Be deliberate with zoning code amendments

Changes to your zoning code should be a focused, thoughtful process and should not be made on a whim. Some research should be conducted especially if you are proposing changes that will significantly change the way your community regulates land.

The most significant way that communities regulate land use is through zoning. While new types of codes are always evolving, land use is still regulated to some degree in most zoning codes. Well-written codes give developers and other stakeholders a clear understanding of how and where development and redevelopment is to occur in their respective jurisdiction. Michigan State University Extension provides a variety of trainings on planning and zoning in Michigan.

The zoning code is still the best way to regulate uses that may have a potentially negative impact on other adjacent uses. A good example is truck traffic generated by some manufacturing companies and their incompatibility with low density residential neighborhoods. In fairly small communities, this issue occurs more often than one may expect. Also, zoning provides some certainty to land owners about the types of uses that are permitted in their districts as well as adjacent districts.

Communities should be deliberate when creating their code as well as amending their code. One case that I am aware of involved a staff person proposing an amendment to a community’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance of their zoning code. On its face, the amendment seemed simple enough, the staff person drew a line through the section of the ordinance that restricted the uses of a PUD to primarily residential, limited commercial and some office uses. Also the amendment added the word “any” uses. This simple action basically allowed PUD applications for “any” uses and the previous section of the same ordinance allowed applications in all districts of the community.

The simple amendment basically allowed all uses in any districts as long as the uses met the standards identified in the PUD ordinance. This seemingly small change has the potential to create significant problems in how this particular community regulates land uses. If approved, one example of a potential problem is now nonconforming manufacturing uses located in a business district can submit a PUD application to exist as a legal permitted use in that district. Also, other similar uses that are better suited for a manufacturing district can now submit applications to locate in the very same commercial district. For this community, these same uses have caused traffic jams and delays as trucks attempt to back onto the site from a major business corridor.

Therefore, be careful and deliberate about changes to your code. Be clear about the purpose and intent of any changes. Try as much as possible to anticipate potential negative impacts from changes and explore similar codes in similar communities to gauge the implementation and development applications based on proposed changes.

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