Profits over people

Asked September 20, 2016, 4:48 PM EDT

Greetings, Saint Clair County and Saint Clair Township have been working together on the rezoning and development of an existing 90 acre farm, which includes wetlands. Our issues began when a member of the Twp. Planning Commission who also happens to be co-owner of the surveying company that surveyed the site failed to declare a conflict of interest, and voted in favor of the project. The County Planning Commission then used an outdated Master Plan (over 20 years old) to justify their recommendation in favor of adopting the rezoning proposal. The Twp. Master Plan states: "The Township’s estimated 2005 commercial need was approximately forty-two (42) acres. Assuming increases in the number of households as projected, this demand can be expected to increase to nearly fifty-nine (59) acres by the year 2030. Existing commercial acreage in the Township far exceeds the estimated needs of the Township (p. 25)." For disclosure, the Master Plan does identify this site on the future land use plan as being selected as part of a commercial node, however the map associated with that designation shows the commercially zoned portion of the parcel as being roughly 20-25 acres. The Twp. Master Plan also states: "There are no true consolidated commercial centers within the Township where several businesses occupy a single site and share a common driveway parking lot and other development features (p. 22)." Would the approving of a proposal that contradicts this statement qualify as an inequitable treatment? Last night (19 Sep.) the Twp. Board voted in favor of the rezoning of 50 acres to B2 Commercial (surrounded by residential) to accommodate the construction of a Love's Travel Stop, despite representatives from Love's admitting that their development requires only 13 acres. The site will eventually include several tenants, all occupying a single site and sharing a common driveway, parking lot and other development features. The map approved at the open meeting was not consistent with the map published on the Twp. website and presented to the public. This seems to the residents to be a clear case of over-zoning, and special treatment. As such, we are wondering if, in the opinion of planning professionals and experts, this rezoning may potentially be deemed a spot-zone. We feel like we're being steamrolled here. Please advise!

St. Clair County Michigan zoning master plan conflict of interest commercial market study spot zoning

1 Response

Concerning the "co-owner of the surveying company that surveyed the site:" that may, or may not be, a conflict of interest depending on the township planning commission's bylaws (if any on the subject) or other ethics policy(ies) that township may have adopted. Generally such a situation does not raise to the level of conflict of interest. It would only do so if the township has a more rigorous definition.

To comment on the level of need for commercial development, etc. would require considerable study. Such market analysis can be done by most of the planning consulting firms listed at: http://www.planningmi.org/planners.asp. A 2005 study is quite old, and I would want to update that before using any of its findings.

In Michigan the application and interpretation of the township master plan is the purview of the township planning commission -- in the form of a recommendation to the township board, which makes the final decision on a zoning amendment. The master plan is a policy document expressing intent. It is not an ordinance that has to be followed. (See .http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/difference_between_a_zoning_ordinance_and_a_master_plan) There is room for different interpretations, but again would involve much more information and study than was conveyed in your question. It would be a task for a planning consulting firm to do: http://www.planningmi.org/planners.asp. That is not the type of service that would be offered in this forum.

Your question indicates the township board already voted to, and has adopted, the zoning amendment. That generally means the debate is now over. See this step-by-step process for adopting a zoning amendment:
http://msue.anr.msu.edu/resources/check_list_4_for_adoption_of_a_zoning_ordinance_amendment_includin...
Note in steps 12a and 15 is an opportunity, in Michigan, to bring the issue to a township-wide vote -- but that must be done within 30 days of the zoning amendment adoption with a notice of intent to do so within 7 days of the notice of adoption.being published in a newspaper. It is strongly recommended an attorney prepares these documents. One miss-step or flaw can invalidate the effort..

In Michigan "spot zoning" is when there is a small zoning district (often with just one parcel and landowner/tenant within the district) that is surrounded by a different type of zoning. On the zoning map it would look like a small spot. Making the rezoning area larger moves farther from spot zoning. Twenty, fifty, or more acres is generally not considered spot zoning.