Knowles v. City of Aiken

Decision Date02 April 1991
Docket NumberNo. 23448,23448
Citation305 S.C. 219,407 S.E.2d 639
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesLucy M. KNOWLES, Appellant, v. The CITY OF AIKEN, a Municipal Corporation, Respondent. . Heard

Lucy M. Knowles, appellant, pro se.

City Atty. James M. Holly, Aiken, for respondent.

TOAL, Justice:

This case involves a landowner in Aiken, South Carolina, who seeks judicial invalidation of a zoning ordinance passed by the City of Aiken which she claims constitutes illegal spot zoning. The Master-in-Equity granted summary judgment to the City. We affirm.

The facts are undisputed. The City of Aiken annexed a tract of land near the landowner's residence and zoned the tract for professional offices. The tract was previously unzoned county property on which were located a beauty shop operated out of a trailer home and an automobile upholstery repair shop surrounded by several abandoned cars.

The annexation of the tract provides the tract with the benefit of the City's utilities. However, the landowner complains, not of this annexation, but of the zoning of the tract for use for professional offices which, she alleges, conflicts with the uses of the surrounding areas. The areas surrounding the tract are primarily single family residential zones, multifamily residential zones, a city park, an equestrian training center, and county areas which are not zoned for any restrictions.

The landowner claims that the zoning of this tract for professional offices constitutes arbitrary, capricious and illegal spot zoning which interferes with the residential areas, the safe enjoyment of the city park, and the safe operations of the equestrian training facility. She complains that this professional zone in the midst of a peaceful, tranquil, suburban-type neighborhood will introduce disruptive, annoying, and hazardous traffic. In support of her position she offers petitions signed by other residents in the area and a letter from the owner/operator of the equestrian training facility, all of which express displeasure and objection to this zoning of the tract.

Conversely, the City emphasizes that the prior use of this tract was essentially commercial and constituted a veritable eyesore in this otherwise aesthetically pleasing neighborhood. The offices being constructed on the tract are medical offices located in single or two story buildings that closely resemble suburban residences in their architecture. The City also points out that adjoining this tract are several apartment houses which already introduce the element of traffic which the landowner fears the professional offices will bring. In support of its position, the City offers letters and petitions from the landowners whose residences are adjacent to and most closely situated to the tract which support the zoning of the tract and the use the tract is being put to under that new zoning.

The Master-in-Equity heard motions for summary judgment from both parties. He granted the motion for the City on alternate grounds. First, the plaintiff failed to offer any evidence of arbitrary, capricious, illegal and invalid spot zoning. Second, the plaintiff may not have standing, has failed to plead a specific legally cognizable interest that has been directly and adversely affected, has failed to join the owners of the annexed tract as parties to this litigation, and has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before bringing this suit. Since the first grounds are proper and sufficient grounds for ruling on this motion for summary judgment, we need not reach any issues presented by the second grounds. Further, since the facts are not disputed, the only issue for our consideration is whether there was an error of law.


It is the contention of the landowner here that the zoning of this annexed tract for professional use constitutes "spot zoning." This Court has defined "spot zoning" to be the "process of singling out a small parcel of land for use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area, for the benefit of owners of such property and to detriment of other owners." Bob Jones University v. City of Greenville, 243 S.C. 351, 361, 133 S.E.2d 843, 848 (1963), dismissed for lack of Fed.Q., 378 U.S. 581, 84 S.Ct. 1913, 12 L.Ed.2d 1036 (1964). In Bob Jones, this Court also noted that, "it could not be considered as spot zoning where the proposed change is from one use to another and there was already a considerable amount of property adjoining the property sought to be reclassified falling within the proposed classification." Id. at 362, 133 S.E.2d at 848. Under this analysis, the zoning under consideration was arguably not spot zoning because the previously unrestricted classification of the county property creates the same kind of preexistence of the proposed classification that occurs when there is adjoining property which already carries the proposed classification. In fact, the zoning in question actually places greater restriction on the tract than existed prior to this zoning. If an extension of a preexisting zone does not constitute spot zoning, then zoning of a previously unrestricted tract is arguably not spot zoning.

However, we need not anchor our decision on the question of whether the City's actions here actually constitute spot zoning. With regard to cases involving spot zoning, courts in other jurisdictions have held that spot zoning ordinances are subject to close judicial scrutiny and that spot zoning ordinances are ordinarily invalid. Annot., 51 ALR2d 263, 272 § 4[a] n. 8, n. 9. Nonetheless, almost every case found on the topic at least impliedly supports the proposition that such an enactment is not necessarily invalid, and the validity of such an ordinance is invariably based on the presence or absence of certain additional factors and on the particular circumstances of each case. 51 ALR2d 263, 272 § 4[a].

In Talbot v....

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13 cases
  • Dunes W. Golf Club, LLC v. Town of Mount Pleasant
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • January 9, 2013 planners but can only correct injustices when they are clearly shown to result from municipal action.” Knowles v. City of Aiken, 305 S.C. 219, 222, 407 S.E.2d 639, 642 (1991). “In order to successfully assault a city's zoning decision, a citizen must establish that the decision was arb......
  • Restaurant Row Associates v. Horry County
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • May 17, 1999
    ...capricious, has no reasonable relation to a lawful purpose, or if the board has abused its discretion. See id.; Knowles v. City of Aiken, 305 S.C. 219, 407 S.E.2d 639 (1991); Hodge v. Pollock, 223 S.C. 342, 75 S.E.2d 752 (1953); Gurganious v. City of Beaufort, 317 S.C. 481, 454 S.E.2d 912 (......
  • Ani Creation, Inc. v. City of Myrtle Beach Bd. of Zoning Appeals
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • April 19, 2023
    ...and (2) promotion of the good of the common welfare but to only correct injustices which are clearly shown." Knowles v. City of Aiken, 305 S.C. 219, 223, 407 S.E.2d 639, 642 (1991); see also 39 Am. Jur. Proof of Facts 3d 433 ("Legal challenges to [spot zoning] are generally based on allegat......
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • December 6, 1999
    ...not be interfered with by the courts unless there is a clear violation of citizen's constitutional rights." Knowles v. City of Aiken, 305 S.C. 219, 224, 407 S.E.2d 639, 642 (1991). Whaley argues Ordinance 96-09 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution because t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Challenges to Local Government Zoning and Land Use Decisions in South Carolina
    • United States
    • South Carolina Bar South Carolina Lawyer No. 27-3, November 2015
    • Invalid date
    ...463, 467 (Ct. App. 1987). [29] Rush v. City of Greenville, 246 S.C. 268, 276, 143 S.E.2d 527, 531 (1965). [30] Knowles v. City of Aiken, 305 S.C. 219, 224, 407 S.E.2d 639, 642 (1991) (quoting Hampton at 503, 357 S.E.2d at 465). [31] Austin v. Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 362 S.C. 29, 35, 606 S.E.......
  • A Delicate Balance: Planning, Zoning, and Politics
    • United States
    • South Carolina Bar South Carolina Lawyer No. 35-1, July 2023
    • Invalid date
    ...40 A.L.R.3d 372 (1972). This annotation also addresses rezoning by a city or county council. [27] See, e.g., Knowles v. City of Aiken, 305 S.C. 219, 220, 222, 223407 S.E.2d 639, 640, 641, 642 (1991) (discussing concern for "comprehensive plan of zoning and "spot zoning, but finally relying ......

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