Coastal sand dunes are one of Michigan’s most treasured resources. In 1994, the state enacted legislation regulating land use on sand dunes. The legislature intended to balance competing public and private interests over the resource. The Sand Dune Protection and Management Act (SDPMA) was extensively amended in August 2012. As amended, local governments have a significantly diminished role in determining land use on sand dunes within their borders.
Suzanne Sutherland is an attorney with Hilger Hammond in Grand Rapids, Michigan, specializing in commercial litigation, construction and real estate, and environmental law. She is a recent graduate of Wayne Law and published a Note in the Wayne Law Review that proposes more local control of sand dune land use regulation to better accomplish the state’s articulated protection goals. “Revision of Michigan’s Sand Dune Protection and Management Act Benefits Private Interests at the Expense of Local Zoning Regulations” suggests that a state-wide standard established by the SDPMA which allows local units of government to enact more environmentally protective ordinances ensures a minimum level of protection for the public interests. Because local governments are both closer to their constituents and more familiar with the unique characteristics of their neighborhoods, this is a more appropriate entity to make these decisions. The Note also explores impacts to Michigan’s vulnerability to regulatory takings lawsuits from property owners.
The 2012 amendment made four key changes to the SDPMA. First, there is a greater level of state preemption of local authority. Second, limitations on who may request a public hearing for a permit proposal further restrict local involvement. Third, permit applications now enjoy an effective presumption in favor of approval. Finally, more state control and less environmental research over what area should be classified as a “critical dune” erodes the public interest. Many other small changes demonstrate that the new SDPMA favors private property rights over local authority and public interests.