Environmental/Aug 10, 2012
Michigan’s Critical Dunes Act Amended
3 min read
On August 7, Governor Snyder signed Public Act 297 of 2012 (Senate Bill 1130), amending Part 353 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Michigan’s Sand Dunes Protection and Management law. The “Critical Dunes Act” has been controversial since its original adoption 23 years ago and a source of frustration for landowners and developers seeking to build homes in areas of Michigan’s lakeshore dunes. PA 297 was introduced by Sen. Arlan Meekhof (30th District) in response to several lawsuits, including a $1.8 million judgment for a property owner in West Olive. Senator Meekhof stated “I sponsored this new law to help ensure that we conserve our state’s natural beauty while allowing for progress.”
Some of the important changes resulting from the Critical Dunes amendments are as follows:
- Property owners’ rights are broadened with regard to the ability to construct driveways and accessibility measures to gain access to their homes.
- The amendments allow for the construction of a dwelling on the first lakeward-facing slope of a critical dune area in limited circumstances.
- The amendments exempt from permitting those uses that are needed to maintain repair, or replace existing utility lines, pipelines, and other utility facilities that existed on July 5, 1989 within a critical dune area, provided the work is performed in compliance certain requirements.
- The amendments state (Sec. 35304(1)(g): “Subject to Section 35316, a permit shall be approved unless the local unit of government or the Department determines that the use will significantly damage the public interest on the privately owned land, or, if the land is publicly owned, the public interest in the publicly owned land, by significant and unreasonable depletion or degradation of any of the following: (i) The diversity of the critical dune areas within the local unit of government. (ii) The quality of the critical dune areas within the local unit of government.” This language appears to shift the burden of proof from the applicant to the local unit of government or Department.
- Denial of a permit must contain specific documentation that the DEQ/local unit of government has met its burden of proof, that the decision is based upon sufficient facts as well as scientific principles, and that the facts are properly recorded in the file.
- Local zoning ordinances cannot be more restrictive than the model zoning plan or the standard of review for permits/variances as prescribed in the model zoning plan.
Language was also included to provide a public hearing opportunity to those potentially impacted by a proposed use.
Access to the legislative details and analysis is available at:
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