Springfield Business Journal Articles

Sarah Delano Pavlik

Zoning Basics

What is zoning?

Zoning laws are used by municipalities to control and direct development.  At its most basic level, zoning laws are designed to divide a municipality into residential, commercial and industrial zones that are separate from each other and where the uses in each zone are, more or less, uniform.  But zoning also includes some very specific restrictions – things like setbacks from streets or adjoining lots, building heights, minimum lot area, parking requirements, etc.  Each parcel of property is assigned a specific zoning designation.

In Springfield, the zoning rules are contained in the City’s ordinances, which can be found at the City Clerk’s web site: http://www.springfieldcityclerk.com/Government/GovernmentDefault.aspx.  For the county, you can go to: https://www.co.sangamon.il.us/departments/s-z/zoning.

To find out the zoning for a particular piece of property, the City has a helpful application that can be found at: https://publicworks.springfield.il.us/zoningmanager.  You can search by property address, and it even contains prior zoning documents for every property that’s had zoning relief requested in the past.  For the County, you can visit: https://www.co.sangamon.il.us/departments/s-z/zoning/zoning-maps

What’s the purpose of zoning?

Zoning isn’t just relevant to existing buildings and uses.  In the main, zoning is designed to guide future development.  Zoning designations and rules come from a planning process that’s designed to come up with a comprehensive master plan.  And in most cases, the process takes on a regional approach – with various municipalities, and counties, taking part in the process. 

Can zoning be changed?

Yes, zoning can be changed.  Property owners may seek to have zoning changed (e.g. requesting a property be changed to business from residential) or may ask for a “conditional permitted use” (“CPU”).  A CPU retains a property’s current zoning classification but allows an otherwise prohibited use at the property to be legally recognized.  In many instances, CPUs are preferred because they are less intense than an outright zoning change. Generally, relief is given because of some perceived hardship caused by the particular nature of the property in question or to satisfy a unique need that is not otherwise against the public interest.

Petitions for zoning relief are filed with the County or City.  They are first evaluated by staff, then presented in each case to a citizen board that makes an initial recommendation.  Thereafter, the petitions go to County Board or City Council for final action.  Often lawyers handle the process, but in many instances property owners proceed by themselves without representation.

Citizens who disagree with a zoning decision can appeal the matter to the courts (e.g. the recent Helping Hands zoning lawsuit).  Common claims include denial of due process or an illegal zoning ordinance, but more creative claims have been advanced.

Are there limits to zoning regulations?

Books have been written about this topic.  In general, however, most zoning rules will be upheld if they are reasonable, not arbitrary, and bear on public health, safety, comfort, and general welfare.

I often hear about “spot zoning.”  What is it?

The “classic” definition of spot zoning isthe process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property and to the detriment of other owners."  Spot zoning is illegal.  In essence, spot zoning confers a special benefit on an individual property owner not commonly enjoyed by owners of similar properties.

Are there other kinds of land use requirements?

Yes.  Think of restrictive covenants contained in more modern residential and commercial developments that developers use to control the nature and extent of a particular development.  Also, easements are often used to reserve certain areas of a development for green space or other uses.


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