Metro Detroit public transit authority will be zoning exempt

An important strategy for economic development and placemaking for southeast Michigan, newly adopted legislation makes transit facilities exempt from zoning approval.

A recent action by the Michigan Legislature was to adopt a package of new laws which create the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. The goal of the legislation is to markedly improve public transportation in the Detroit metropolitan area. But one detail in the package of bills is to remove local zoning authority over where and how public transit facilities and the public transportation system are built.

The sovereign powers of government generally rest with state governments. In Michigan, local governments obtain their authority and powers by delegation by the state to them. For example, the Michigan Legislature adopted the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act. That statute is what enables local governments to have the authority to adopt and enforce zoning ordinances.

But that authority comes with strings, and just what that power includes can change over time. In this case the change is that local governments no longer have zoning authority over Southeast Michigan Transit Authority public transit facilities and the public transportation system.

Senate Bill 912 was adopted in December 2012, and is now P.A. 389 of 2012. That bill amends the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act to exempt southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority public transit facilities from local zoning ordinances or regulations which conflict with coordination directives of the Authority (MCL 125.3205(1)(b)). Because the bill did not gain enough votes to take immediate effect, the amendment will become effective around March 28, 2013. 

Once a community knows where a transit station will be located, then it is time to review and possibly change the community’s master plan and zoning for that immediate area. A transit stop or station can be a major advantage for the community it’s located within. With the emphasis on local government strategies to focus on the new economy, including placemaking , transit stops become important nodes of activity, concentration of commercial, business and social activity, and housing density.

See the following Michigan State University Extension news articles for further discussion of this truth:

Studies show that the land values around transit nodes can increase from 6 percent to 30 percent in Philadelphia; Portland, Ore. Tampa, Fla. and Seattle, Wash. A municipality will want to make sure its planning and zoning encourage – or at least accommodate for – such development.

Modification of what local zoning has authority over changes with regularity. One of the tools Land Use Educators with Michigan State University Extension created is a flyer that lists current restrictions on zoning authority: “Land Use Series: Restrictions on Zoning Authority.”

For example, in 2002 there were 43 preemptions listed in the flyer. Today there are 52 preemptions listed. Items have both been added and taken off of the list. Preemptions can occur due to an action of the legislature, as is the case with the transit authority, but also happens through actions of courts and the federal government.

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