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SG-W:/ Rezoning request in York Township [long response!]



Cindy,

Challenging a rezoning request has the potential to be a
long-and-drawn-out affair - sometimes early opposition will scare off a
developer but many times they are in it for the long haul.  Be prepared
to commit a lot of time and energy to this challenge both in attending
meetings and doing research.

Your effectiveness in challenging a rezoning is often dependent upon the
attitude of your Township Board and Planning Commission.  If they are
generally sympathetic to your position, simply providing them the facts
and support can sway them to your side -- you can assist them by
providing them with the factual reasons for denying the rezoning.  On
the other hand, if these bodies are "pro-development", often no amount
of facts is going to dissuade them from supporting the rezoning.  If you
are new to the local political scene, try to touch base with those
people who have already been active in development issues - there are
probably some people on the "smart-growth" list - they'll let you know
who your allies are and who you need not waste time talking to.  Plus,
they can assist you in gathering information to help make your case.

Doing research is one of the biggest parts to challenging a rezoning.
The first step is to contact the Township and find out exactly what the
applicant is proposing in terms of rezoning.  Next, get a copy of the
zoning ordinance and the Township master plan to find out what the
applicant is allowed to do under the current zoning and compare that
with what is allowed under the proposed rezoning.  Ignore any concept
plans that the applicant shows and focus on what the zoning allows --
concept plans are just that, "concepts", and in most cases, the
applicant won't be legally bound by the plans if they actually get the
rezoning.  If they propose to build 300 homes and the rezoning would
allow 600 homes, argue that position - there is nothing to stop them
from coming back with 600 homes if they get the rezoning.  Also, compare
the rezoning proposal with the Township Master Plans to see if it is
consistent with the plan.  If not, this is your biggest argument against
it.  If the proposal is consistent with the MP, you need to start
working on having that re-examined so that the MP more accurately
reflects the goals of the community.  It makes it a much tougher case
but not an impossible one.  Remember, the Master Plan is a long-term
plan and sometimes the current conditions of the site don't justify the
change.

The main focus of a rezoning challenge is the impact of the rezoning.
This means studying all of the potential negatives of the rezoning and
how it affects the environment, surrounding land uses, the community as
a whole and surrounding communities.   Again, when challenging the
rezoning, focus not on the specific proposal but the "worst-case"
scenario that a rezoning would permit.  Some areas I would focus on
include:

1)  Traffic - How much traffic would the new development generate?  A
single-family home generates approx. 10 trips a day.  Multiple that by
the total possible homes that are allowed under the rezoning to
calculate the total traffic load.  Can surrounding roads support that
traffic?  Generally, the maximum load for a gravel road is 700 - 1000
trips a day.  If you can show that the development will overload area
roads, ask who's going to pay for the improvements necessary?

2)  Environment - Does the township have a wetlands and/or woodlands
ordinances?  If so, are there areas that are regulated?  Identify them!
If not, check with the state to see if they would regulate any of the
wetlands.  Are there rivers or lakes in this property?  How might they
be negatively impacted by development?  I'm sure there are a lot of
people in the Ann Arbor area who could assist in identifying the
environmental features of the property.

3)  Infrastructure - Is the area serviced by water and/or sewer?  If
not, how will those services be provided?  How will that affect the
surrounding environment?

4)  Schools - What impact will the development have on the school
district -  how many new students?  Can the schools accomodate this new
growth?

5)  Municipal Service - What impact will the jump in population have on
the Township?  Is there currently adequate police and fire protection?
How will this be provided in the future?  What other Township services
will be affected?  Make sure the Boards get the answers to this - that's
there job!!  One particular strong argument these days is the impact of
increased services and the need to increase taxes!  If people respond to
nothing else, they respond to tax hikes.

6)  Agriculture - How does this proposal affect existing agricultural
properties and operations - is this consistent with Farmland
Preservation goals?

Gathering this information often means trips to Township Hall, the
County and other agencies with data.  Some general data can be gathered
online.  Topozone provides USGS maps online which provide general area
conditions:

http://www.topozone.com/

and SEMCOG just has launched an online GIS data site that can assist you
with land use, watershed and other data about your area:

http://www.semcog.org/data/gis/index.html

Once you've gathered all of your information and have created a "case"
against the rezoning, gather your allies to challenge the rezoning.
Contact your neighbors and anyone else who might be supportive and get
them to the meetings.  State your cases clearly and with as much factual
information as possible.  Get that information to the decision-making
bodies as soon as you can - no one likes getting info. at the last
minute and then being asked to make a decision.  Try to stick to the
facts and avoid accusations and emotional outbursts.  A professional
presentation and attitude can do wonders in front of decision-making
bodies who are used to people screaming at and threatening them.  Don't
make political threats or accusations you can't support - you might just
alientate potential supporters.

I realize this a deluge of information - there is probably a lot more
that I could add but this should get you started.  It's a real
crash-course to learn the "real-world" of development politics but
nothing beats the feeling of walking out of a meeting having won the day
against a bad rezoning proposal.
Let me know if you have any questions or I can assist in any way.

Andrew Mutch
Planning Commissioner, City of Novi





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