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Making Smart Growth Happen For Michigan

An action plan

May 1, 1998 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Six years ago a governor-appointed task force identified the "absence of land use planning that considers resources and the integrity of ecosystems" as the state's most serious environmental problem. Since then, the Department of Agriculture, the House Republican Policy Committee, the Michigan Society of Planning Officials, and a Natural Resources Commission task force all have recommended strengthening state laws to combat sprawl.

Despite these findings, Lansing mostly has ducked. One reason is the lingering memory of the losing battle waged in the early 1970s to establish a statewide planning program. Local government leaders, representing the more than 1,800 county, township, city, and village governments with zoning authority, strongly objected. They feared a state program would erode their control. In addition, development interests opposed any program that might determine where new construction could occur.

A generation later, a growing grass roots movement is calling on the Legislature and the Governor to try afresh. Additional pressure is coming from candidates for public office who are embracing the need to curb sprawl.

The Institute has worked with the Michigan Environmental Council and other public interest organizations to develop the following Action Plan. Based on original research, and applying models from other states, its aim is to establish a statewide growth management program that does not diminish the authority of local governments.

Our goal is to work with local officials, state lawmakers, and citizen groups to build a larger consituency for this Action Plan, and gain passage of a Smart Growth Act by the year 2000.

1. Pass legislation to establish a 30-member Smart Growth Commission.
• The Governor and the Legislature are charged with appointing members to the commission.
• Members include citizens, farmers, local government leaders, academic experts, professional planners, members of the House and Senate, chamber of commerce executives, and staff members of public interest organizations.

2. Give the Smart Growth Commission one year to hold public hearings in at least 20 communities across the state, to consider ideas from citizens and to publish a report that establishes statewide planning goals that:
• Enhance economic development and shared prosperity.
• Make cities more livable.
• Provide sufficient and affordable housing.
• Preserve small towns and a community's sense of place.
• Protect natural resources.
• Confirm and enhance the authority of local governments to oversee uses of land.
• Ensure clean air, clean water, and wild habitat for plants and animals.
• Ensure an adequate land base for agriculture, forestry, mining, and recreation.
• Safeguard cultural and historic heritage.
• Link land use and infrastructure planning.
• Reduce municipal expenses.
• Encourage transportation alternatives.
• Promote collaboration and cooperation among state and local governments, and among state agencies.
• Establish a state role in resolving land use disputes.
• Ensure a state role in overseeing and enforcing the growth management program.

3. Engage in legislative debate and convert the findings of the Smart Growth Commission into the Smart Growth Act by the year 2000. The new law will:
• Set formal statewide planning goals.
• Require county governments within two years to write master plans and enact ordinances that are consistent with the statewide planning goals. Appropriate $15 million to support these efforts.
• Require cities, townships, and villages within five years to write master plans and enact ordinances that are consistent with the statewide planning goals. Appropriate $50 million to support these efforts.

4. Enact a second law to implement the Smart Growth Act.
• Establish a new division in the Department of Management and Budget to dispense grants, provide technical assistance, and coordinate the land use and infrastructure investment activities of state agencies.
• Establish an oversight process for enforcing the goals of the Smart Growth Act by directing counties to work in collaboration with local governments to ensure that the planning goals of the act are put into effect consistently.
• Enable state agencies to give priority status for public investments in planning, state revenue sharing, infrastructure grants, and other economic investment to those communities that adopt statewide planning goals.
• Encourage the Michigan Supreme Court to designate a special panel made up of existing members of the Court of Appeals to adjudicate land use disputes.
• Appropriate $5 million annually to support the new special court panel, the new Management and Budget division, and local government oversight.

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