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E-M:/ Open Space in Zoning(HB 4995) -- Townships should Get On Board!

Enviro-Mich message from "Anne Woiwode" <anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org>

Dear Enviro-Michers:

I am troubled that the Michigan Townships Association is flat out opposing a
bill that would allow for protection of open space by creating zoning
districts that cluster houses in less dense residential zoning districts in
exchange for designating at least 50% of the land as permanent protected
open space.  As a township trustee, I have received the alerts from MTA that
raise concerns about HB 4995 (sponsor Ruth Johnson) primarily because of
interference with local control, but I think this shortsightedness is a
serious mistake, and urge Township officials who care about sensible land
use to speak up FOR HB 4995!  Two other bills (HB 5029 sponsored by Chris
Kolb and HB 5028 sponsored by Randy Richardville) address the same issues in
the municipal zoning act and county zoning act respectively.

Below is a summary of HB 4995, which was crafted over a long time involving
extensive debate and discussion among many interest groups who all, for very
different reasons, see a benefit in actually encouraging protection of open
space, farmlands, woodlands, natural areas, etc., by allowing for clustering
of houses in low density residential areas if protection of the open space
is guaranteed. Right now, in many communities, such clustering is very
difficult to achieve -- often, as in my community of Meridian Township, the
mechanism for providing for this clustering is only available under
ordinances that impose additional steps on the proposer, making it in fact a
significant burden to do clustering and protect open space, when it ought to
be encouraged!

So why should it be mandated at the state level?  Because, as our community
can attest, even with the best of intentions this kind of simple, straight
forward, intelligent design approach to land use often does not get put in
place because communities have so many other priorities.  And this kind of
zoning option is something that has benefit for all Michiganders --
intelligent use of infrastructure through clustering, protection of wildlife
areas, reduced paving for roads, protect farmland, and otherwise enhance our
communities.  And, the bill allows communities six months to figure out how
they would do this if they wish, but assures that the standard is in place
in a timely fashion after it becomes law. And I would hope, if the Townships
have ideas for how to improve the bill, they would bring those out, but
right now they are simply piling on opposition in a "just say no" mode.

HB 4995 is scheduled now to be up on the floor of the Senate next week, and
I hope ANYONE who is concerned about really getting a handle on the loss of
open space, including farmland, and woodlands to sprawl, will weigh in with
your Senator NOW (see below for details).

Anne Woiwode
(Taken from the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis of the bills):

House Bills 4995 (H-4), 5028 (H-4), and 5029 (H-4) would amend the Township
Zoning Act, the County Zoning Act, and the City and Village Zoning Act,
respectively, to require that local units with a zoning ordinance include
certain open space provisions for residential development. These
requirements would apply beginning six months after the bills' effective

The zoning ordinances would have to allow a land owner to develop land zoned
as residential by, in effect, clustering residences on one portion of the
land and leaving the remaining land perpetually in an undeveloped state.
(The bills would define "undeveloped state" as a natural state preserving
natural resources, natural features, or scenic or wooded conditions;
agricultural use; open space; or a similar use or condition. Land in an
undeveloped state would not include a golf course but could include a
recreational trail, picnic area, children's play area, greenway, or linear
park, and could be dedicated to the use of the public.) These proposed
ordinances would be known as the "Open Space Preservation" provisions.

Under House Bills 4995 (H-4) and 5028 (H-4), township and county zoning
ordinances would have to state that the land owner could develop a portion
of the land with the same number of dwelling units currently allowed on the
whole parcel of land. The remaining percentage of land, as specified in the
zoning ordinances but not less than 50%, would have to remain perpetually in
an undeveloped state by means of a conservation easement, plat dedication,
restrictive covenant, or other legal means running with the land. House Bill
5029 (H-4) contains identical provisions for city and village zoning
ordinances, except that the amount of open space preserved would have to be
at least 20%. Land developed in this way would be subject to other
applicable ordinances, laws, and rules, including rules relating to
suitability of soils for on-site sewage disposal for land not served by
public sewers, and suitability of groundwater for on-site water supply for
land not served by public water.

All three bills specify the conditions necessary for a land owner to
exercise this development option. In addition to the percentage requirements
above, they include requirements that the land be zoned at a density
equivalent of two or fewer dwelling units per acre or, if the land were
served by a public sewer system, three or fewer dwelling units per acre;
that the development not depend on the extension of a public sewer or public
water system, unless other development of the land also would depend on such
an extension; and that the land not already have been developed in a similar

After a land owner exercised the open space development option, the land
could be rezoned accordingly.

HB 4995 is slated to move on the floor of the Senate next week, so PLEASE
AMENDMENTS (not sure who is your Senator? Connect to the Michigan Senate
webpage and get that info, as well as phone #s, emails, fax numbers, etc.:

We understand that at least two weakening amendments may be offered, and

1) OPPOSE EFFORTS TO REMOVE THE MANDATE:  The reality is that this will ONLY
happen if it is required, and there are good, solid options for communities
that wish to approach this in a different way.  This will NOT take away
local control -- all zoning ordinances in the state are based on state law,
and this provision is a key to much smarter growth.

offered to use the open space for stormwater run-off, which would
automatically guarantee less protection for farmland, open space, etc.
Dealing with stormwater is something that is REQUIRED already, and giving a
benefit to developers to do something they are already required to do is NOT
a good idea.

Senator Gougeon (R- District 34) also favor the above two measures. He
really needs to hear that this is a good bill as is, and people do not think
crafting an ordinance is a large local control issue) His office can be
reached at 517-373-1777.

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