Often the bane of homeowners, builders and land developers, zoning ordinances are typically the quintessential expression of local governance. Ordinances and zoning amendments are statutes approved by local bodies of elected officials placing standards on the use and development of private property.
While enacted by locally elected officials, did you know the state Constitution provides that citizens of municipalities in Michigan have the legal right to submit petitions challenging new zoning laws? Even before new zoning laws are enacted, state law requires that certain processes are followed and notices are given to ensure due process is followed. (Two related statutes are the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act and the Michigan Open Meetings Act.)
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. If a citizen wants to challenge a new law, as is any resident’s right, time is of the essence. The process also varies depending on the type of government enacting the restrictions.
Challenging a Township or County Zoning Ordinance
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 then have 30 days to submit a petition to the clerk with a specified minimum number of signatures. (The amount of signatures must be no less than 15 percent of the total vote cast for governor within the jurisdiction at the preceding general election. The clerk will generally let you know the required number of signatures needed.)
If a petition is filed within 30 days and the clerk determines it meets eligibility, the ordinance or ordinance amendment will then be placed on the ballot for voters to decide at the next regular election, or a special election called for that purpose. Should a majority of voters vote in favor of the ordinance or amendment, it then becomes law; anything less and the amendment or ordinance becomes invalid.
Challenging a City or Village Zoning Ordinance
Known as a protest petition, property owners in a city or village may challenge a new zoning amendment anytime before the municipal legislative body takes final action on the proposed change.
A protest petition must be signed by at least 20 percent of the landowners affected by the proposed change. If a protest petition is received and validated by the clerk, the legislative body can only enact the ordinance with a successful supermajority vote (usually a two-thirds majority, unless a larger vote — not to exceed three-fourths — is required) in favor of the zoning amendment for it to become law.
Not Everything is Challengeable
The one challenge that is beyond an individual citizen’s rights is to undo what has already been done. In other words, there is no statutory authority for Michigan citizens to petition for the repeal of zoning after it has been adopted and become law. What it all means for landowners — and those who demand a say in local land governance within their community — is that you have a voice. If there are proposed zoning restrictions you don’t agree with, you have the legal right to challenge them.