Government planning coordination begins with review of master plans and zoning ordinances

Government planning commissions have the job of reviewing proposed neighboring municipal master plans; county planning commissions review township zoning ordinances.

Part of the process of adopting a zoning ordinance, or amendment, in Michigan is for township zoning, or amendment, to be submitted to the county planning commission for review.  Part of the process of adopting a Master Plan, or amendment, in Michigan is for that plan to be submitted to adjacent municipalities, the county planning commission, and regional planning agency for review. 

This review of township zoning, and all municipal plans in a county, is probably the single most important function a county planning commission has in performing its duties, and overseeing implementation of a county master plan. 

It should not be overlooked or neglected. Review of adjacent Master Plans, or amendments, by a municipality is also very important for purposes of starting to accomplish coordination between governments and keeping a regional perspective. Such reviews should be given the same priority as a planning commission’s review of a site plan or special use permit.  The review should not be overlooked or neglected.

According to the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, for a county review of township zoning, the county planning commission’s review is “for the purpose of coordinating the zoning ordinances proposed for adoption under this act with the zoning ordinances of a township, city, or village having a common boundary with the township.” 

Further, there is a deadline for this review: “The county will have waived its right for review and recommendation of an ordinance if the recommendation of the county . . . planning commission, . . . has not been received by the township within 30 days from the date the proposed ordinance is received by the county”

Thus a county’s comments on a township proposed zoning ordinance is based on two things:

  1. Coordinating the zoning ordinances proposed with the zoning ordinances of a township, city, or village having a common boundary.  However it is not enough to conduct a simple coordination.  There also needs to be judgment if the coordination issue – if any – is a result of the newly proposed zoning ordinance, or a result of issues with zoning in one of the surrounding municipality zoning ordinances. 
  2. Review against the county Master Plan, using the county Master Plan as the indicator of the future direction for the county as the determine if coordination issue caused by newly proposed zoning ordinance, or with neighboring existing zoning. 

Each review comment made by the county planning commission should be specific, and should include a direct citation to (1) adjacent zoning section where the coordination issue occurs, and (2) direct citation to the chapter and verse of the County Master Plan and working papers (e.g., page number, paragraph, or goal, objective, strategy enumeration).  Note: if the concern or comment cannot be directly tied to such direct citations then the comment should not be made by the county planning commission.

The review of a master plan may include much more than the boundary coordination concerns that review of zoning involves. For example, reviews of a master plan by a village, city, township or county planning commission should focus on:

  • First and foremost, the process is intended to increase coordination of planning between governments
  • Infrastructure which you have in common with the local unit of government creating the plan, such as boundary line roads, trail systems and parks
  • Natural resources you have in common such as a lake or river, the same watershed, special and unique areas
  • Economic labor market area for economic planning
  • Consistencies or inconsistencies with your government’s plan(s)
  • Border issues
  • Issues of greater than local concern
  • Comparison with local plan contents
  • Comparison with county/regional plan contents
  • Comparison to other relevant adopted plans (such as an historic preservation plan, local wetland protection plan, TIF or brownfield redevelopment plan, etc.)
  • Comparison to various implementation strategies

Each review comment made by the reviewing planning commission should be specific, and should include a direct citation to direct citation to the chapter and verse of the reviewer’s Master Plan/fact/data book (e.g., page number, paragraph, or goal, objective, strategy enumeration).  If the concern or comment cannot be directly tied to such direct citations then the comment should not be made.  Avoid temptation to advocate for other editorial comments at this time.  Save those for the 15-day public comment period and public hearing that comes later in the adoption process. 

Review of a master plan has to take place within the statutory deadline of 63 days for review (42 days for a master plan amendment).

One could argue that if a master plan was submitted and reviewed by a county planning commission, and all the issues (if any) had been worked out, and then a zoning ordinance prepared which is based on and follows that master plan, and submitted to the county planning commission, that there should not be any coordination issues for the county planning commission to raise concerning the proposed zoning.

For further guidance on the style, writing and construction of a review of master plan (which also applies to county review of township zoning), Michigan State University Extension has prepared this Land Use Series: “How Governments Make Submissions on a Neighbor’s or County’s Proposed Plan” May 1, 2008.

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