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.

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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. Two statutes underlying due process in Michigan 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 after publication of a notice of ordinance adoption is published in a newspaper of general circulation to file a notice of intent for a petition challenging the new zoning ordinance or zoning amendment. 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 (see MCL 125.3402).

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. The petition and election are subject to Michigan Election Law (general reference), and petition forms are available from county and local election officials. A zoning related petition requires the Michigan Local Proposal Petition.

The legislative body shall provide the manner of submitting the zoning ordinance or part of the zoning ordinance to the electors for their approval or rejection and determining the result of the election. 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 and has been a part of city and village zoning since 1921. 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 (called abutter’s challenge). 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 for it to become law (see MCL 125.3403).

Both above processes provide opportunities for citizens to have a more direct say in the passage of a zoning law. It is important to note that citizen action through the submission of a petition must happen before the proposed zoning law takes 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 Michigan State University Extension article “Amending a zoning ordinance requires adopting an ordinance” for more information.

Readers might also be interested in the MSU Extension article, “How does a ballot proposal get on the ballot?Subscribe to MSU Extension’s Government and Public Policy newsletters to stay up to date on these and other related issues.

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