Planning Commission member/realtor conflicts of interest

Asked January 2, 2020, 12:42 PM EST

Is a Planning Commission member/realtor in a small township (~900 residents), conflicted by the prospect of increased listings from the approval of a large multi-unit development?

Leelanau County Michigan

1 Response


Thanks for this question. It seems that conflicts of interest are amplified in a small community. MSU Extension has an article addressing this issue, “Conflict of Interest rules apply to all communities, regardless of size”.

The key points are proximity to a property (next door, for example), family relations, and finances. It sound like you are concerned about the potential for financial benefit for the board member.

In my opinion, a clear conflict would be a scenario where this board member has signed an exclusive deal, or their real estate agency has signed a deal, to sell the units in this development. This would provide a clear financial incentive to vote “yes” on the project, create bias, and be a conflict of interest. If the issue is the person is a realtor and there is the potential to sell units, this would not rise to the level of a conflict. The potential to do something is more of a speculation, it seems. Let’s put in in another light-- would a doctor or nurse on a planning commission have a conflict for approving a hospital that they may later work in? Would a chef have a conflict for approving a new fine dining establishment that they eventually, may decide to work for? Probably not—so long as neither had any direct financial interest in the application before them. They were not a stockholder, part owner, investor, etc.

Hopefully, the zoning ordinance and Master Plan have considered and allowed for this “large, multi-unit development”- where if the applicant meets all of the standards, the application must be approved. Consistent application of zoning standards and processes can significantly reduce concerns over bias.

Best regards,