Joint Planning Commission involves 11 townships

It may be the largest Joint Planning Commission in Michigan, with 11 governments cooperating. The Joint Commission forms one planning commission and one zoning ordinance for the 11 participating townships.

The jurisdiction area of the Joint Planning Commission | Graphic by Kurt Schindler
The jurisdiction area of the Joint Planning Commission | Graphic by Kurt Schindler

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 Michigan Joint Planning Act requires the agreement/ordinance include at a minimum the following:

  • Name of the joint planning commission
  • Territory to be covered by the joint planning commission
  • Powers and duties transferred to the joint planning commission, e.g., planning only, planning and zoning
  • Membership of the joint planning commission, how selected and by whom
  • Terms of office and qualifications to be a member of the joint planning commission
  • Removal from office and how to fill vacancies
  • Budget and how the share of the costs are shared by the participating municipalities
  • Where the office for the joint planning commission will be and which municipality will be the fiduciary
  • A procedure for additional municipalities to join the joint planning commission
  • A procedure for how a participating municipality withdraws from the joint planning commission
  • The procedure for adoption of a master plan or zoning ordinance (e.g., following the procedure as though it were a township, or as though it were a city/village)

The Joint Municipal Planning Act was written before the current Michigan Planning Enabling Act and Michigan Zoning Enabling Act were adopted. Thus, there are additional details that are not listed in the Joint Municipal Planning Act that should be covered in the agreement/ordinance: who handles capital improvement program creation, proposed infrastructure reviews, subdivision reviews and administration (staff, professional services, bylaws, officers, committees, annual report and frequency of meetings).

In addition, there are some “best practices” which should be in the agreement/ordinance: requirement for joint planning commission members to have continuing education in planning and zoning, how the transition to the joint planning commission master plan and zoning ordinance is handled, making future amendments to the ordinance/agreement, an effective date and a repealer clause.

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.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning – including joint planning commission, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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