2018 - 2019 Michigan planning and zoning court cases are available

The annual 2019 summary of Michigan planning and zoning court cases is now available to the public.

The headliners for the 2019 summary were likely two court cases related to Zoning Board of Appeals.  Other significant court cases over the last 12 months (from May 2018 to April 2019) were focused on medical marijuana, the limits of zoning preemption under the Michigan Right to Farm Act, Open Meetings Act, rezonings, escrow fees, and short-term rentals.

The 2018-2019 summary of select Michigan planning and zoning court cases includes cases from the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court as well as Federal District Court. 

In Hiser v. Village of Mackinaw City, the Court of Appeals remanded parts of a multi-pronged complaint back to the Zoning Board of Appeals for failure to document findings and a rationale for decisions made.  On remand, the courts pointedly directed the ZBA to further develop the record with a factual basis for findings and conclusions. 

City of Detroit v. Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals is an unusual case in that it starts with the City of Detroit suing its own Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).  Here, the BZA approved a billboard placed on a nonconforming lot in an overlay zone that prohibits billboards. The majority opinion (in a 2-1 vote) represents a deviation from the “buyer beware” notion that purchasing a property for a desired use, when knowing the ordinance prohibits the use, is not an economic hardship. In this published case, the majority opinion determined that there was an economic hardship due to the unique history of the nonconforming lot and the BZA’s decision was upheld.

The Lansing City Council failed to provide adequate reasons for a rezoning in Gamut Group v. City of Lansing and the courts determined that the decision was “arbitrary and capricious”.

The designation of specific zoning districts in which a licensed caregiver can grow medical marijuana was the subject of both DeRuiter v. Byron Township (published) and Charter Twp. Of Ypsilanti v. Pontius. In both cases, the courts determined that local zoning was preempted by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).  The DeRuiter case is expected to be heard by the Michigan Supreme Court in summer of 2019.

This year’s Right to Farm Act cases help to further define the limits of zoning preemption.  In Lima Township v. Bateson, the landowner failed to show that he was using heavy equipment in the operation of a farm, within the meaning of the Act, and was therefore subject to zoning.  The owners of a commercial stable/horse arena were also found to be subject to zoning when they failed to show that renters living an accessory dwelling above the horse arena were necessary to the farm operation in Township of Williamston v. Sandalwood Ranch.

Finally, in the two Open Meetings Act cases involving Delta College Board of Trustees (Estate of Timothy Ader v. Delta College Bd. of Trs. and Andrich v. Delta College Bd. of Trs.) the courts stated that the board must specifically name the pending litigation being considered prior to going into closed session.  

Other unpublished cases deal with short-term rentals and questions around non-conforming use, the charging of escrow fees, ripeness, and rezoning.   

For regular updates on planning and zoning related court cases, attorney general opinions, legislation, research and training opportunities, MSU Extension provides an email list-serve for professional planners, zoning administrators, municipal attorneys and others. For information about that service, contact the author.  

Previous year court summaries are also available:

2017-2018 planning and zoning court cases

2016-2017 planning and zoning court cases

2015-2016 planning and zoning court cases

2014-2015 planning and zoning court cases

Court case summaries on this website date back to 2003.      

The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team also offers professional training. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). 

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