Zoning laws around land and houses

Zoning, Variances, and Land Use

It is important to understand that mere ownership of land does not provide an unrestricted right to whatever you choose with the land, there are limitations on a landowner’s uses for their property. Local governments can impose reasonable regulations on the use of privately-owned land through zoning ordinances. While such restrictions may sound like governmental overreach on your rights as a landowner, thought of another way, it is a way the community maintain community standards and protect property values.  

Most communities have a master plan and zoning ordinances in order to effectively balance the interests and rights of individual owners and the community at large. Master plans generally identify appropriate land uses for certain areas, often identifying areas for residential, commercial and recreational uses, taking into consideration development and community needs. Zoning ordinances are a way to carry out the master plan, establishing districts and regulations that regulate land development. These zoning laws establish development districts that regulate land development. Often times, these ordinances are focused on segregating incongruent land uses, such as preventing factories from opening up in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood. While zoning ordinances do place limits and prohibitions on the types, sizes, and other uses, these limits are not absolute. Michigan law allows for flexibility and allows zoning boards to grant variances to property owners seeking to depart from these rigid restrictions.

There are two types of variances that a zoning board will consider, non-use variations and use variations. Use variations are just that, asking to use a property for a use inconsistent with what it has been zoned for. An example of a use variation would be using residential property for non-residential purposes. Non-use variances have conforming uses (i.e. building a home in a residential zone) but instead, refer to dimensional restrictions. Common dimensional, non-use restrictions include height limits, property setbacks, landscaping, parking, or other similar restrictions.  The differences of these matter for purposes of requesting a variance.

It is important to understand the variance request because the required proof is different for each of them. For a non-use variance, an applicant must show that a strict application of the ordinance would case practical difficulties for the applicant. For instance, if a person is unable to build a house on a lot due to property line setback requirements, then a variance of those setbacks may be appropriate in order to allow them to avoid practical difficulties. In order to get a use variance, an applicant must show that they will endure an unnecessary hardship if the variance is not granted and they are not able to use the land as requested. Essentially, they must show that the land cannot be used as it is currently zoned, the plight is due to circumstances peculiar to the property and not the neighborhood, that the use would not alter the character of the area and that the problem is not self-created. Once the municipality makes a final decision regarding the zoning ordinance and availability of a variance, a land owner can then seek redress in the appropriate court if necessary.

Special use permits are another way to avoid zoning restrictions. These are different than variances in that variances are essentially asking the zoning board to disregard the current laws to allow use and require proof of practical difficulties or unnecessary hardships, whereas special use permits conform with the law requires a showing that the proposed use meets the conditions in the ordinance. For a special use permit, it must relate to uses allowed in a zoning district, provided they meet certain conditions set out in the ordinance related to adverse impacts on the neighboring area. A common example of this would be allowing a home business such as a daycare.

Ordinances can vary from community to community so it is best to consult with an experienced real estate attorney that is familiar with and thoroughly understands municipal law. If you have questions or concerns regarding any of these real property issues, contact the Law Offices of Kathryn M. Wayne-Spindler, P.C. at (248) 676-1000 today to discuss your rights and options. Our office can assist you with your zoning needs and guide you through the process. The attorneys at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates are experienced attorneys who change with the times to meet the needs of their clients.  Contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000 for assistance. The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates practice law throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, WashtenawGenesee and Livingston counties as well as four mid-Michigan counties ClareGladwinOgemaw and Roscommon. The attorneys handle cases in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White LakeWixom; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; West Bloomfield; Linden; Fenton; Flint; Grand Blanc; Holly; South Lyon; New Hudson; Howell; Clare; Gladwin; Houghton Lake; Higgins Lake; and many more Michigan communities.