Thorough application reviews are critical for local planning processes

Poor reviews of applications can result inaccurate zoning reviews and interpretations.

Local communities must work to ensure effective local reviews as a part of their planning processes. When they mistakes, the results can cause a needless loss of resources by applicants as well as potential litigation for the local unit of government. According to Michigan State University Extension, one of the first priorities of staff should be the conformation of the location of the proposed project and the existing zoning for that particular project.

In one community, an applicant submitted an application for an automobile repair facility. The applicant stated that the district for the property was zoned thoroughfare business commercial. In this particular district, automobile repair facilities were permitted, but required a special use permit. The application submitted all of the required site plans for the proposed use and proceeded to go through the City’s process for approval. As a part of the City’s process, all site plan applications are sent to a planning consultant for review. When the consultants reviewed the application, they determined the proposed site was actually located in a lower-level business district and not a thoroughfare business district. In the lower level district, automobile repair facilities were not permitted at all!

The applicant then was told to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for a use variance. Unfortunately, a poor review by city staff person is not a legitimate reason for granting a use variance and so the application was denied. Litigation may be the final action in this site plan review process. This sad tale of site plan review could have been avoided if the initial staff person had simply confirmed the zoning for the proposed site.

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