For the non-property law scholars out there, the traditional and almost universal rule is that a variance cannot be granted without a showing of a substantial hardship (or similar standard). Her paper argued that this standard was inappropriately high on the merits and is, in reality, almost universally ignored at the local level.
When I have taught zoning in my property class, I presented the standard view fairly uncritically. It seemed easy to justify: zoning is to serve the public good and if exceptions are too easily made, it rapidly becomes a tool that serves the ones who are wise (or rich) enough to apply for a variance. Somewhat surprisingly, I’ve continued to mirror the standard line even after I started serving on my local zoning board which grants many a variance of dubious merit. I don’t think I can teach the subject the same way this year, so it is time to rebuild the material on variances.
I have always seen independent studies as a good way of allowing a student to do in-depth research on a topic. After almost thirty years in the academy, its time to acknowledge their broader potential.