Is local zoning control a sacred right or a sacred cow?

Michigan’s new clean energy legislation pits local zoning officials against local landowners who want to place clean solar and wind on their land. Citizens for Local Choice says, “local zoning control is a sacred right enjoyed by local units.” Really? If that were true, vital public services like highways, telephone, internet and electricity could be stopped by local zoning boards. Thank goodness that Michigan law prohibits local zoning interference with vital public services. And what about the sacred rights of local property owners? If they want to build solar and wind, why should local zoning officials stop them? Aren’t private property rights — entrenched in the fiber of our democracy — more sacred than governmental zoning interference?

Local Choice wants to repeal by ballot Michigan’s new legislation–accusing the state of stripping control away from local units of government. But this is not true. My research as an attorney shows that the new legislation is a win-win for local units, the public and local property owners — as the law builds in more than 18 public benefits and local protections. Local units retain 100% control of smaller projects and share control of larger ones with the Michigan Public Service Commission. But the MPSC can only approve projects that provide annual tax increases, pay for local public improvements, offer local job creation, protect farmland, parks and the environment. Project developers must address local concerns and complete an 8-month meaningful negotiation with the local unit. If developers appeal denials to the MPSC, the local unit and its citizens have the express right to intervene and contest.

Local Choice also claims that solar and wind “are doing just fine” under local zoning control. Not true. Michigan lags far behind other states on clean energy under the existing wild west of local control. Local zoning officials unfairly stopped more than 24 renewable energy projects downstate. We simply cannot trust local units to achieve Michigan’s transition into 100% clean energy electricity by 2040. Achieving this target will help Michigan do its part to combat the climate crisis and remove carcinogens from the air we breathe.

Let’s give shared control a chance to guide Michigan into a healthy, more reliable and less expensive energy future. Our planet and our survival are more important than sacred cows and politics as usual.

Robert Anderson




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