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Refusal to rezone to multi-family not a due process violation; did not constitute exclusionary zoning

by Victoria Heldt

DF Land Development, LLC v. Charter Township of Ann Arbor
(Michigan Court of Appeals, November 17, 2011)

DF Land Development owned a 54-acre piece of property within Ann Arbor Charter Township (Township) that was zoned “A-1”.  This zoning classification allowed farming and agricultural use or one residential unit per every ten acres.  DF Land wanted the property rezoned to “R-7” so it could build multi-family residential units.  Its request was denied.  DF filed a substantive due process claim in court alleging that the denial to rezone the property constituted exclusionary zoning and a taking of the property.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Township and dismissed DF Land’s substantive due process and takings claims.

DF Land appealed, arguing that the refusal to rezone is arbitrary and capricious and that the current zoning was unreasonably restrictive.  They were of the opinion that it violated their substantive due process rights and was an “inverse condemnation of the property through regulation.”  The Court first noted that, in a review of a city ordinance, 1) the ordinance is presumed valid, 2) the challenger has the burden of proof to prove unreasonableness, and 3) the Court gives heavy weight to the trial court’s findings.  Additionally, in order to be successful in its claim, DF Land must show that no reasonable governmental interest is advanced by the zoning classification and that the ordinance is unreasonable “because of the purely arbitrary, capricious, and unfounded exclusion of other types of legitimate land use from the area in question.”

As to the question of whether the zoning ordinance serves a legitimate governmental interest, the Court found that it did.  The evidence presented showed that the ordinance worked to “preserve the rural character, natural features, and availability of open areas by limiting residential development on the property through density restrictions.”  According to precedent, this purpose constitutes a legitimate governmental interest.  It further found that the ruling was consistent with the historical use of the property, so it was not an arbitrary decision.  DF Land argued that the statute was too restrictive because it disallowed the property’s most economically viable use.  The Court dismissed that argument as irrelevant because a property does not, by law, need to be zoned for its most profitable use.

DF Land argued that the zoning ordinance was unlawfully exclusionary because it prohibited an R-7 zoning classification on the property.  The Court noted that an ordinance would only be considered exclusionary if it prohibited that zoning throughout the entire township.  Evidence demonstrated that 28-37% of the residential units in the township consisted of multi-family housing, so the R-7 zoning classification was not forbidden in the entire Township.  Therefore, the ordinance was not unjustly exclusionary.   The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

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