Today in the United States, a renewed concern with our dependence on land is causing a major reappraisal of the attitudes toward land use. For more than two hundred years land owners’ freedom to use land as they wished has been cherished as an implicit value of American life, though government controls have always made that freedom less than absolute. Now another view is also being heard: that we must have more public involvement in land use decisions to protect vital resources and the common interest of all; that responsibility for protecting the land and its resources, or land stewardship, goes along with the right to own land. As former Governor William Milliken was fond of saying, “The 38 million acres that are Michigan is all the Michigan that we will ever have.”
LAND USE AFFECTS US ALL
Chances are that for many of us the land we work and play on does not belong to us. Almost every one of us eats food grown on land we do not own. We depend on more than just our privately owned lots for our well-being. Land use affects us all, and al communities in Michigan have laws governing the use of land.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Citizens can help professional planners and public officials determine what is needed and how the land will be used. If government is to be responsive and remain democratic, citizens must participate in land use planning and the decision-making process.
THE PLANNING PROCESS
Planning for careful use of land is a process which can take anywhere from a few months to two years and depends on participation from a planning commission, professional planners and ordinary citizens.
The planning process can help a community:
– During various phases of the planning process a community will:
– identify problems/issues
– gather and analyze information
– formulate goals and objectives
– identify and evaluate alternatives
– and select a course of action.
A COMPREHENSIVE MASTER PLAN
A comprehensive or master plan, is the result of the planning process and includes not only a land use plan but plans for providing adequate housing, utilities, transportation, public facilities, civic buildings, community appearance and any special features, as well as promoting economic development. Using maps and words, the master plan expresses a community’s vision about its future. A comprehensive master plan is an overall guide to community development and problem solving. It is a basic framework against which individuals and organizations can measure plans, programs, and ideas.
An effective plan is:
– Takes into account all aspects of the community’s social, economic, and physical factors that interact.
– Long range.
– Deals with future needs as well as with solutions to existing problems.
– Is able to adjust to changing conditions and increased knowledge.
– Includes recommendations for undertaking realistic actions to help make the plan a reality.
THE PLANNING COMMISSION
The planning commission is an officially designated body authorized by state legislation and established by township, village, city or county unit of government. The members, appointed by the elected officials, are citizens representative of the community. The basic task of the planning commission, according to the planning act, is “to make and adopt a basic plan as a guide for development.” The legislative body then passes the supporting ordinances to implement the master plan. Planning commissions are often assigned zoning and subdivision review duties by the legislative body and so continue to function after a plan is adopted.
The planning commission must actively seek advice from community interest groups and individuals. “Visioning” or “futuring” are techniques which often serve as a first step in the community planning process. A diverse group of citizens meet to discuss and reach consensus on what they want their communities to look or be like, usually twenty years or so in the future. Subsequently, citizens may also serve on advisory groups for various elements of the plan and to help educate the public. All citizens are encouraged to participate in the public hearing, required before the plan is officially adopted, so that it reflects the needs and desires of the community. After the plan is adopted it should be reviewed every three to five years to assess its effectiveness, determine shortcomings, and amend when necessary.
The most visible tool for implementing a community’s master plan is zoning. Zoning laws specify areas within the community where certain land uses are allowed. They regulate the use of land, the location of buildings on the land, and even the height, area, bulk, and placement of buildings. Before land can be zoned for a specific use (or rezoned if it is already zoned) a public hearing must be held, first by the planning commission and then by the governing body of the municipality. It must be remembe red that zoning is not a substitute for planning, but only a tool for carrying out a land use plan.
1) help preserve open space and community character through the use of techniques such as Planned Unit Developments (PUD), open space and cluster developments to reduce sprawl, and prevent or minimize the loss of forest, recreational, and agricultural lands;
2) protect individual property owners from future harmful or undesirable uses of adjacent property;
3) assist community economic growth and character by helping to reserve adequate and desirable sites for industrial, commercial, and recreational uses;
4) and protect unique, historic, and fragile land from destruction.
1) easily correct mistakes in land use which have resulted in inconsistent uses of neighboring properties;
2) assure that a community will perpetually retain the land uses originally assigned to it under zoning;
3) and succeed in a rapidly changing community if it is not based on planning.
OTHER LAND USE TOOLS ARE:
subdivision ordinances which set up the rules under which the development of land will be permitted
purchase or transfer of development rights
capital improvement programs
building, electrical and plumbing codes
fire protection policies
annexation and consolidation
STATE LAND USE POLICY
Currently there is no comprehensive land use policy in Michigan, though there are many state laws affecting the use of land. Generally the objectives of these laws include:
maintain agricultural lands
preserve shorelands, marshes, and wetlands
provide for outdoor recreation
prevent land, water and air pollution
Land use planning is affected by decisions made in every department of state government, but most of the responsibility lies with the Department of Environmental Quality.
NATIONAL LAND USE POLICY
The National Land Use Policy is limited to management of federal lands, particularly visible areas designated as national parks and forests. Congress has the power to designate land for acquisition as a park and it also has the power to appropriate fund to buy the designated land. Congress may, however, designate an area to be a park, but neglect to appropriate funds for its purchase.
USE YOUR INFLUENCE
You can influence the land use policies adopted by your government. The open meeting law requires mandatory advance notice of public hearings. This gives citizens time to gather information and facts. Information is available from planning commissioners, local elected officials or local planning departments.
As you follow the activities of government:
– Speak Up! Present your position at every opportunity.
– Join together with others who share your views.
– Write, call, e-mail, or fax your local elected officials and present your position.
– Submit testimony in writing before the hearings.
– Sign and circulate petitions.
– Get your views into the news media via letters to editors.
– Try to see the other side of the issues and realize the interrelationships that exist.
– Be sure to take maximum advantage of public hearings.
As anthropologist Margaret Mead said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The need for more citizen involvement in the movement for better land use is critical. Your participation is important. Decisions will be made. Either you can affect the decisions or someone else will.