What is community planning all about? Duties and responsibilities

Issue Number 20
The Planning Commissioner
What every planning commissioner
should know
Great communities do not simply happen.
Great communities require careful planning
and committed stewards to ensure that
plans are implemented - intentionally and
consistently. Planning issues have the ability
to ignite emotions, and it is in the midst
of such situations that commissioners must
remember their role, their responsibility,
and maintain the practices that will keep
them out of court. While this article is
written primarily with new commissioners
in mind, for veteran commissioners it may
serve either as a gentle reminder of practices
forgotten, or as confirmation that they are
indeed operating correctly.
What is community
planning all about?
Duties and
The duties and responsibilities of a
planning commission are defined by the
Planning and Zoning Acts. The Acts were
passed in response to local governments
realizing the need for an independent,
non-political entity to make decisions and
recommendations regarding land use. All
planning commissioners should read and
have a basic understanding of the applicable
Acts in their community. If the Acts are not
understood, ask for and seek out training
(see Resources box,
page 8).
transactions, findings, and determinations,
which are usually incorporated as a part of
the minutes of each commission meeting.
The Planning Acts also make provision for
the most important duty of the commission:
the ability to prepare, maintain, and update
the community general development plan
(GDP). A GDP is also referred to as a master
plan, comprehensive plan, future land use
plan, or a combination thereof. The GDP
is the community’s blueprint for the future,
its vision. A comprehensive document,
the plan examines land use, transportation,
infrastructure, natural resources, housing,
economic development, agriculture, and
other key elements of the community. It is
long-range, intending to guide development
in the municipality over a planning horizon,
continued on page 2
The Planning
Acts give the local
Community planning is a process. It is
government the
a process for coordinating the impact
authority to plan and
that people and their activities have on
to create a planning
the physical and social environment in
commission. The
which they live. We plan to make our
Acts establish
communities better for the next generation, the formation
our children, and future residents to come.
and function
We plan to balance conflicting interests.
of a planning
Many times, development proponents are
commission, allow
seemingly at odds with those concerned
the commission
with protecting the environment and
to adopt by-laws,
maintaining a high quality of life. The reality and require that
is that all positions require champions. Held the commission
in tension, the interests balance one another, maintain a public
producing a stronger, healthier community. record of resolutions,
G — M A I KS M
0 6N SN AI RN YG —
Planning and
Zoning Public
• Township Planning Act: PA 168 of 1959, as
• Township Zoning Act: PA 184 of 1943, as
• Municipal Planning Act: PA 285 of 1931, as
• City and Village Zoning Act: PA 207 of 1921,
as amended.
• County Planning Act: PA 282 of 1945, as
• County Zoning Act: PA 183 of 1945, as
often 10 to 20 years. The plan sets forth
public policies that will be followed
regarding growth, development, and
redevelopment. The information
and concepts presented will guide
decision making throughout a planning
commissioner’s service and may guide
those planning commissioners who serve
in the years to come.
A few things commissioners should
know about a GDP:
The GDP is a visionary document, projecting
land use needs based on anticipated changes
in population and economic growth. Plan
policies and associated maps, particularly
the future land use map, serve to guide land
use decision making over a planning horizon
(often 10 to 20 years).
The zoning ordinance and map are tools
to implement the GDP. Zoning is the law,
regulating the activities allowed on a particular
piece of land today.
A common misconception is that the zoning
map must conform to the future land use map
immediately. Rather, changes to the zoning
map that occur over time should be consistent
with the land use designations recommended
on the future land use map. The timing of the
changes will depend on many local factors.
Changes to the zoning map can be initiated
by the government or private parties.
• The authority to prepare the GDP is
vested with the planning commission;
however, the governing body can
assert its option to approve the plan.
• When a community updates, amends,
extends, or revises the plan, a notice of
intent to the planning commissions in
the neighboring communities, and the
county, public utilities, railroads, and
other registered entities must be sent.
The commission must also provide
copies of the draft plan to these entities
and allow them the opportunity to
comment, and provide notification
of the public hearing. Neighboring
communities reciprocate the same
courtesy. Comments are advisory only.
• The planning commission must
review the GDP every five years
and determine whether amendments
or a new plan is necessary. If a
community’s plan is greater than five
years old, make its review the number
one priority for the coming year.
The Zoning Acts confer many other
duties to the planning commission:
• Rezoning Recommendations: The
process of changing the zoning
classification of a property on the
official zoning map. A rezoning may
be initiated by an applicant or the
planning commission. The legislative
body has the final approval. (Note:
county planning commissions review
rezoning proposals or zoning map
amendments for townships).
• Zoning Text Changes: The process
of amending the ordinance by
revising, adding, or clarifying an
existing requirement. Similar to a map
amendment, the legislative body has
final approval.
• Site Plan Reviews: The process of
The Zoning Acts provide the legal
authority to enact a zoning ordinance.
The zoning ordinance and associated
official zoning map provide the
regulatory mechanism for controlling
the classification and regulation of land
use. Zoning is the law, and it controls
land uses based on today’s conditions.
reviewing specific development
proposals to ensure compliance with
the zoning ordinance standards.
The zoning ordinance can convey
approval authority to the planning
Special Land Use Approvals: The
process of reviewing specific
development proposals to ensure
compliance with the zoning
ordinance and conformance with
specific criteria in the ordinance.
The zoning ordinance can convey
approval authority to the planning
Subdivision Plat Reviews: The
process for reviewing the location,
layout, and design of new
development. The legislative body has
final approval.
Capital Improvements Programming:
Preparation of a plan for capital
improvements that extends six
years into the future and is updated
Review of Public Works Proposals:
Review infrastructure improvements
for consistency with the GDP.
Every commissioner should be aware of
the difference between permitted uses
and special land uses (or conditional
uses) established by the Zoning Act, and
carried through by the zoning ordinance.
A permitted use, or principal permitted
use, is one that is granted by-right. For
permitted uses, the approving body
reviews the development proposal to
insure that it complies with the zoning
ordinance standards. Special land uses
are those that may be compatible with
permitted uses in the district, but possess
characteristics or qualities that require
individual review. Unlike reviews for
permitted uses, special land use reviews:
• Must demonstrate conformance
with specific criteria set forth in the
zoning ordinance.
• Allow the planning commission to
apply conditions to its approval.
• Require that the planning commission
issue a statement of its decision.
• Require a public hearing.
Of utmost importance is the statement
required by the planning commission.
This must contain the decision, basis
for the decision, and any conditions
imposed. This becomes part of the legal
record and will be closely examined
by a court of law should the applicant
decide to challenge the decision.
It is important for planning
commissioners to stay up-to-date
on special conditions and legislative
changes that impact local planning
decisions. For example, the Township
Zoning Act allows for a private
residence with a day care serving less
than seven children to be treated as a
permitted use in all residential zones,
including those zoned for single-family
dwellings. This is a different set of
standards than those applicable to day
care facilities that operate with seven
or more children. Such operations
may be subject to a special land use
review - a review that allows the
commission to deny the application
based on certain established criteria. The
commission can also impose restrictions
or conditions. Because larger day care
operations are more common, often
planning commissions will forget that
smaller day care facilities are treated as
The Grand Blanc Township Planning Commission established planning
benchmarks to create an unparalleled quality of life for its residents, now, and in
the future. (l. to r.) the Grand Blanc Township Planning Commission: Jim Wilson,
Linda Kingston (Clerk), Jay Hoffman, Dan Gellings (Chair), Trenton Smiley, Ed
Brown and Debra Lynn Tocarchick.
permitted uses. Also, a zoning ordinance
shall provide for and cannot exclude
those instructing crafts and fine arts
within single-family homes (e.g. piano
teachers). While the planner is there
to set the commissioner on the correct
path regarding reviews, knowing the
extent of the commission’s review can
save time during meeting preparation.
As is apparent from the dates of Act
Site plan review: What are the
decision making criteria?
Standards vary by community and must be listed in the zoning ordinance. In general, there are
three types of standards:
1. Plan Content: is all information required by the ordinance
provided on the site plan?
2. Discretionary: standards that require the planning
commission to use its judgment. For example, “Facades shall be
harmonious with the area.”
3. Non-discretionary: standards that are quantitative. For
example, “All sidewalks must be five feet wide.”
If the site plan demonstrates conformance with all standards,
then approval must be given. Although the planning commission
is able to impose conditions to a site plan, the conditions must
be related to meeting a specific ordinance standard.
adoption, planning followed zoning
in the legislature. Zoning evolved as
a result of public health conditions
in the early 1900s: building setbacks,
heights, and the separation of industrial
and residential uses. Zoning was a
tool to prevent dangerous, unhealthy
conditions. As communities established
and enforced zoning ordinances, the
need to zone according to a plan for
the future was realized, and it became
apparent that guidelines were needed
for the preparation of plans.
Today, communities with planning
commissions shall prepare and adopt
a plan. State law requires that the
ordinance be based on a plan. The
GDP thus forms the basis upon which
zoning decisions are made. With a plan
in place, zoning decisions consistent
with the plan have been presumed by
the courts to be valid; it is up to the
challenger to prove the municipality’s
action is not valid. Absent a GDP, or
with a pattern of decisions inconsistent
with the GDP, the courts may find a
municipality’s argument to be weaker,
leaving the community more vulnerable
to a negative ruling.
About site visits...
When an applicant submits an application, it
does not mean that planning commissioners
are allowed on the site at will. Never
physically walk the site without permission
from the property owner. Remember that
people can refuse access for a variety of
reasons, including liability, and it does not
mean that they are hiding something.
If permission has been granted to access the
site, keep the Open Meetings Act in mind.
Communicate with fellow commissioners.
Formation of a quorum for a site visit is a
violation of the Act!
An effective
The commissioner is a public figure.
The planning commission makes
decisions on behalf of the community
and in the best interest of the
community as a whole. This is not an
easy role, as many of a commissioner’s
responsibilities evoke strong emotions.
Actions, words, decisions, and
even facial expressions will impact
a commissioner’s effectiveness and
credibility. The following tips are
adapted from Welcome to the Commission,
A Guide for New Members by the
Planning Commissioners Journal and
the Planning Commissioners Toolkit by the
Michigan Association of Planning.
Plans are only effective when
implemented. Because many
implementation strategies go before the
board or council for final approval, the
board or council should be aware of the
commission’s direction. For example,
a township planning commission may
work very hard on ordinance language
to preserve agriculture. The commission
recommends ordinance language to
the board, which turns down the
amendment soundly. The result is anger
on behalf of the commission for time
and effort wasted, and mistrust by the
board for a commission that is acting
counter to the board’s agenda (the
board is also there to serve the public).
This is the worst scenario; the best
scenario is for commission and board to
be aware of planning activities and work
in concert toward the GDP vision.
Annual joint study meetings with the
planning commission and governing
body can help get everyone on the same
page from a policy perspective.
Be attentive: the person speaking
probably spent time preparing, perhaps
left work early, or hired a sitter to
appear before the commission. The
speaker is there to be heard, so do
listen attentively. Be polite: treat each
person with equal respect. One way to
show respect is to address the person
by name (tip: jot down the speaker’s
name after introductions). Be patient:
remember that allowing the public to
speak is part of the process. It may be
nearing midnight, but the first speaker is
just as important as the last. Be a good
listener: commissioners are there to
hear the public’s comment, consider it,
and make a decision. Do not respond
to emotionally charged or slanderous
Being a commissioner requires a
time commitment beyond that of
regular attendance at meetings. Prior
to the meeting, time should be
spent reviewing meeting materials,
formulating questions and, if necessary,
visiting sites to be discussed at the
meeting. As a new commissioner, it is
important to understand planning jargon
and acronyms to follow any discussions.
Also, remember that any decision must
be based on the content presented at
the meeting - the public record. Do
homework and keep an open mind.
Also, questions may be answered before
the meeting by contacting a staff planner
or other resource.
Do not give opinions about a proposal
to the applicant, residents, or other
commissioners. A polite refusal is
the correct response to requests for
your opinion outside of the meeting.
Keeping an open mind until all
information and comments have been
heard is the best course of action.
In serving the community in which
one lives and may work, conflicts of
interest may arise. If there is a remote
possibility that a decision will benefit
a commissioner personally, tell fellow
commissioners about the conflict and
ask to be allowed to abstain from the
vote. If unsure as to whether to remove
oneself, consult the community’s
Planning commissions follow
parliamentary procedure, which has
become synonymous with Robert’s
Rules. While strict application is not
always followed, the order is. For
example, according to Robert’s Rules
one should stand to be recognized by
the chair. More commonly, one raises
a hand to be recognized. Having a
basic understanding of meeting order
and terms often used will make a
commissioner feel more comfortable
and allow for more smoothly run
Many commissioners move to table an
item, when actually the correct action is to
postpone the item to a date certain. An item
should be tabled if it is to be acted upon again
later in the same meeting. Tabling refers to
a time when in Parliament, royalty would
come to address the assembled body and the
pending motion would literally be placed on
the table (tabled) until after the King or Queen
left the room. Then, the tabled item would be
removed from the table and debated.
Postponing an item is usually the most
appropriate motion to make when the intent
is to resume debate at another meeting. A
motion to postpone allows limited debate on
the merits of postponing; a motion to table
permits no debate from the members.
Eight things every planning
commissioner should know
Planning and Zoning Laws
Community’s Master Plan
Robert’s Rules of Order
The Open Meetings Act
Importance of maintaining accurate records
and stating findings of fact when approving,
approving with conditions, or denying a
The planning commission’s authority: when
the commission has final approval and
when it makes a recommendation to the
Legislative Body.
meetings. If a commissioner is
unfamiliar with this practice, obtaining
the handbook will serve well.
MAP offers many training opportunities,
as do other organizations around the state
and nation. Michigan State University
Extension office provides a Citizen
Planner program, which is designed
specifically for planning commissioners
and elected officials. And, planning
commissioners are in a position to
educate others - every meeting is
an opportunity to transfer technical
knowledge to the public.
Commissioners are selected because
of their concern for the future of the
community. As an example, Grand
Blanc Township in Genesee County
was so impassioned about land use
planning that the township set a new
standard in its master plan. In addition
to goals, objectives, and policies,
the planning commission established
planning benchmarks. Planning
benchmarks are standards, amenities,
and uses that other municipalities
have incorporated to enhance their
communities. It is anticipated that by
building on techniques that have proven
successful, the Grand Blanc Township
will create an unparalleled quality of life
for its residents, now, and in the future.
Remember, planning commissioners
are there to serve the residents of the
Past precedent: how the commission
has interpreted or applied ordinance
provisions in the past.
8. Proper meeting conduct: land use issues
can provoke strong emotional responses.
Always listen and treat people with
respect and understanding.
Finally, remember a planning commission’s
principal purpose is to serve the public
interest. A commission represents both those
in the audience and those who choose to not
attend the meetings.
community and carry out the functions
assigned by the legislative body.
Following the recommendations above
will enable a commissioner to build
trusted relationships with both and be
most effective as a commissioner.
Helpful hints to
prevent litigation
Due process comes from the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments of the United
States Constitution. Procedural due
process means that anyone has the right
to bring a development proposal before
the approving body—typically the
planning commission—and that people
impacted, or simply interested, have the
right to comment on the proposal.
Compliance with procedural due
process is an important part of planning
commission conduct. Regular meetings,
open to the public and properly posted,
are means for ensuring a fair process.
Public hearings are also a component of
due process. Residents may challenge
at a public meeting that they were not
properly notified. In response, a wellprepared planning staff may produce
proof of mailing. This exchange is more
than a test of staff competency; rather,
the notification is a component of
due process, and violation is cause for
action to be postponed or a case may be
challenged in a court of law. Another
example is the 2001 amendments
to the Planning Acts which require
reviews by adjacent communities. These
procedures must be followed or the plan
could be rejected by a court for not
following due process.
Preparing a GDP is an undertaking
that requires significant community
resources. However, many communities
experience frustration when their
adopted plan is not upheld in court.
For example, a community may adopt
a plan that has a map indicating the
Strengthening master plans
A community may face challenges, but there are some steps commissions can take to reduce the
potential for decisions against their plan:
Follow the notification procedure stipulated in the Planning Act before beginning the process.
Hold a public workshop to help determine the community’s vision for the future.
Prepare a land use plan based on population projections and economic growth.
Plan for adequate public services and facilities to match planned densities. Target higher
densities in areas planned for urban services.
5. Create a future land use plan based on identified goals, objectives, and policies that support
the plan.
6. Explain the intent of all maps and figures, whether conceptual or exact in nature (e.g., sewer
service areas).
7. Where possible, include factual, scientific data to support the plan recommendations.
8. Include opportunities for public input.
9. Submit the plan for review in accordance with the Planning Act.
10. Adopt the plan after a public hearing.
11. Examine the plan for necessary updates or amendments every five years.
boundaries of the public sewer system.
A few months later, the community is
sued over its decision to deny a request
to approve a development that requires
public sewer outside of the boundaries
shown on the GDP’s public sewer map.
The court allows the extension and
the community is outraged. Someone
cries out, “Why plan if developers
can do what they want anyway?”
While certainly a plan can and may be
challenged, there are steps a community
can take to reduce the potential for
decisions that are counter to plan
policies (see Strengthening master plans
sidebar, page 5).
Denied applications can end up in court.
Once there, the record will be examined
for the statement or recommendation
of denial by the planning commission.
Such a statement should contain the
conclusions relative to the request which
specifies the basis for the decision and
any imposed conditions. The zoning
ordinance, and review by the planner,
should provide a list of conditions used
by the commission to evaluate the
proposal. Inclusion of the conditions that
have not been met—the basis of denial—
must be in the statement, resolution, or
Zoning ordinances often leave room
for interpretation. When such situations
arise, it is possible that the commission
has encountered the application of the
ordinance provision before. If there
is a question regarding interpretation
or application of the ordinance, a
commissioner may wish to speak with
the planning director or planning
consultant prior to the meeting. If there
is not time, there is no problem with
bringing the question to the commission
as it may be a matter that other members
struggle with as well. In fact, if the
requirement is one that applicants
repeatedly trip on, it may be one that the
commission should address through an
ordinance amendment.
Planning news,
tools, and trends
There has been much talk of late over
takings, or the Takings Doctrine, with
the June 2005 Kelo v. City of New
London decision by the Supreme Court
of the United States. Takings refers to
a provision in the Fifth Amendment
of the United States Constitution that
affords the government the power of
eminent domain - the ability to take
private property for a public use without
the owner’s consent. Generally accepted
application of exercising the power of
eminent domain is for redevelopment
of blighted or abandoned land, or for
infrastructure projects (e.g. constructing
highways, railroad lines, and utility
corridors, and securing the rights-ofway for drains).
The latest “brick in the wall” of
takings case law came with the Kelo
decision. The July 2005 issue of
Planning and Zoning News provides an
excellent overview of the case and the
takings issue in general. To summarize,
the New London Development
Corporation (NLDC) prepared an
economic development plan that was
endorsed by the New London City
Council. The city authorized NLDC
to acquire property in its name,
in accordance with the plan. Plan
implementation involved taking private
residential property and handing it to
a private party for development of a
residential community. The landowners
whose private property was to be taken
filed suit and lost. The Supreme Court
of the United States ruled in favor of
the City of New London, citing that
under certain circumstances, economic
development is a legitimate public use.
However, it is important to note that
case law in Michigan sets a different
precedent. In November of 2004, the
Supreme Court of Michigan established
through its decision in Wayne County
v. Hathcock that exercising the power of
eminent domain to transfer property to
a private entity is only permissible if: 1)
the transfer involves a public necessity
of the extreme sort, such as highway,
railroad, or canal projects construction
projects; 2) the transfer requires that the
private entity remains accountable to
the public in its use of the property; and
3) the transfer itself is based on public
concern, like blighted housing (Justice
Ryan’s Dissent in County of Wayne v.
To further establish the use of eminent
domain, an amendment to Public Act
149 of 1911 was introduced by State
Representative Aldo Vagnozzi, D-37,
in August of 2005. The amendment
adds language that a “taking of private
property is not considered to be for the
use or benefit of the public if the property
is transferred to a private entity for the
primary benefit of the private entity.” The
amendment currently rests with the Senate
Government Operations Committee.
In January 2005, amendments to the
Zoning Acts were made that allow local
governments to enter into agreements
with developers for the rezoning of land
under certain circumstances (conditional
rezoning). The Act now states that a
landowner may voluntarily offer in
writing, and local governments may
approve, certain use and development
of land as a condition to a rezoning.
Recognizing that the conditions are
offered by the applicant is key; local
governments are prohibited from
requiring a landowner to offer items as a
condition to the rezoning (this practice
is referred to as an exaction).
The amendments give local
governments a tool that has previously
been unavailable in Michigan. As
pointed out in MAP’s Smart Growth
Tactics Issue No. 13, in the past
rezonings have been denied because
local governments feared that a rezoning
would open land to undesirable uses
should the proposed and potentially
desirable development fail to occur due
to unforeseen circumstances. Many
local governments would deny rezoning
is a tool that allows for creative
development. Under a PUD, a variety
of housing, non-residential uses,
recreational opportunities, and open
spaces can be incorporated into one
development. The result is a cohesive,
mixed-use community. Another
variation may provide for a residential
community built with flexible lot
sizes and reduced setbacks that enable
creative planning and permanent
preservation of open space.
A 2003 amendment permits a community to approve a planned unit development
with open space that is not contiguous to the rest of the development. This
technique allows permanent preservation of valuable agricultural land.
petitions that demanded infrastructure
improvements before the community
could provide them. The conditional
rezoning technique provides an avenue
for considering creative proposals for
development. The full extent to which
this new technique can be used is still a
matter of debate.
Local governments are advised to
prepare for conditional rezoning
applications by amending the zoning
ordinance to address this tool or by
adopting administrative provisions for
receiving, reviewing, and approving
applications. Procedures for enforcing
the ordinance, should the applicant
fail to meet the conditions of the
agreement, should also be understood.
The Joint Planning Commission Act,
Public Act 226 of 2003, provides a new
tool for two or more local governments
to plan together. The provisions of the
Act allow for flexibility: two or more
communities may either form one
planning commission that replaces their
individual commissions and governs the
collective land area of the jurisdictions; or,
two or more communities may form an
additional commission that would govern
a specific shared land area, while the
individual commissions would continue
to govern remaining land in their
jurisdictions. Municipal boundary lines do
not change, but planning areas can.
One application of this valuable tool
deals with the provision of land uses.
Michigan law requires that communities
provide for every land use. In the past,
a village and township may have agreed
to plan for and share commercial uses
within the village, where services and
downtown businesses exist. However,
such a decision left the township
vulnerable. If challenged, the township
would need to provide land for a
commercial use, which would then
compete with village stores. Moreover,
the rural township may not have the
resources to support an intensive use,
and may have a strong desire to remain
agricultural. With Act 226, the two
communities can legally share a common
commercial land designation, promoting
smart growth and targeting higher
density where services are available.
A Planned Unit Development (PUD)
PUDs have been allowed under the
Township and City and Village Zoning
Acts since 1979. However, a 2003
amendment allowed PUD to become
a land preservation technique. The Act
states that, unless explicitly prohibited
by the PUD regulations, a community
may approve a PUD with open space
that is not contiguous to the rest of the
development. Suppose a community has
a beautiful natural area noted in the GDP
as an “area for targeted preservation.”
A developer may purchase land in that
targeted preservation area, as well as a
second, non-contiguous parcel of land
within the water and sewer service
district. The developer could then
propose a PUD on the latter parcel,
with the open space requirement being
satisfied by permanent preservation
of the former. The concept is similar
to a Transfer of Development Rights
(TDR) program, whereby the density
of Parcel A is transferred to Parcel B,
resulting in Parcel A as a preserved open
space and Parcel B as appropriately and
more densely developed. However, the
traditional TDR concept of sending and
receiving zones, which has been used in
other states, is politically complicated and
challenging to implement. In contrast, a
density transfer through a PUD is much
simpler, as there is only one landowner
involved. Additionally, the community
only considers one proposal.
Packaged wastewater treatment plant
technology has and continues to improve.
Such systems are desirable for land
development because they can facilitate
Compact, walkable development and development of accessible mass
transportation systems that encourage walking and biking are strategies available
to suburban communities to become healthier.
development where soils prevent a
private septic system, or where private
systems have failed and public sewer is
not yet available. However, many local
governments have been apprehensive
about packaged systems due to their
reputation for being high maintenance
and past failure rates (and local
governments are the entity responsible for
the system in the event of a failure).
Communities use the provision of
sewer services to direct density to
certain geographic areas and preserve
other land from development, and to
“time” development. The advent of
reliable packaged plants means that
development can now occur at any time,
and at densities that were once limited
to the condition of the soil. A positive
result could be the ability to provide
cluster housing opportunities in rural
areas, leaving large tracts of open space
and/or agricultural land permanently
preserved. An undesirable result could
be patchy dense development in a
community ill-equipped to provide public
and emergency services to its rapidly
increasing population. To add more cause
for concern, the Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality no longer requires
consideration of local zoning requirements
as part of its review and approval of
packaged systems. Packaged wastewater
treatment plants provide new technology,
but have the ability to allow development
at densities not allowed and where other
infrastructure and/or services do not exist.
Communities, like people, can be
healthy or unhealthy. Michigan has one
of the country’s highest obesity rates
and urban sprawl is cited as playing a
contributing role. Many studies are
linking the two, and common sense tells
us that such a relationship is feasible.
Suburban communities promote travel
by car, not foot. Distances between
destinations, time constraints, safety
(particularly with regard to children),
and insufficient transit keep most people
in automobiles. This leads to decreased
physical activity, which can increase the
propensity for obesity and, subsequently,
increased cardiovascular disease,
diabetes, and other health problems
(source: American Journal of Public
Health). There are alternatives: compact,
walkable development and development
of accessible mass transportation systems
that encourage walking and biking.
And, there are strategies available to
suburban communities to become
healthier: allowing higher density
near existing transit stops, amending
ordinance requirements that encourage
sprawl, targeting density to city centers,
and developing a capital improvement
program for improvements to the
pedestrian environment. Communities
can also look at “programming” and
“partnering,” including 1) working with
schools to foster walking and riding bikes
to and from school; 2) encouraging new
non-residential developments to provide
bike racks and shower facilities for
employees; and 3) working with police
to eliminate or reduce public safety
threats in pedestrian areas.
There are many resources available
to planning commissioners: a staff
planner or consultant, MAP, MSU
Extension, and the American Planning
Association are just a few. While local
governments often operate as individual
entities, each community has an impact
and is impacted by its neighbors.
The planning commissioner has the
ability to make a difference in not just
the community, but the collective
community’s future. Public service can
provide many personal rewards and can
lead to community benefits that will last
for generations.
Vice President
Rodney L. Arroyo,
AICP, and Senior
Planners Amy R.
Golke, AICP, and Heidi M. Hannan,
AICP, of Birchler Arroyo.
American Planning Association, www.planning.org
Michigan Association of Planning, www.planningmi.org
Michigan Townships Association, www.michigantownships.org
Michigan Municipal League, www.mml.org
Urban Land Institute, www.uli.org
Michigan Land Institute, www.muli.org
Planning and Zoning News, www.pzcenter.com
Michigan Suburbs Alliance, www.michigansuburbsalliance.org
Clearinghouse of national planning and development
This publication was produced by the Michigan Association of Planning.
information maintained by Urban Insight
Photo and graphic credits: pages 1, 3, 7, and 8, Birchler Arroyo.