Changes to Site Selection GAAMP mean communities have greater opportunity to plan for food systems

Michigan law requires local governments to provide for all lawful land uses where there is a demonstrated need. Is there any greater need than food?

Michigan law requires local governments to provide for all lawful land uses where there is a demonstrated need. Is there any greater need than food? Photo Credit: Jim Sluyter, Michigan Land Use Institute l MSU Extension

Michigan law requires local governments to provide for all lawful land uses where there is a demonstrated need. Is there any greater need than food? Photo Credit: Jim Sluyter, Michigan Land Use Institute l MSU Extension

Recently, the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development amended the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for Site Selection and Odor Control for New and Expanding Livestock Facilities, known as Site Selection GAAMP for short. The changes are outlined in the Michigan State University Extension article, New Right to Farm Act Siting GAAMP now in effect.

In short, the changes to the Site Selection GAAMP mean local governments now have zoning authority over livestock operations in ‘primarily residential’ areas (note: the term ‘primarily residential’ is a new definition in the Site Selection GAAMP). The changes are of major interest to individuals working to develop community food systems, including small farm operators in urban and suburban communities, local food advocates and consumers of local food.

Some see the changes as threating to the local food movement, yet the changes may actually facilitate the expansion of community food systems. Previously, many local governments were hesitant to include provisions in their master plans and zoning ordinances on community food systems and urban agriculture because of the preemption language in the Right to Farm Act. Now, communities have the authority to plan and zone for livestock agriculture because the Site Selection GAAMP amendment defines areas where livestock facilities, regardless of the number of animals, do not comply with the Site Selection GAAMP and therefore do not earn nuisance protection and local ordinance preemption under the Michigan Right to Farm Act (PA 93 of 1981, as amended, being MCL 286.471 et seq.).

Now that local governments have the authority to address livestock agriculture in their plans and ordinances, there is opportunity to work out compromises and conditions with respect to the types of community agriculture that will be acceptable to most people and where those different types might be appropriate, rather than an ‘all or nothing’ approach that many communities felt they were bound by.

Michigan law (Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, PA 110 of 2006, as amended, being MCL 125.3101 et seq.) includes a mandate that local governments with zoning must provide for all lawful land uses somewhere within the political jurisdiction where there is a demonstrated need (MCL 125.3207). One could argue that in every community there is a need for fresh, local livestock products, as food and fiber is essential to human existence. Perhaps the evidence of rising energy prices and a changing climate provides more support for the need to have locally raised and produced food. Looking through this legal lens, Michigan local governments with zoning authority may want to engage in a planning process to consider where livestock agriculture is and is not appropriate.

Keep in mind, local governments must also protect public health, safety and welfare, and there are ‘spillover effects’ associated with livestock agriculture in an urban setting that will need to be considered and mitigated using certain zoning provisions. Further, potential environmental and health impacts may amount to setting some areas of a community off limits to new small livestock facilities, after all that is the purpose of zoning. Yet, considering the ‘demonstrated need’ framework, community-wide bans on [small] livestock facilities may no longer pass legal tests of exclusionary zoning absent strong evidence of environmental and health impacts associated with small livestock facilities.

In summary, the rule change means there is good reason for advocates of community food systems and local officials to begin meaningful discussions on this subject. A best practice approach would be to organize constructive conversations with diverse interests in the community as a start to the planning process. Conversations could include:

  • Community planners
  • Small farmers
  • Farmers market manager
  • Food co-op representative
  • Chamber of commerce
  • Sewer system and storm sewer operator
  • Local foods initiative group
  • Traditional restaurants
  • Retail grocers
  • Food bank
  • Neighborhood association or representatives
  • Soil conservationist
  • MSU Extension educators
  • Others

Conversations on planning for animal agriculture may benefit from facilitation by an outside group such as Michigan State University Extension educators with expertise in civic engagement, conflict resolution and facilitation.

In addition to this article, Michigan State University Extension educators have also prepared:

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