Zoning decisions travel with the land and are not temporary

Zoning administrative decisions are permanent, not temporary. Zoning decisions are specific for the parcel of land and not to an individual person who sought the zoning permit/approval.

There are two basic principles of zoning that are frequently misunderstood:  Zoning administrative decisions are permanent, not temporary; and the zoning decision is attached to the parcel of land, not just for the person who sought the approval.

Both of these points remain a constant source of questions sent to Michigan State University Extension educators who specialize in land use, planning and zoning issues.

Zoning administrative decisions are permanent

Zoning administrative decisions are permanent, and cannot be made temporary, nor have expiration dates. Zoning administrative decisions include issuing a zoning or land use permit, a special use permit, variance, a planned unit development handled like a special use permit and site plan review.

A zoning decision is supposed to be approved, or denied, based on its impacts on the land. If it is OK to be approved, then it should always be OK. If it did not work this way, then many may choose not to build, open a business, etc. because of the risk that approval might be withdrawn. Such a withdrawal of a permit creates large problems with one’s constitutionally protected private property rights.

The long standing rule of law is that zoning administrative decisions are permanent. An applicant has the right to expect the local government decision is a firm commitment.

One exception to this principle is when the administrative decision covers mining, a finite resource. In those cases, the mining operation is complete when the mineral or aggregate is gone, meaning the mining permits can go away when the resource is spent.

Zoning permits travel with the land

The second commonly misunderstood principle is that zoning permits are attached to, and travel with the person and situation for which they are issued. Those permits are not issued with the idea they are only for the individual person(s) who applied for the approval. Zoning administrative decisions cannot be restricted to a person.

A zoning decision is supposed to be approved or denied based on its impacts on the land and that particular location. If it is OK to be approved for that location and a particular parcel, then it should be OK no matter who owns the land. When property is sold, the zoning approvals, permits, variances and nonconformities also go to the new owner. The new owner can then continue the approved land use.

The long standing rule of law is that zoning approvals stay with the land. An applicant should have the right to expect those approvals are a part of the property that can be bought and sold to others.

If it did not work this way, then many may choose not to build, open a business, etc. because of the risk of losing the property value that comes along with that zoning approval. This also centers on one’s private property rights in such circumstances.

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