Local government decisions about land use directly affect water resources and citizen participation is crucial for improving the decision-making process. Capital improvements and zoning ordinances together will define the future management and the future health of the Huron River’s corridors, floodplains, and wetlands.
In the state of Michigan, planning laws give local units of government substantial power to make decisions about land use. Local planning commissions, councils, and zoning boards create and implement zoning ordinances that regulate the “what” and “where” of commercial and residential development. The decision-making process typically takes place in a series of meetings that are open to the public.
A planning commission is a group of officials appointed by a village, township, or city council. The commission’s primary duties include proposing, developing and amending zoning ordinances, as well as creating and updating a development master plan. The planning commission’s role is largely advisory. Planning commissions have no legislative power.
A village, township or city council or board is a group of officials elected to office by citizens of the community. Municipal councils appoint planning commissioners, and authorize funds for studies of water resources and water quality. Councils do have legislative power. They can approve or deny planning commission proposals, and they can enact ordinances.
Zoning boards interpret the provisions of zoning ordinances. Zoning boards frequently serve as “boards of appeal,” hearing petitions from planning commissions and private citizens. Zoning board members are appointed, usually by councils, and their role as arbiters is critical to the decision-making process.
Local governments assume leadership in land and water management by passing and enforcing safeguards that are often more protective than state laws. Using established procedures, local governments enact ordinances to control stormwater runoff, soil erosion, and sedimentation, and to protect sensitive habitats such as woodlands and wetlands. Local governments also establish watershed-friendly development standards, and lawn care and landscaping practices, while at the same time enforcing legislated policy.
Each local government in the Huron River Watershed holds regularly scheduled meetings where rulings are made on additions and changes to policy, on budgets, land-use issues, and other important items of local business. Often working with statewide guidelines and procedures, local governments can formulate policy for the use and development of the land within their jurisdictions.