Land Use and Sustainability
Purchase of development rights
(PDR) program A
program through which farmers may sell the development rights on
their property to a local government unit. Except in certain circumstances,
the rights must be held in perpetuity, ensuring that the land will
be protected for agricultural use.
Smart growth Principles
to guide community growth; incorporates factors concerning quality
of life, design, economics, environment, health, housing, and transportation.
that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their own needs.
[APRIL 1, 2002] In many ways, the history of land
development is a lesson in transportation history. Many of the first
urban settlements were located near water bodies so that goods could
be shipped. Then, in the early 1800s railroads opened the west to
the transport of people and goods, and fast-growing urban centers
began to develop around these transportation hubs. Although roads
did connect the early urban centers, until the mid-to-late 1900s
and the development of the automobile and the modern highway system,
most people lived where they workedinside the urban core,
typically less than three miles in radius.
In the 1960s in Michigan and elsewhere, a number of
dynamics came into play that further encouraged residential and
business growth in the rural areas that surrounded cities: increasing
income; low gasoline prices; racial tension; improved suburban infrastructure
and amenities; state and federal subsidies for sewers, roads, and
commercial development; and a general desire of many people to leave
the older, crowded, urban cores to live and work in the relatively
open space and privacy offered in suburbia. This trend
continuesthe rate at which open land in Michigan is being
converted to residential and commercial use outstrips the rate at
which the state's population is increasing by about eight to one.
In 1992 the state conducted the Michigan Relative
Risk Analysis Project, asking state scientists, policymakers, and
business and environmental leaders to identify and rank the risk
of environmental problems in the state. The absence of land use
planning and the degradation of urban environments were cited as
among the states top six most pressing environmental issues. In
addition, such studies as the "Fiscal Impact of Alternative
Land Development Patterns in Michigan" (Southeast Michigan
Council of Governments, 1997), show that the costs of public services
and infrastructure in low-density development (single homes on large
land parcels) areas outstrip the tax revenue that such development
In 2001 the Michigan Land Resource Project explored
the future of Michigan's land-based industries if present development
trends continue. The report states that by 2040 the amount of developed
land in Michigan will have increased by 178 percent, nearly three
times that which currently is developed. This has far-reaching implications
for such land-based industries as agriculture, mining, forestry,
and natural-resource-based recreation and tourism, which collectively
account for approximately 30 percent of Michigan's total economy.
- In the next 40 years, if the current development
rate continues, Michigan will lose 25 percent of its orchard land,
1.9 million acres of farmland, and 8 percent of its forest land.
- The state's destination resorts, particularly those
in northern lower Michigan, are threatened by encroaching development
along the travel corridors that lead to them (tourism experts
find that part of the attraction of a destination resort is enjoying
the aesthetics of getting there).
- Mining, agriculture, and forestry cannot compete
with the land's value for other uses, and the large contiguous
parcels that these industries need for their operations are being
fragmented into smaller blocks, which are less economically viable
for these industries.
- To keep forest-harvesting costs down, access to
large parcels is necessary, and as land becomes more fragmented,
the price of harvesting Michigan's timber will increase.
- Transportation costs arising from having to go
farther to obtain gravel, sand, and other construction materials
will raise the price of these materials.
Also critical is the effect that land use has on cities.
When investment shifts from cities to the suburbs and beyond, (1)
city property values decline; (2) city population dwindles, leaving
behind a concentration of older and/or low-income populations who
cannot afford to move out; (3) the city's tax base shrinks; (4)
and the city's roads, sewers, buildings, and public institutions
Land Use Decision-Making
Land use decision-making in Michigan is fragmented.
Although there is some state involvement, local jurisdictions have
very wide latitude.
Local Planning and Zoning
A body of state statutes known commonly as the planning
and zoning enabling laws sets the rules for local land-development
decisions in Michigan. These statutes, which date to 1921 in the
case of cities and villages and 1945 for townships and counties,
have changed little over the years. They enablebut do not
requirelocal governments to plan and zone. They allow local
units of government to (1) plan when, where, and how development
of land should occur and (2) set standards in such matters as how
buildings shall be designed and how specific areas (zones) shall
be used (commercial, residential, and so on). The state provides
More than 1,800 units of local government have legal
authority to engage in land use planning and/or zoning in Michigan;
in most states, only 300500 locals have such authority. Moreover,
there is little coordination within units of government (for example,
only 24 of the 83 counties have county-wide zoning ordinances) or
among them (conflicts often arise between neighboring jurisdictions).
In addition, certain public buildingse.g., corrections, foster-care,
and education facilitiesdo not necessarily need to fully comply
with local zoning regulations.
In the 1970s a number of state laws were passed to
protect Michigan's particularly sensitive landsi.e., shore
lands, rivers, lakes, streams, sand dunes, and wetlands; they later
were consolidated as part of the Natural Resources and Environmental
Protection Act (Public Act 451 of 1994). In addition, the Natural
Resources Trust Fund was created to purchase land to be used for
recreation purposes (funding comes from royalties the state earns
from oil and gas drilling on state lands).1
The Farmland Preservation Act also was adopted, giving a tax break
to farmers who pledge to continue to keep their land in agricultural
The most recent important state land-use legislation
is contained in Public Acts 177179 of 2001 and requires local
governments to permit cluster zoning, allowing residential
developers to group housing on a portion of the land being developed
and leave the remainder undeveloped.
Disinvested urban cores frequently have numerous properties
on which there are dilapidated and/or abandoned structures and/or
environmental contamination from past usesthese are referred
to as brownfields (abandoned, idle, or under-used industrial
and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated
by real or perceived environmental contamination). Such properties
cannot be reused until they are cleaned up, which may be very costly.
In the 1990s Michigan became a national model in brownfield redevelopment,
and by June 2000, 33 municipalities attributed $1.8 billion in private
investment and more than 8,000 new jobs to brownfield redevelopment.
As of May 2001, 4,000 Michigan properties have been reused.
Urban cores also frequently contain many properties
that the owners simply have abandoned, but they cannot be cleaned
up, sold, or reused until the city can obtain clear title to them.
Until the last few years, tax reversionthe process
by which such property reverts to public ownershipwas lengthy
and cumbersome, which stymied local redevelopment because of long
delays in giving new investors clear title to abandoned properties.
Public Act 134 of 1999 streamlined tax reversion, making it easier
for local units of government to claim abandoned properties and
encourage private investors to redevelop them.
In recent years, there has been increased interest
in giving local governments tools to help them preserve farmland
in their jurisdictions. Public Act 262 of 2000 incorporated a program
first begun in 1995 that permits local units of government to establish
purchase of development rights (PDR) programs; the act also
created the Agricultural Preservation Fund and Board to provide
state cost-sharing for such programs. Under a PDR program, farmers
may sell the development rights on their property to a local government
unit, which must, except under specific circumstances, hold the
rights in perpetuity, permanently protecting the land for agricultural
use. The value of a development right is the difference between
a parcel's agricultural and development value. The counties that
have been most aggressive in developing PDR programs are Antrim,
Berry, Calhoun, Clinton, Grand Traverse, Kent, Lapeer, Leelanau,
Although the law provides for state cost-sharing with
local units, applications for cost-sharing currently are not being
accepted because there is little state funding available. Since
1995 the state has received 1,200 applications but has been able
to fund only 55 PDRs.
Land use decisions can have a profound effect on virtually
every aspect of our future, from schools to roads to economic development
to housing to the environment. The concept of sustainable land
usethat is, managing land use in such a way that the needs
of the present are met without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needsis gaining favor.
Many people who support sustainability believe that
so-called smart growth can positively affect policy change. Smart
growth is a set of principles for community growth that considers
quality of life, design, economics, environment, health, housing,
and transportation. Maryland and Oregon often are cited as leaders
in applying smart-growth principles. Some tenets of smart growth
- giving people a range of housing opportunities
- having walkable neighborhoods;
- achieving cooperation among all interested parties;
- having attractive places with a discernible identity;
- making development decisions that are predictable
and consistent, fair, and cost effective;
- mixing land uses;
- preserving open space, farmland, and critical lands;
- providing varied transportation opportunities;
- directing development to existing areas in which
there already is building; and
- taking advantage of compact building design.
Smart-growth proponents believe that communities could
do a better job of planning for growth if they had better tools.
Business groups tend to focus on the fiscal impact and costs associated
with sprawling development. The construction industry prefers as
little government interference as possible, believing that people
should be permitted to build where they please. Environment and
conservation groups look at the effects on our physical environment.
Local governments are concerned about the cost of services. Free-market
advocates believe, as do many in the smart-growth camp, that government
policies are largely to blame for sprawl, and rather than having
more government policies, the market should be allowed to sort it
out on its own.
Research on this policy topic was made possible
by a grant from the Frey Foundation.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Central Great Lakes Office
American Farmland Trust
1501 North Shore Drive, Suite B
East Lansing, MI 48823
(517) 324-3722 FAX
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
140 West Main Street
P.O. Box 568
Midland, MI 48640
(989) 631-0964 FAX
Michigan Association of Homebuilders
1627 South Creyts Road
Lansing, MI 48917
(517) 322-0504 FAX
Michigan Association of Realtors
720 North Washington Avenue
P.O. Box 407285
Lansing, MI 48901
(517) 334-5568 FAX
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette Drive, Suite 2A
Lansing, MI 48912
(517) 487-9541 FAX
Michigan Farm Bureau
7373 West Saginaw Highway
Lansing, MI 48917
(517) 323-6793 FAX
Michigan Municipal League
1675 Green Road
P.O. Box 1487
Ann Arbor, MI 48106 (800) 653-2483
(734) 662-8083 FAX
Michigan Society of Planning
27300 Haggerty Road, Suite F-30
Farmington Hills, MI 48331
(248) 553-7536 FAX
Michigan Townships Association
512 Westshire Drive
P.O. Box 80078
Lansing, MI 48908
(517) 321-8908 FAX
Michigan United Conservation Clubs
2101 Wood Street
P.O. Box 30235
Lansing, MI 48909
(517) 371-1505 FAX
the August 2002 primary ballot there will be a proposal to amend
the state constitution to raise the cap on the state's Natural Resources
Trust Fund and to allow more aggressive investment of that fund
as well as the Parks Endowment, Nongame Fish and Wildlife, Game
and Fish Protection, and Civilian Conservation Corps Endowment trust
CONTENT CURRENT AS OF APRIL 1,
© 2002 Public
Sector Consultants, Inc.
Sponsored by the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Council
of Michigan Foundations