June 27, 2019
We are pleased to report that GLM shareholders Peter Worden (Traverse City) and Caryn Ford (Detroit) prevailed in a unique case involving Traverse City’s land use regulations.
Under Traverse City’s existing zoning ordinance property owners may only build to a height in excess of 60’ if they obtain a special land use permit from the City’s Planning Commission. In 2016 the City electorate amended the City Charter (the Amendment”) to require that any proposal for the construction of a building higher than 60′ also be submitted to, and pass, a referendum vote.
326 Land Company, LLC (“the Developer”) wants to build a building taller than 60’ on property that it owns in Traverse City’s downtown district, and obtained a special land use permit from the City’s Planning Commission to do so. The Developer’s proposal was then submitted to referendum, and decisively defeated by a majority of the City’s voters.
The Developer then filed a lawsuit asking the Court to declare the Amendment invalid as being in conflict with Michigan’s Home Rule Cities Act and Zoning Enabling Act, and also in violation of substantive and procedural Due Process requirements contained in both the United States and Michigan Constitutions.
On behalf of the City, and joined by a citizen activist group called Save Our Downtown, Peter and Caryn successfully argued that the Amendment is legal and valid. First, they pointed out that neither the Home Rule Cities Act nor the Zoning Enabling Act expressly prohibit such an Amendment, and that the Amendment in fact operates in tandem with those statutes rather than contradicting them. Second, Peter and Caryn successfully argued that the City Planning Commission’s preliminary approval of the special land use permit did not vest the Developer with a constitutionally protected property interest, and thus that the Developer’s Due Process arguments are unavailing.
This was a very unique case involving some very interesting and involved issues, and almost certainly was a matter of first impression in Michigan and probably any other state. The Firm is honored to have been able to play a part and congratulates Peter and Caryn on their success.