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Michigan Supreme Court Eases Requirements to Appeal Land Use Decisions

Successfully appealing a municipal land use decision in Michigan is notoriously difficult. First, one must qualify as an “aggrieved party.” Separate from traditional notions of standing, “aggrieved party” status has been narrowed by the courts to encompass only a small group of potential parties. Second, even if one qualifies as an “aggrieved party,” one must still overcome a standard of review that is very deferential to the local planning body. However, the Michigan Supreme Court recently eased one of these requirements.

In Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance v Saugatuck Township et al., the Michigan Supreme Court took a hard look at the “aggrieved party” requirement for land use appeals. It opined that Michigan courts have been unduly narrow in their application of this requirement. To remedy this, the Court set out a new test for potential “aggrieved parties.”

To qualify as an “aggrieved party” under the new test, the appellant must meet three criteria:

  • First, the appellant must have participated in the challenged proceedings by taking a position on the contested decision, such as through a letter or oral public comment.
  • Second, the appellant must claim some legally protected interest or protected personal, pecuniary, or property right that is likely to be affected by the challenged decision.
  • Third, the appellant must provide some evidence of special damages arising from the challenged decision in the form of an actual or likely injury to or burden on their asserted interest or right that is different in kind or more significant in degree than the effects on others in the local community.

This new test eliminated the most stringent requirement of the previous test, which required appellants to show special damages unique from other “similarly situated” parties, not simply others in the local community.

The impact of this decision will not be clear for some time. It unquestionably makes qualifying as an “aggrieved party” easier. However, it has no impact on the appellant standard of review, which remains highly government-friendly. Still, even an incremental shift towards making these appeals viable could change the calculus of many potential appellants.

Dalton & Tomich attorneys have handled numerous municipal land use appeals. If you feel you have grounds to appeal a land use decision or would like to defend against an appeal of your approval, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to speak with you.

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