Michigan Zoning Board Appeals (ZBA) & How to Appeal Unfavorable Decisions

Author: Jake Vande Zande

January 13, 2021

As discussed in "Variance Requests: Navigating Zoning Regulations and the Zoning Board of Appeals," almost any time you want to do something with your property, zoning is going to play a role. This often includes a decision made by your city or township's Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA"). Besides being difficult, expensive, and time consuming, zoning requests and their subsequent decisions can be subject to outside influences. The governmental entity, such as city council, the planning commission, or the ZBA, that will make the decision on your zoning request may be influenced by numerous factors including personal relationships, business interests, news reports, neighbors, or other external pressures. As a result, the correct decision does not always get made. Fortunately, when this occurs, you have the right to appeal the unfavorable decision to the Circuit Court.

Today's blog will outline everything you need to know about appealing your city or township's zoning decision to the Circuit Court.

There are two types of zoning appeal cases: an appeal of an unfavorable zoning decision and an appeal of a legislative decision.

This is the basic and most common type of appeal. This involves the denial of a zoning request or variance or another unfavorable decision involving administrative approval.

In contrast, the other type of case is one involving a legislative decision. Where the validity of a zoning classification or other legislative decision is involved, a plenary lawsuit is available, which is an action, independent of any other proceeding, in which the merits of the claims are fully inquired into and determined. The key procedural difference is that in a case involving a legislative decision, there will be a trial to determine the facts of the case, as opposed to a case involving an administrative decision where the facts are contained in a record made before a municipal board.

There is a short zoning appeal deadline so timing and promptly retaining an attorney is critical. This is particularly important where the cases involve an administrative decision like a variance denial from the ZBA. In short, there is either a 30 or 21day limitation in appealing decisions made by the ZBA to the Circuit Court. MCL 125.3606(3). More specifically, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (MCL 125.3606(3)) provides the following relevant time periods for Circuit Court appeals:

An appeal from a decision of a zoning board of appeals shall be filed within whichever of the following deadlines come first:

  • Thirty days after the zoning board of appeals issues its decision in writing signed by the chairperson, if there is a chairperson, or signed by the members of the zoning board of appeals, if there is no chairperson.
  • Twenty-one days after the zoning board of appeals approves the minutes of its decision. The deadline to file an appeal to the Circuit Court is calculated differently depending on how the ZBA publishes its decision, and the shorter of the two deadlines applies. Either way, you do not have very much time to retain counsel and act.