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E-M:/ Developers Win in Legislature

Enviro-Mich message from juliemec@sojourn.com (Julie Stoneman)

News from the Land Stewardship Initiative. . .
. . . A Project of the Michigan Environmental Council

***House Sides with Developers on Critical
        Land Use Debate****

Developers win.

That pretty much sums up yesterday's House debate on
amendments to the Land Division Act (PA 591 of 1997
--formerly known as the Subdivision Control Act).   The
Michigan Farm Bureau, MEC and the Michigan Townships
Association worked hard to get some decent fixes to the
seriously flawed Land Division Act, but instead were
rolled over (again) by the combined lobby of the
Michigan Association of Realtors and the Michigan
Association of Home Builders.

The outcome - a bad statute will get worse if signed
(likely) by Engler.

It became a showdown between dueling Dems, Rep.
Howard Wetters and Rep. Tom Alley (both likely vying to
run for Republican Sen. Joel Gougeon's seat in 1998) with
Alley the day's victor.  Pressure mounted outside of Chambers
when the board members of both the Farm Bureau and
the Realtors Association showed up to speak directly
with legislators.  Republicans were significantly rattled
by the Farm Bureau's efforts so they broke for caucus and
took a vote among themselves to delay the bill, a move
that was defeated.

The vehicle was Sen. Leon Stille's SB 345, which changed
the DEQ on-site sewer and water requirements for land divisions
exempt from platting.  PA 591 required the use of DEQ rules
for any parcels created for development site at the time of
division.  SB 345 would amend PA 591 to limit the review to small
parcels at the time of any building construction.

With Wetters' help, the MFB and MEC had hoped the House
would restore some of the DEQ oversight authority at the time
of division (a consumer protection measure to assure
lots created were buildable) as well as get some critical
amendments passed to correct other flaws in PA 591.
Alley championed the cause of the development lobby
and successfully got the House to concur with the Senate's
DEQ fix as well as stopping other substantive changes to
PA 591.

Of the other changes attempted, The most critical was broader
local control to administer the statute.  Instead, the House
voted in line with the Senate, opting to restrict local control
to only the size, depth and width of parcels created
from land divisions exempt from platting.  This means
locals will have no ability to assure that land divisions
meet local zoning or other requirements--even though the
law requires local approval.  Hundreds of communities
have already adopted ordinances to administer the
Land Division Act since it went into effect this Spring, those
are now up for challenge.

Another key amendment which House members voted
down was to scale back the number of divisions
allowed in the ten year, automatic redivision process.
Depending on the size of an original or "parent parcel',
landowners receive a certain number of exempt
splits now and then again every ten years.  Wetters
tried to scale it back from ten divisions to four but
was unsuccessful.

The excessive number of allowable splits every ten years
without platting guarantees sprawl.  Combined with the
ability of landowners to accumulate exempt land
divisions overtime and the lack of local control will create
a huge loophole in the current statute, enablng developers
to circumvent the platting process (i.e. full public review for
health and safety concerns) when siting subdivisions.

Wetters and others were able to get some changes
made--enforcement provisions and a means for local
government to track tranfers of exempt land divisions.
But overall, serious problems will remain with PA 591 (some-
thing that even Alley admitted).  As a last effort, Wetters
offered a substitute to SB 345 to repeal PA 591, but it was
defeated by a vote of 68 to 34.

The best description of what all this means is Wetters summary
remarks on the House floor to membersafter the Alley substitute
for SB 345 passed:

". . .the bill is still seriously flawed!  With no clear local
ordinance authority many existing local ordinances will
be successfully challenged and overturned.  Developers
will have a field day!  And in the mean time who loses
most, the citizens who have to live with the confusing
mess the legislature has created.

"This bill lets people create and sell lots people can't build
on.  This bill allows developers and realtors to overturn
local ordinances.  This bill promotes the proliferation of
development on prime farmland.  This bill will not fix the
problems PA 591 created.

"Never time to do it right, always time to do it over.  Stay
tuned folks, we'll try again this fall to do it right."

Julie Stoneman
Director of Land Programs
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette Dr., Suite 2A
Lansing, MI  48912
ph:     517-487-9539
fax:    517-487-9541
email:  juliemec@sojourn.com

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