Zoning Map on Computer Screen

What Is a Zoning Ordinance and Why Are They Used?


Do you own or rent property in Michigan? If so, local zoning ordinances likely impact how you can use your property. Land use constraints and standards are complicated areas of law, but the experienced attorneys at Dingeman & Dancer are here to help with guidance and advice for your land-use plans.

What Is a Zoning Ordinance?

Simply put, zoning ordinances are land use regulations that dictate and limit the type of buildings and activities that can occur in a particular area. For example, property zoned as “commercial” may restrict the construction of residential housing on that land.

In most cases, zones are defined by use:

  1. Agricultural. Agricultural zones are for farming use.
  2. Commercial. These zones are for commercial use, such as retail, office, or other nonresidential use.
  3. Industrial. Like commercial zones, industrial zones are also nonresidential; primarily for manufacturing.
  4. Residential. These zones are used for housing, such as single-family or multi-family housing units.

What Can Cities Restrict Through Zoning Laws?

All homes, businesses, schools, factories, mines, airports, solar arrays, farms, etc. are regulated within the zone they’re situated. Beyond cities, zoning regulations can be enacted at a township, village or county level.

Common things restricted through the use of zoning laws include:

  • Accessory buildings—such as garages, sheds, and other nonprimary use buildings
  • Building coverage—how much of a lot can be occupied or covered by the building
  • Building height—such as Traverse City’s restrictions on new building heights without voter approval
  • Short term rentals – such as restrictions on using a property as an Airbnb
  • Setbacks—how far a building must be set back from property lines or the waterfront

Who Controls Zoning Laws?

In Michigan, zoning laws are proposed and created by local planning commissions and then approved and made law by local legislative bodies, usually city councils or township boards. Each planning commission includes a zoning administrator responsible for site inspections, as well as levying the fines that come with violations of zoning ordinances.

Because of the impact that zoning administrators have on building projects, many municipalities require that the role be filled by someone with a degree in architecture or engineering. In Michigan, as well as other states, the position of zoning administrator, or a zoning board, is appointed by city councils and not elected by the people.

What is the Purpose of Zoning?

Zoning is one of the most effective tools townships have to manage land use, while protecting property values and keeping residents safe. When done right, zoning allows city and township planners to manage growth in a logical and harmonious way that benefits the community. Imagine a school located between two factories—with exhaust and particle pollution blowing right onto the recess playground. Zoning prevents this scenario.

Another benefit of zoning is historical perseveration. In many cities and towns, historical districts are zoned differently to ensure the architectural integrity of those areas is kept intact.

When Should You Review Zoning Ordinances?

Whether you’re planning to build or purchase a home or commercial property, or just want to use your property differently than you have in the past, zoning should be considered as early in the process as possible. Zoning ordinances change frequently, so it is important to make sure you’re up to date with the most current rules that apply to your property.

Find Michigan Zoning and Land Use Lawyers Near Me

Choose Dingeman & Dancer, PLC to assist you in understanding zoning ordinances at properties in northwest lower Michigan. Our experienced attorneys can help you settle disputes and make sound investments.

When you call us, you get us. Request a consultation online or call 800-626-0050  to learn more.