The “Unique Circumstances” Rule in Zoning Variances—An Aid in Achieving Greater Prudence and Less Leniency
It has frequently been emphasized by courts and commentators that the power to award variances should be exercised sparingly and that a variance should be awarded only if it will not substantially disturb the comprehensive plan of the community but will alleviate hardships that are unnecessary to the general purpose of the plan. It has even been suggested that a variance that disturbs the community’s comprehensive planning might be invalid as a form of “spot zoning”: zoning that unreasonably singles out a particular piece of property for unmerited special treatment. It is widely agreed that the award of a variance is a matter of grace and that a refusal is not the denial of a legal right. The power to grant or deny lies in the discretion of the members of the board of adjustment, and their exercise of this discretion will not be overturned unless they act arbitrarily, capriciously, or outside the scope of their authority.