The Michigan Court of Appeals recently provided clarity regarding interpretation of the term “farm operations” under the Michigan Right to Farm Act, (“RTFA”), MCL 286.741, et seq., in Williamston Twp v Sandalwood Ranch, LLC, ___ Mich App __; ___ NW2d ___ (2018) (Docket No. 337469). In its decision, the Court of Appeals held that in order for a use to be protected under the RTFA that use must be “necessary” for farm operations under the RTFA, and while “absolute necessity” was not required, such a use must be more than just a matter of convenience to warrant protection.
In Michigan the governmental regulation of land use is largely achieved through the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, (“MZEA”), MCL 125.3101, et seq. The MZEA allows local municipalities to adopt zoning ordinances which regulate the physical appearance and use of property within their jurisdiction. For decades zoning ordinances adopted pursuant to the MZEA or its predecessors focused primarily on regulating the use of property, and not necessarily on the physical form of the property and its buildings. Over the past two decades there has been a slow and gradual shift from use-based zoning to zoning based on the physical form of property, especially in downtown areas.
The relationship between municipalities and land developers is often one of compromise, with each attempting to find some middle-ground in order to move forward on a particular project. In many instances, however, the municipality and developer are unable to reach such a compromise and the parties find that their positions are irreconcilable. In such instances the developer may believe that their only next viable option is to seek redress in the court system. But before doing so, it is important that a developer recognize the limitations on judicial review of land use decisions by a municipality. Specifically, if a developer does not satisfy the “rule of finality,” the developer may find that they have no right to seek a judicial remedy at all. The rule of finality helps to ensure that a municipality is given an opportunity to make a final decision on the matter before it. Without such a final opportunity, judicial review is not available.
Zoning is the regulation of the use of land. It is the exercise of police power intended to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare. Zoning does not create divisions of land nor does it guarantee development. Zoning constitutes an effort on the part of the designated governmental body to avoid land use conflicts between neighbors by ensuring that uses and structures are generally compatible with other uses and structures in the area. It is a means to promote the welfare of the community by guiding orderly growth.
The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act
In Michigan zoning is implemented and statutorily authorized under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, MCL 125.3101, et seq. (“MZEA”). The MZEA was enacted in 2006 and consolidated several prior zoning enabling acts Read more