Zoning petitions: What are citizens’ options?

Zoning ordinances or zoning amendments are approved by local bodies of elected officials. However, citizens of municipalities in Michigan can submit petitions to challenge new zoning laws.

Zoning ordinances are local laws that place standards on the use and development of private property. With private property rights being subject to such regulation, state laws require that certain processes are followed and notices are given to ensure constitutionally protected due process is followed. Two related statutes are the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act and the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

A newly adopted zoning ordinance or a zoning amendment is adopted by the local legislative body after following a specific set of planning, public notice and advisory review steps (see For Adoption of a Zoning Ordinance Amendment). Generally, a new zoning ordinance or amendment goes into effect seven days after a notice of adoption is published in a newspaper of general circulation in the community. However, citizens of municipalities in Michigan can submit petitions to challenge new zoning laws.

For a township or county zoning ordinance, citizens have seven days to file a notice of intent for a petition challenging the zoning law. With the notice of intent filed and the effective date of the ordinance or amendment on hold, citizens have 30 days to submit a petition to the clerk with signatures amounting to no less than 15 percent of the total vote cast for governor within the jurisdiction at the preceding general election.

If a petition is filed within 30 days and the clerk determines that the petition is adequate, the ordinance or ordinance amendment will be put to a vote by registered electors in the jurisdiction at the next regular election or special election called for that purpose. A majority of electors voting in favor enacts the ordinance or amendment as initially adopted by the legislative body. Failure to reach a majority of ‘yes’ votes means the ordinance or amendment is denied by electors and does not become law.

In a city or a village, a zoning amendment can be challenged by property owners within the jurisdiction before the legislative body of the city or village takes final action on the amendment. This is called a protest petition. In this case, a petition must be signed by owners of at least 20 percent of the land included in the proposed change, or by owners of at least 20 percent of the area of land within an area extending 100 feet outward from the boundary of land included in the proposed change. If a protest petition is received and found valid, the legislative body must vote with a 2/3 majority, unless a larger vote – not to exceed 3/4 – is required, in favor of the zoning amendment in order for it to become law.

Both of the above processes provide opportunities for citizens to have a more direct say in the passage of zoning laws affecting private property rights. It is important to note that citizen action through the submission of a petition must happen before the proposed zoning laws take effect. There is no statutory authority for citizens in Michigan to petition for the repeal of zoning after it has been adopted and has become law. After zoning has become law, the only avenue for citizens is to elect new legislative officials whom they think will amend the ordinance again to remove the unfavorable standards or repeal the ordinance altogether. Read the MSU Extension article Amending a zoning ordinance requires adopting an ordinance for more information.

This Michigan State University Extension article is one in a series of articles on citizen referenda in Michigan. Other articles provide insights into the statewide ballot initiative process and the status of current initiated legislation efforts for the 2016 election. Check back here, or subscribe to MSU Extension’s Government and Public Policy newsletters to stay up to date on these and other related issues.

Other articles in this series include How does a ballot proposal get on the ballot? and November election could be light on statewide ballot proposals.

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