Changes to Michigan law result in clearer understanding of the “zoning plan” and its requirements

Recent changes to Michigan statutes related to planning and zoning clarify the requirement for communities with an adopted zoning ordinance to also have an adopted “zoning plan.”

The term “zoning ordinance” is well understood as a set of local regulations that detail the allowances and limitations of land uses and development in a community. Even the term “master plan” has become standard language in Michigan communities in reference to the public policy document that informs the zoning ordinance and guides land use change and public infrastructure investment over time.

How about the term “zoning plan?” Does anything come to mind? It should, because the Michigan Planning Enabling Act (Public Act 33 of 2008, as amended) requires all communities with an adopted zoning ordinance to have a master plan that includes “…a zoning plan for various zoning districts…[which] shall include an explanation of how the land use categories on the future land use map relate to the districts on the zoning map” (MCL 125.3833(2)(d)).

A zoning plan can be a special plan element or a separate document adopted as part of the master plan. It must be stressed that the zoning plan is not the zoning ordinance. Technically, a zoning plan has been required of all municipalities with zoning since the adoption of the now-repealed Municipal Planning Act (PA 285 of 1931). It is true that a zoning plan’s contents and relation to the zoning ordinance have been clarified in the Michigan Planning Enabling Act and the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (PA 110 of 2006, as amended). Specifically, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act references that the zoning board (now the planning commission) shall file with the legislative body “…a zoning plan for the areas subject to zoning…” (MCL 125.3305(a)).

Again, the zoning plan should explain how the land use categories on the future land use map relate to the districts on the zoning map. Recall that the zoning map is a depiction of the present designation of zoning districts to parcels of land in the community. The future land use map, on the other hand, is a depiction of future (20 years or more) uses of land. Therefore, differences between the two maps are highly likely to exist and the differences between the land use categories on the future land use map and the zoning districts on the zoning map are to be explained in the text of the zoning plan. It might take a number of re-zonings over time to achieve the future depicted on the future land use map, or new zoning districts may need to be created, or zoning districts might need to be combined or eliminated altogether. Whatever the reason for the differences, they need to be clearly explained and that is accomplished through the zoning plan.

Here are recommended contents of a zoning plan:

  1. A description of each of the zoning districts (including proposed new ones), the general purpose of each district, a general description of the class of uses to be permitted in each district and the general locations for those types of districts.
  2. A proposed schedule of regulations by district that includes, at least, building height, lot area, bulk and setbacks.
  3. A proposed zoning map showing the location of proposed zoning districts (not the official zoning map, but a depiction of zoning a handful of years in the future).
  4. The standards or criteria to be used to consider rezoning consistent with the master plan (e.g. as infrastructure is extended to a particular area).
  5. An explanation of how the land use categories on the future land use map relate to the districts on the zoning map.

If the concept of a zoning plan is still a bit foreign to you, it may be helpful to review a few examples:

For more information, you may wish to order the Michigan Planning Guidebook: For Citizens and Local Officials prepared by the Planning & Zoning Center at Michigan State University.

Related Events

Related Articles