Planning Open Meeting Act Notices
Zoning Bd of Appeals Open Meeting Act Notices
Freedom of Information Act policy
Freedom of Information Act summary
Last updated: October 18, 2017
About Wexford Joint Planning Commission
This may be the largest joint planning commission in Michigan, with 11 townships participating together to create one planning commission in Wexford County (near and around Cadillac, Michigan).
A joint planning commission is where any two or more municipal governments (city, village, township) join together to create a single planning commission. Often this means one master plan for all the participating governments, and one zoning ordinance for all the participating governments.
In 2015, the Wexford County Board of Commissioners voted to repeal the county-wide zoning ordinance. At the time, 14 of the county’s 16 townships depended on county zoning. Two townships, two cities and three villages in the county already had their own zoning. The county made the repeal of county zoning effective at the end of 2016 despite vocal opposition.
One township decided to adopt its own zoning ordinance. During the first half of 2016, various other local governments in Wexford County attended a Michigan State University Extension training program on joint planning commissions, as well as meetings about how township might create their own planning commission and adopt their own zoning ordinance. As a result of that training, 13 townships decided to explore the creation of a joint planning commission. One township decided it did not have the development pressure or potential to warrant a zoning ordinance and did not have the funds to do so.
That left 12 townships which went through negotiations to form a joint planning commission. The facilitation to help guide the townships to reach agreement on all the details was done by educator Kurt H. Schindler, AICP, from MSU Extension. Legal assistance and legal review was provided pro bono by Sarah C. Alden, Esq., with assistance by Ricard M. Wilson Jr., Esq., both of Mika Meyers PLC. In the end, another township did not follow up to take action to join the joint planning commission, leaving the remaining 11 townships in the Wexford Joint Planning Commission.
The creation of a joint planning commission is guided by the Joint Municipal Planning Act, which requires an agreement and ordinance to create a joint planning commission. The starting point was to use the sample agreement and ordinance prepared by MSU Extension and Richard J. Figura, Esq., of Figura Law (of counsel to Simen, Figura, & Parker, PLC).
The major incentive behind creating the Wexford Joint Planning Commission was (1) the desire to retain planning and zoning and (2) the cost savings of doing so cooperatively. A first year Wexford Joint Planning Commission budget of $50,000 will cost the largest township (in population, number of parcels, and total taxable value) just under $9,800 per year, and the smallest township will have a cost of under $3,000 per year. The 11 townships agreed to a funding formula where everyone pays an equal amount for the first 20 percent of the total budget (fixed costs), then a proportion to the township’s total taxable value for 40 percent of the total budget (ability to pay) and finally a proportion to the number of parcels in the township (an indicator of how much zoning permit activity will take place) for the last 40 percent of the total budget. In future years, the total budget will be the amount needed minus zoning permit and other fees collected in the previous year.
Each township appoints their own representative member to the Joint Planning Commission, and each township has one representative for three-year staggered terms – making for an 11-member joint planning commission. Others can join upon paying the costs of updating the master plan and zoning ordinance to accommodate their joining. Withdrawing from the joint commission is a long process – with intent for requiring passage of time as a possible cooling off period for a controversy that may have led to the desire to withdraw. The Wexford Joint Planning Commission will have all the powers and duties of any Michigan Planning Commission except for the creation of a Capital Improvement Program. The CIP is left to each respective township board.
Background information on the Wexford Joint Planning Commission
Wexford Joint Planning Commission membership (see article on ex parte contact to the right).
Wexford Joint Zoning Board of Appeals membership (see article on ex parte contact to the right).
Wexford Joint Planning Commission Ordinance and Agreement
Wexford Joint Planning Commission by laws
Wexford Joint Zoning Board of Appeals rules of procedure
Freedom of Information Act policy
Summary of the Freedom of Information Act policy
Freedom of Information act forms.
Open Meeting Act Notices for the Joint Planning Commission
Open Meeting Act Notices for the Joint Zoning Board of Appeals
Attorney for the Joint Planning Commission
Planner of record for the joint Planning Commission
For members of a local planning commission, or zoning boards of appeals, it is particularly difficult to avoid having ex parte contact. They are not trying to be unfriendly, or not helpful. They are trying to do their job properly.
Ex parte contact happens when a member of a planning commission or zoning board of appeals (ZBA) are contacted by someone outside of the meeting concerning a pending issue, such as approval of a special use permit, planned unit development, site plan, or appeal. This type of contact should be avoided.
But to many, avoiding this type of contact is counter-intuitive. We believe one should hear concerns and listen. That is, after all, local representative government. So this becomes a big concern whenever presenting an education program on planning and zoning ethics.
But here is the other side of that coin: if a member of the planning commission or ZBA has a conversation on the street, etc. then how does someone else ever know what was said and have an opportunity to respond, supporting the conversation or refuting it? That basic level of fairness is important and what a planning commission and ZBA should strive for.
It is similar to going to court. You expect the judge to be fair and neutral. You expect that both sides to hear what the other has to say, and you have a fair opportunity to respond. If you did not even know the conversation took place, let alone what was said, you do not have any ability to respond. You would not expect the judge to be swayed by some talk about the case s/he had outside the courtroom.
In Michigan, planning commissions and ZBAs are administrative bodies. They are duty-bound to make decisions based on standards (found in the zoning ordinance). Representing the will of the majority of electors in a community is the job of the legislative body – the township board, village council, city council. It is not the job of the planning commission or ZBA.
The planning commission and ZBA need to behave closer to the expectation of fairness one has for a court. Some basic points are:
“Parties at the hearing . . . are entitled to an opportunity to be heard, to an opportunity to present and rebut evidence, to a tribunal which is impartial in the material, having had no prehearing or ex parte contacts concerning the question at issue . . . .” – Fasano V., Board of County Commissioners of Washington County.
For more information
The Wexford Joint Planning Commission is a member of the Michigan Association of Planning dedicated to promoting sound community planning that benefits the residents of Michigan -- a source of training on planning and zoning issues.
Other sources of training and information on planning and zoning are Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Townships Association. At this web site you will find articles, fact sheets, and much more. Use the search box at the upper right of the screen. For individual questions use the Ask an Expert from Extension.