Planning & Zoning in Michigan>How You Can Effect Change

Effective Citizen Planners

As a citizen, you may have considerable influence on the planning & zoning process at a local level.

We have four major units of local government: counties, cities, villages, and townships. Of these, counties are geographically the largest units. Townships are typically 36 square miles. Cities and villages fall within townships but have separate land use laws and government structures.

Consider these ideas for getting involved:
  • Depending on the issue and your local jurisdiction, it is sometimes possible to get notified of any applications for new construction, variances, special land uses, or planned unit developments. It never hurts to ask. Any large project or development will have a time set aside for public comment, make your voice heard!

  • Stay aware of what is happening in your community. Find out when projects are being proposed and learn about the impacts that projects will have on the surrounding area.

  • Try to look at issues holistically, taking many factors into account such as: economics, transportation, environment, education, and quality of life.

  • Be sure also to take into account the perspectives of the other people involved in the situation from neighbors to public officials to developers.

With a broad perspective, you will be ready to make an informed contribution to the process of planning. Consider getting involved in the process of making and changing the rules in your community, rather than simply fighting particular developments.

Become familiar with your local ordinances
Be effective at public hearings

Become familiar with your local ordinances

Being informed about your local zoning ordinance is crucial to being empowered to participate in planning and development decisions in your community. Your zoning ordinance contains all the important information about zoning decisions, procedures for appeals of these decisions, and what constitutes violations of the ordinance. Your local zoning ordinance also must comply with the requirements of the state zoning act which authorizes your local government to enact the ordinance.

You can request that your local zoning administrator or other government contact person send you a copy. This will be a long document and you may need to pay a reimbursement fee for copying expenses. Or, you can make an appointment to visit your local township/village/city hall and look over the document while you are there.

Be effective at public hearings

In some places, citizen input has been given a bad reputation and is referred to with names like NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). It is important to make an informed contribution. To make sure the information you present is useful:
  • Make sure it is information that can be considered by the committee; not all types of information are acceptable for consideration

  • Prepare your statement before hand, either by making a written statement given to the public body prior to the meeting, or by practicing the verbal statement you will make

  • Be succinct; get your message across in as few words as possible

  • Use examples to illustrate your points when applicable

  • Do your research; understand the rights of the various people involved including other property owners; get data to back up your concerns; find out what other communities have done in similar situations and what your community has done in the past.

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