Expanded Master Plan initiatives

Asked November 12, 2018, 9:05 AM EST

Are there statutory limits to the types community visions and associated plans that may be included in a Michigan community Master Plan? Examples? For example: Vision: The profitability of downtown seasonal businesses and property owners is sufficient to assure retail buildings are safe, clean, well maintained and exceptionally attractive to quality oriented summer visitors. Goal: The current downtown June-August prime retail season will be expanded to include weekends September-New Yeas Eve by 2030. Champions: Primary: Acme Economic Development Foundation. Support: Ajax Chamber of Commerce, Aville DDA.

Oceana County Michigan

1 Response

Hello Oceana County,

Thank you for submitting this very interesting question regarding “are there statutory limits to the types of community visions and associated plans that may be included in a Master Plan”.

The Michigan Planning Enabling Act (MPEA) outlines the purpose of the plan in MCL 125.3833. In summary the law outlines several “shalls” here—among them:

· Shall address land use and infrastructure issues and shall project 20 years into the future

· Shall include maps, charts, descriptive and explanatory matter…

· Shall include other “subjects that reasonably can be considered as pertinent to the future development of the planning jurisdiction”

o Land use plan

o General location, character and extent of streets, railroads, airports, bike paths, etc.

o Character, layout, extent of blighted areas (and what might be done about them)

o For those with a zoning ordinance—other recommendations regarding height, bulk, area, etc.

o Recommendations for implementing any of the master plans proposals.

I encourage you to look at the law so you can see the detail I have omitted in my summary above.

It appears to me that your example is within the statutory limits of the Master Plan. Many communities are adopting “placemaking” strategies which include a combination of the arts, downtown development, events, and physical improvements. Increasing downtown activity—through event planning, the arts, improved physical structures and design, and extending the visitor season are all part of economic development strategies that many communities are embracing. It is not uncommon to see these called out in a Master Plan document.

Having said that—one might ask if very specific goals, with specific actors and champions assigned to them, are best suited for a Master Plan. Some of the goals may be better suited to a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) strategic plan, for example. I suggest this because it is much easier to amend a strategic plan (as timelines, actors, or champions change) than it is to amend a Master Plan. Master plans are typically updated once every 5 years—and it can take up to a year for a Master Plan update to be complete. If downtown goals need to be more fluid—a strategic plan (that might be revised every 6 months to 2 years) might make more sense. I have no reason to believe that the suggestion you provided would not be “allowed” in a Master Plan, however.

Geography is also a part of my answer. If this is a County Master Plan— it would not make sense to have this kind of specificity for one city if there are several other cities or villages in the County. If it is a Township Master Plan—then providing such specificity in the “downtown” (which is likely a city under a different zoning ordinance with it’s own Master Plan) does not make much sense either. If this is a City or Village Master Plan—and the same players are also generally involved with downtown events (and maybe there is no DDA), then having this kind of specificity in goals/objectives makes fine sense. Just keep in mind what I stated earlier that it is much easier to amend a DDA plan or Chamber of Commerce plan than it is to amend a Master Plan if things change within 5 years. A Master Plan can be amended sooner than five years—but the process is far more onerous than amending a strategic plan with a simple majority vote of a board.

Finally, if certain infrastructure improvements or other physical changes are envisioned as part of the expansion of a tourist season, placemaking, or supporting a “safe, clean, well maintained and exceptionally attractive” downtown—such as heated sidewalks, a new civic square, a fireplace or art feature, road improvements, street furniture, sidewalk expansion, tree plantings, light fixtures, etc. those items should be part of the Master Plan and then incorporated into a Capital Improvement Plan. Those types of capital outlays—or the general vision for such improvements-- must be supported by the Master Plan. A description of these types of physical improvements and how they are tied to a Master Plan is typically required in order to obtain and leverage funding from other sources in the form of grants.

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Best of Luck to you.