Zoning Enabling Act

The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act consolidates all zoning rules into one law. While the law has been in effect since 2006, you may not have noticed the difference, unless you have changed your zoning ordinance. Even if you do not have a zoning proposal on the table, there are two reasons that now is a good time to review the ZEA. First, before July 1, 2011, townships must replace their “zoning commissions” with planning commissions. Second, every community has to learn more about the related Planning Enabling Act, which also has key provisions becoming binding on July 1, 2011.

What does the ZEA replace?

The ZEA became law in 2006. It consolidated all zoning rules into one law, replacing the City and Village Zoning Act, the Township Zoning Act, and the County Zoning Act.

What happens to our current zoning ordinance?

Your current zoning ordinance is still valid. But you should revisit your ordinance—and its notice requirements in particular. The ZEA trumps local notice rules, and it often imposes more extensive requirements than older zoning ordinances’ notice provisions.

What are the new notice requirements?

All zoning application and hearing notices must be published once in your local newspaper at least 15 days before a meeting. Special additional requirements apply if ten or fewer properties are affected. In the case of these pinpoint changes, you must send notices to the owners of all directly-affected properties, as well as all property owners who own properties within 300 feet of the proposed changes—regardless of whether these properties are within the your community’s borders.

Does the ZEA change the “nonconforming use” rules?

No. This is one area where the legislature did not impose uniformity upon counties, townships, and cities and villages. The ZEA explicitly preserves the existing rules that applied to each particular group, at the time of enactment. Nonconforming use issues are often thorny and complicated—you should consult with an attorney before tackling them.

Does our zoning body continue to exist? What happens to its membership?

Under the ZEA’s predecessor acts, townships had differently-named and -constituted local zoning bodies called “zoning boards.” Beginning on July 1, 2011, the ZEA strips all zoning commissions and boards of their authority; at that point, everyone will have to use “planning commissions” under the Planning acts

Zoning Boards/Commissions vs. Planning Commissions
  Zoning Board/Commission Planning Commission
Action to Establish Resolution of legislative body (no requirement to publish in newspaper) Resolution of legislative body, published in newspaper of general circulation, subject to public referendum
Number of Members 4-7 5-9
Appointed by Legislative body Chair of legislative body, with legislative body approval
Appointment criteria Qualifications and fitness to serve Registered voters who are representative of major interests in township
Term of Office 4 years 3 years
Removal Legislative body may remove for misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance, with written charges and public hearing Head of legislative body may remove with legislative body’s approval, following a hearing
Member of legislative body? Prohibited Required
Meetings per year 2 minimum 4 minimum
Officers’ Terms 2 years 1 year

How does the ZEA affect our zoning board of appeals?

There are five notable changes for ZBAs:

  • Your zoning ordinance must have standards and procedures for the ZBA to follow when reviewing variances.
  • A member of the planning commission must sit on your ZBA (this is new only for cities and villages).
  • The procedure for alternate members is simplified—the “rotation” requirement is removed.
  • The ZEA clarifies ZBAs’ power to grant non-use (i.e., dimensional) variances. To get this flexibility, however, you may need to update your zoning ordinance’s non-use variance provisions.
  • The ZEA creates a new and specific right to request Circuit Court review of ZBA decisions. This appeal must be made within 30 days after the zoning board of appeals certifies its decision in writing or approves the minutes of its decision.

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