Michigan Land Use, Zoning and Planning

Cities are a product of design; they are planned for present and future use. Social, economic, and physical restrictions are used to form a vision of a selected populations needs. In Michigan, the state has the high authority to delegate land use to municipalities and counties. In 2006, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (ZEA) is the newest revision of land use and zoning powers passed to the local governments. Together with the Michigan Planning Enabling Act, and several other acts, sets forth the guidelines of lawful planning in the state.

For example, through the ZEA, Grand Rapids may divide land into districts, which are organized and divided to meet the city’s desired objective. Heavy industrial clustered away from residential, and commercial or light industrial serving as a buffer zone. Under the ZEA the Grand Rapids planning department fits its Master Plan to legitimate zoning objectives; those things that are for public health, safety, and welfare. (Master Plans are typically planned for a non-binding 10-year blocks, and are revised periodically to fit the city budget and needs).

Occasionally an area of land is zoned for one purpose, but might be better suited for another; in those cases, use variances, area variances, and special use permits are granted when presented to the city. The city’s primary objective is to provide the best environment for its citizens; if a new use is proposed that improves the citizen experience it will be approved with minimal adjustments. When disagreements arise, between the city, citizens, and developers, negotiations take place to best meet concerns.

The city may offer a new location for the proposed use in a lawful trade, the citizens may request alternative entrances to a parking lot, and the developer may modify its plan to maximize its approval chances. Only after talks have broken down and the developer has exhausted its administrative remedies may it pursue judicial action; this may take months and occasionally years to implement. During that time, the citizens may campaign against members of the local government and elect more favorable candidates to city improvements.

Developers looking to propose a use in the city should use a law firm that can engage a problem in its entirety. Law firms should determine why a proposed use is denied, beyond looking to the master plan; often times due to budget cuts, city members may be let go before they can execute their pet project with a selected property. Cities should work with the developer to bring new revenue into the city. Citizens should voice their concerns and allow the developer or its counsel answer with a solution that pleases both sides.