Persons appealing land use decisions of local municipalities no longer need to own property nor do they have to show special damages by only a comparison to similarly situated persons. The Michigan Supreme Court made these rulings on July 22, 2022, in the case of Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance v Saugatuck Township et al., Docket Nos 160358 and 160359 (2022). Prior to this case, land ownership and special damages apart from other property owners were generally regarded as prerequisites for persons appealing the land use decisions of local municipalities.

This ruling means that persons who object to a particular land use development could find it easier to appeal those decisions. Developers will need to be cognizant of this ruling in determining how to apply for land use entitlements and in establishing an appropriate record when doing so.

This decision clarifies and overrules past case law that has evolved over time placing what some term as “judicially created constraints” on appealing land use decisions under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (MZEA). The issue of who has legal “standing”, or the right to make an appeal, has been the topic of numerous decisions and the Michigan Supreme Court has now clarified how the doctrine is to be applied.

However, this decision does not reduce the burden of proof that an appellant must meet to convince a court to overrule land use decisions. Persons appealing land use decisions will continue to have the burden of proof in establishing their claims, including showing under the MZEA that the decision: (a) did not comply with the constitution and laws of the state; (b) was not based upon proper procedure; (c) was not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the record; or, (d) did not represent the reasonable exercise of discretion granted by law to the zoning board of appeals.

Dawda Mann’s land use practice group has advised developers for decades in navigating the complex land use entitlement process and mitigating the risk of successful appeals.