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Re: E-M:/ Contract Zoning? strict rules or legal loophole

Enviro-Mich message from Andrew Mutch <andrewimutch@yahoo.com>

I had several problems with the Detroit News

1) If your Master Plan is out-of-date, the solution
isn't contract zoning. The solution should include
going through the proper process to update it or at
least to approve an amendment that reflects the change
that is desired. We need more incentives to have
up-to-date Master Plans, not fewer of them. A
requirement of contract zoning should be that the
agreement doesn't violate the underlying Master Plan.
But I bet that isn't a requirement in most

2) The editorial reflects a basic misunderstanding of
the difference between rezoning and site plan
approval. Any Planning Commissioner who's been through
a basic planning commission training course
understands that promises made by developers at the
time of rezoning (absent a zoning process like a PUD
[planned unit development]agreement) don't have any
legal weight when it comes time to review a site plan.
Legal counsel will generally advise commissioners not
to consider a plan proposed with a rezoning because
there's nothing to hold the developer to such plans.
If the developer promises to "only build 30 homes" but
the rezoning will allow 150, you can bet that the
developer will come forward with a site plan with 150
homes. The News implies there's a problem with the
current process - there's not a problem with the
process, there's a problem with people's expectations
or understanding of how the process works. 

3) Does Contract Zoning allow communities to get more
from developers than they would otherwise get? Perhaps
- but it likely depends on whose asking and for what.
In high growth communities like Novi or Canton or
similar communities across the state, you can probably
make demands on developers that they'll be willing to
meet in order to get higher density or a change in
zoning. But if you're living in an area where there's
not such a demand, you'll probably have less success
getting developers to agree to such demands. It also
requires local officials who are savvy and know the
value of what they are trading for in contract zoning.
I've seen plenty of local officials who have gladly
approved projects and rezonings on promises of
amenities that cost the developer little but cost the
community a lot in terms of traffic, demands on
infrastructure, etc. 

4) The editorial assumes that local officials will do
the right thing when it comes to contract zoning. But
there are plenty of examples where local officials
haven't done the right thing with basic zoning
decisions. What makes contract zoning agreements more
dangerous is that they are next to impossible to
undue. You can always rezone a property if you find
the zoning problematic. But how do you undue a
contract zoning if you decide it doesn't work?

Many communities have been stuck with PUD agreements
(essentially a form of contract zoning) that have sat
dormant for years and suddenly have been resurrected
by developers with intentions of completing the plans
much to the surprise of people in surrounding areas
unaware of the PUD agreements. They also often lock
the properties into the zoning standards of the time
period when they are approved, which means as a
community improves its zoning ordinance, the contract
zoned areas may not have to meet such higher

Having said all that, I'm not 100% down on contract
zoning. There may be situations where a proposal is a
good one for a community but it doesn't 100% fit the
community's zoning ordinance. In those cases, contract
zoning may allow a development to move forward that
fits the spirit of the Master Plan but not the letter
of the zoning ordinance. 

Or a savvy community may be able to get amenities it
couldn't otherwise ask for in exchange for a rezoning.
(Personally, I think it would be much more beneficial
to communities to give them the ability to extract
impact fees from new development versus getting the
ability to enter into contract zoning.) 

But I think overall it has the potential for a lot of
mischief. I think many communities are going to be
talked into contract zoning by developers without
understanding what they are getting into or what they
are giving away. As Rob noted, it might even be used
to introduce uses that otherwise would not be
permitted under the existing zoning. (I haven't read
the specific bills yet - can someone post links to
those to the list?) Also, I have concerns about how
that affects the ability for residents to challenge
bad zoning decisions. The right to referendum on
zoning decisions is well-established. But what about a
zoning change made through contact zoning? 

Andrew Mutch

--- RobC313@aol.com wrote:

> Hello anti-sprawlers, development do-gooders,
> environmental health  activists 
> and urban environmentalists
> Below is a link to a Det News Editorial on new laws
> before Gov. Granholm  
> regarding zoning, "outdated master plans" and
> Contract Zoning. I assume any  
> contract contents would be negotiable so it would
> only be bad if a  City allows a 
> bad contract. But as a councilperson for an urban 
> industrialized community I 
> am concerned about anything that might  allow a
> "dirty" facility to be located 
> in our City even if  through negotiations. For
> example, our Zoning Ord 
> currently forbids the  processing of hazardous waste
> even in our industrial zones 
> and I would not want  to lose that clear cut
> intention. 
> Could I hear from a few of the Environmental Orgs
> referred to in the  article 
> as being supportive of this or maybe it would be
> more instructive  to hear 
> from those not mentioned?
> Thanking you for your time
> Rob Cedar
> Councilperson- City of Hamtramck  
> Director- HEAT- Hamtramck Environmental Action Team

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