Who enforces the Michigan Planning Enabling Act?

Asked March 5, 2019, 2:58 PM EST

What mechanism can be used to enforce the Michigan Planning Enabling Act if a township is not following the act? The act is not clear on who enforces it or how it is enforced or who a complaint can be made to.

Lapeer County Michigan planning and zoning

5 Responses

In answer to your question about enforcement of the Michigan Planning Enabling Act, I would note the MSU Extension Land Use Pamphlets MPEA Frequently Asked Questions.

Question 39 states:

What happens (penalty) if a city, village, township, or county doesn’t comply with a specific statutory requirement?

There are no provisions in the MPEA or MZEA for enforcement of the Acts. However, this does not mean there are no consequences for failing to follow the Act’s provisions. Acts of this type are enforced by litigation. If a municipality or county does not make a good faith effort to conform to the requirements of the MZEA or MPEA, it greatly increases the likelihood of lawsuits and decreases its chances of winning such suits. Litigation of this kind seriously undermines the authority of the planning commission and legislative body, causing citizens to distrust their local government or question their competency.

I have also discussed your question with a colleague who is a certified planner. Additional comments are as follows:

“There is no State entity that enforces the MPEA or MZEA. … However, not following the law is handing a court challenge to the opposition on a silver platter. I have never heard of anyone suing a community for not following the MPEA. I have seen the courts interpret and enforce the MZEA. I have seen voluntary do-overs to meet the statute if informed that they are not meeting statute.

From a financial perspective (and good governance) appointed boards are typically told by the elected officials to “go back and do it right.” It costs less to do it right than to defend this kind of case—especially when it comes black-and-white letter law versus a discretionary decision.

Instead of suing the Planning Commission—it might make better sense to take the matter to elected officials that appoint those boards. Not following the statute would be considered malfeasance and grounds for removal. … The vast majority serving in government will follow the law to mitigate legal risk.”

If the specific township has a Township Manager or Administrator, I would start with that person first. If not, then I would suggest a discussion with the Township Supervisor about the actions of the Planning Commission. The legal route also remains an option and perhaps may be appropriate depending on the nature of the complaint.

David,

Thank you for your response. It is similar to the information we have assembled from many sources regarding this issue and we appreciate the time you put into your answer.

We believe there are many violations and we have voiced them in public meetings AND put them in writing to the Supervisor, Township Board and Planning Commission. They include:

The vice-chair for the Planning Commission is the Building Official and Building Inspector, he has ex-parte contact with the applicants coming in front of the commission and he holds an enormous amount of weight on the commission as the other members use him as the "expert" for township matters. The supervisor claims that he is not an "employee" because he is "appointed", yet he has a desk at the township, a key, earns more than $60,000 per year, and is required to be an employee according to the construction act to perform the role of building official/building inspector. We can see that he actually makes more money by adding stipulations to plans that require additional inspections, meetings, etc. Non of this sits right with us.

The Planning Commission members have been selected by the supervisor with no regard to geography or important segment. As a matter of fact, when asked what segment each member represents, the written answer that was provided to us by the township is that that is not known. The position is not published and no written application or information on the members or their training or qualifications or is taken or on file at the township. Our township has more than 70 percent of the land mass on properties that exceed 1 acre yet 6 of the 7 members all reside on small lot zoning (less than 1 acre) and they all live in extremely close proximity (3 within 2 blocks of each other) resulting in an overwhelming majority of the township lacking representation.

There are plenty of qualified people who have volunteered who represent important segments and encompass the entire geography of the township but they are not given the opportunity.

There is so much more, but it adds up to many people believing that the Township is not following the act and the township not creating a board that is representative of the community.

The last thing we want to do is legal action but we seem to have run out of options because talking is NOT working.

If you have any information or resources that would be helpful to the township board on these issues we would welcome it. Anything you may find useful for us to start a meaningful dialog on this issue would be appreciated.
















I have a couple of additional ideas and will discuss them with my planner colleagues. I will not be able to get back with you until Friday as I am out of the office at class both today and tomorrow (March 13 & 14)

Thank you!

Your statement, “The Planning Commission members have been selected by the supervisor with no regard to geography or important segment” is most interesting. My understanding is that the Planning Commission is appointed by the governing body (i.e. the township board in this case) and not the Supervisor. If only the supervisor is appointing, then the question must be asked, do we even have a valid planning commission? Such would be a question for legal counsel. Is the township attorney involved in any of this?

An “equity” distribution for the Planning Commission based on geography is not part of the act. Further, there is no requirement to have representation from certain groups (i.e. education, natural resources, industry, etc.)

Does the Township have a Planning Commission ordinance? One is required by the MPEA. This ordinance and Planning Commission bylaws could spell out educational requirements or geography requirements if so desired.

MSU Extension provides a sample ordinance and sample bylaws. Please refer to the following links. These documents are very detailed and were designed to be used as a menu of things to consider. Not every part of the language needs to be adopted and some may or will not apply.

Sample #1:B Ordinance to create a planning commission

Sample #1E: Bylaws for a Planning Commission

The importance of discussing best practices for continuing education in planning and zoning

MSU Extension also offers a 2 ½ hour program around Risk Mitigation in Planning and Zoning (aka) 28 ways to Stay out of Court. This class may be an option to consider.

You may wish to obtain a legal opinion on the issue of “incompatible office” regarding the Vice Chair also holding the Building Official job. There may or may not be some prohibition against this. As a legal question, I would refer you to qualified legal counsel.

Lastly, you may wish to recruit persons to run for office on the township board in the next election. As the township board determines policy, with the Supervisor and trustee positions, a majority could be obtained to shift the focus of the township into a different direction then the current one you have described.