A zoning plan is a required part of master plans in Michigan

Recent changes to Michigan statutes related to planning and zoning clarify the requirement for communities with an adopted zoning ordinance to also have an adopted “zoning plan.”

Building blue print with pen and ruler on table.
Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro via Pixabay.com.

A zoning ordinance is well understood as a set of local regulations that detail the allowances and limitations of land uses and development in a community. Even the term master plan has become standard language in Michigan communities, in reference to the public policy document that informs the zoning ordinance and guides land use change and public infrastructure investment over time.

How about the term zoning plan? Does anything come to mind? It should, because the Michigan Planning Enabling Act (Public Act 33 of 2008, as amended) requires all communities with an adopted zoning ordinance to have a master plan that includes:

For a local unit of government that has adopted a zoning ordinance, [a master plan shall include] a zoning plan for various zoning districts controlling the height, area, bulk, location, and use of buildings and premises. The zoning plan shall include an explanation of how the land use categories on the future land use map relate to the districts on the zoning map (MCL 125.3833(2)(d)).

A zoning plan can be a specific plan element or chapter in the plan, or it can be a separate document or appendix adopted as part of the master plan. It must be stressed that the zoning plan is not the zoning ordinance. Technically, a zoning plan has been required of all municipalities with zoning since the adoption of the now-repealed Municipal Planning Act (PA 285 of 1931). The Michigan Planning Enabling Act and the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (PA 110 of 2006, as amended) clarified a zoning plan’s contents and its relation to the zoning ordinance. Specifically, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act references that the planning commission shall file with the legislative body “…a zoning plan for the areas subject to zoning…” (MCL 125.3305(a)).

Again, per the Michigan Planning Enabling Act, the zoning plan should explain “how the land use categories on the future land use map relate to the districts on the zoning map” (MCL 125.3833(2)(d)). Recall that the zoning map is a depiction of the present designation of zoning districts to parcels of land in the community. The future land use map, on the other hand, is a depiction of future (20 years or more) uses of land. Therefore, differences between the two maps are highly likely to exist and the differences between the land use categories on the future land use map and the zoning districts on the zoning map are to be explained in the text of the zoning plan. It might take a number of re-zonings over time to achieve the future depicted on the future land use map, new zoning districts may need to be created, or zoning districts might need to be combined or eliminated altogether. Whatever the reason for the differences, they need to be clearly explained and that is accomplished through the zoning plan.

Here are recommended contents of a zoning plan:

  1. A description of each of the zoning districts (including proposed new ones), the general purpose of each district, a general description of the class of uses to be permitted in each district and the general locations for those types of districts.
  2. A proposed schedule of regulations by district that includes, at least, building height, lot area, bulk and setbacks.
  3. A proposed zoning map showing the location of proposed zoning districts (not the official zoning map, but a depiction of zoning a handful of years in the future).
  4. The standards, or criteria, to be used to consider rezoning consistent with the master plan (e.g., as infrastructure is extended to a particular area).
  5. An explanation of how the land use categories on the future land use map relate to the districts on the zoning map.

If the concept of a zoning plan is still a bit foreign to you, it may be helpful to review a few examples in the master plans below:

For more information, you may wish to order the Michigan Planning Guidebook: For Citizens and Local Officials by Michigan State University Extension.

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