Do not lose sight of your community vision

A community’s vision is captured in its master plan, and good plans involve a deal of community input and analysis of data. However, the plans only have value if they are used in an active, ongoing manner.

Master plans provide a vision and a strategy to achieve a desired community. When conditions change, the plan should be reviewed and modified. State planning enabling legislation requires that such plans be reviewed every five years. The goal of this requirement is clear: keep the plan current and relevant.

A master plan (if done correctly) will involve considerable input from those groups who are most affected: the residents, business owners and others who work and live in the community. These are the groups most “directly” affected by the plan and its vision for a specific type of community. The plan is also a key consideration to justify the rationale behind zoning decisions. Problems occur when communities ignore their master plan and make decisions in a vacuum. One example is a small community in southeast Michigan.

The small city was working to help a non-conforming business expand into an abutting property. The business was a use permitted in a light manufacturing district and was not compatible in its current business district. In an effort to assist the business, planning staff recommended a rezoning that would re-establish the manufacturing use in the business district, an action that was clearly inconsistent with the city’s master plan. Not only did this recommendation represent poor planning, it weakens the city’s ability to justify other decisions as being made based on a plan, especially since the rezoning is completely inconsistent.

Zoning decisions based solely on the needs of individual applicants are not prudent at best, and can have long-term negative impacts at worst. Michigan State University Extension suggests that the master plan review is an effective way to gauge the progress being made toward a community vision and is the best way to justify zoning decisions, especially since zoning codes are required to be based on a “plan.”

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