary permits to construct the four units under the new zoning. The city denied the developer’s application, as it did not meet the new zoning restrictions. The developer made a demand on the city to either pay him for his money losses or approve his application, claiming the city’s zoning restriction was unconscionable since none of the environmental conditions for imposing a residential very low density restriction applied. The city claimed its denial of the developer’s application was justified since the general plan provided for zoning restrictions of one dwelling per 20 acres on the developer’s parcel. A California court of appeals held the city must either approve the developer’s application meeting the previous zoning requirements, or compensate the developer for his money losses at the fair market value (FMV) of the property since a city may not impose very low residential density restrictions without providing proper documentation justifying the environmental necessity of the zoning restrictions. [Avenida San Juan Partnership v. City of San Clemente (December 2011) _CA4th_]

Editor’s note — This case is a prime example of the institutionalized discrimination against development leading to greater urban density in California and alludes to the need for the relaxation of local zoning restrictions.

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