To challenge a local planning or zoning decision in Michigan, one must generally qualify as an “aggrieved party.” Unfortunately, Michigan courts have interpreted the “aggrieved party” term narrowly. This has made it difficult for concerned citizens to challenge problematic decisions in court. However, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion that provides clear instruction for how to meet the “aggrieved party” test.
In Baker v Township of Bainbridge, Baker owned and lived in a home located on land which was zoned agricultural. Baker’s neighbor opened an automotive repair shop without the permission of the township. He then sought to expand his business to include a used car dealership. To that end, Baker’s neighbor requested a special land use permit from the township. The township ultimately granted the special land use permit.
Baker filed suit in circuit court arguing a special land use for a used car dealership was not available in the agricultural district. The circuit court dismissed Baker’s case. The court found that she was not an “aggrieved party” and thus could not challenge the grant of the special land use permit. Baker appealed.
On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals first noted the case of Olsen v Chikaming Township, which established the test for an “aggrieved party.” The court stated, to demonstrate that one is an aggrieved party, a party must allege and prove that he or she has suffered some special damages not common to other property owners similarly situated. Incidental inconveniences such as increased traffic congestion, general aesthetic and economic losses, or common environmental changes are insufficient to show that a party is aggrieved. Instead, there must be a unique harm, dissimilar from the effect that other similarly situated property owners may experience.
In holding that Baker was indeed an aggrieved party, the court explained how Baker satisfied the test. The court emphasized the importance of Baker’s highly specific complaints with her neighbor’s proposed land use. The noise, sights, smells, and lack of privacy Baker would experience because of the automotive repair facility were not general concerns experienced by others in the township. While persons in the general vicinity might hear the same sounds, what they may hear would be much less than those constantly bombarding Baker’s senses being immediately adjacent to the businesses. The simple fact was that Baker’s home, and her home alone, was right next to and directly overlooks the car repair facility. It would also be so situated in regard to a future used car operation; therefore, the court reasoned, she suffered or would suffer unique harm unlike that incurred by anyone else.
The court reversed and remanded the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings. This case shows the importance of a well-pleaded and specific complaint and affidavit. While it can be challenging to qualify as an “aggrieved party,” it is certainly not impossible. An experienced Michigan land use attorney is vital to crafting a successful lawsuit challenging a planning or zoning decision. A general practitioner will often be unaware of the level of detail required in such a lawsuit.
The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich PLC are experienced in Michigan land use cases. If you would like to challenge the approval or denial of a special land use or variance, we have the experience to guide you. This includes determining whether a court would find you to be an “aggrieved party.” Please do not hesitate to contact us with your matter. We would be happy to speak with you.