Category Archives: Rural/agricultural

Planners and public safety officials unite to fight Phragmites

By R. Donald Wortman, AICP, PLA, PCP

This article was originally published in the Michigan Association of Planning’s magazine. This is the type of timely information you receive when you become a member of MAP.


Kevin Walters, MI DEQ

Over the years, Michigan has been beset with the management of invasive species. We have witnessed the intrusion of unwanted guests such as purple loosestrife, zebra mussels and emerald ash borer. Now a new invasive is intruding on our natural resources and ecosystems with far reaching impacts that goes beyond the natural environment but also impacts local municipalities and community planning. This culprit is Phragmites (Phragmites australis).

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Township adds solar energy zoning

By Laura Kreps

solar-zoning-webAugusta Township in Washtenaw County recently adopted a comprehensive large solar energy ordinance to accommodate the Sugar Creek Solar Farm.  The proposed solar farm is located on approximately 644 acres of land that has recently been rezoned to light industrial for large solar energy facility development.  The township board adopted text and map amendments and the planning commission approved a special land use permit. The township expects the applicant to file an application for site plan review later this year.

Solar energy representatives have contacted other CWA clients in southeast Michigan to explore possible sites. Contact us for more information on formulating a solar energy ordinance.

Ride sharing apps for rural use and the last urban half mile

By Sharlan Douglas

Might ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft solve transit challenges in rural and urban America?

Beginning in November, the state of Nebraska will experiment with a 24-hour ride hailing service that would complement existing public transit in rural areas. Liberty, a company that sprang from a U.S. department of transportation business incubation program, will recruit drivers from schools, police and the Veteran Administration who will keep 80 percent of the estimated dollar per mile fee. The service will add flexibility on occasions when scheduled paratransit routes don’t match the needs of patients, workers or even people who just want to go out for pizza. Here’s the full story.

In my opinion, ride sharing may also solve the problem of the “last half mile” in urban areas. The law of diminishing returns limits the ability to extend subways or fixed-route buses and connecting street buses. Why couldn’t transit agencies license the Uber or Lyft app or develop their own? They could vet drivers and either they or social service agencies might partly underwrite the rides for those in need.

Sorting Out Land Use Activities Covered Under the Michigan Right to Farm Act

For many communities, the intersection of RTFA, GAAMPS, zoning and the building department is the Bermuda Triangle of land use regulation. Can you pass through it without winding up in court?

Wayne Whitman

Wayne Whitman

Carlisle/Wortman Associates has invited Wayne Whitman, environmental manager for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, to provide a framework for determining which activities are covered under the act, and which aren’t. A question and answer session will follow the presentation. Planning professionals and commissioners, managers, elected officials, zoning administrators and building officials all can find value in the presentation.

  • DATE: Monday, July 25
  • TIME: 7-9 p.m.
  • LOCATION: Washtenaw County building, 705 N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48107. Just north of I-94. Map


Attendance is limited and you must register in advance to attend. Please register on-line by Monday, July 11, 2016.

We will serve light refreshments, but if you are looking for somewhere to dine before the workshop, here is a list of nearby restaurants:

Near the Zeeb Road/Jackson Road intersection (south of I-94):

  • Panera Bread
  • The Sports Bar
  • Taco Bell
  • Arby’s
  • Wendy’s
  • Burger King

On Zeeb Road (north of I-94):

  • Grand Traverse Pie Company
  • Metzger’s German Restaurant
  • McDonald’s

Please direct any specific questions about the workshop to Katherine Hoxie , or call her at 734-662-2200.

Scio Township innovates to preserve rural character

By Doug Lewan, AICP

The conversion of a beautiful, historic barn in Michigan’s Scio Township into a special events hall drove the township to create a zoning category that provides a new and unique way to protect and preserve agricultural land.

Misty Farm

 Several brides had fallen in love with the rustic charm of the turn-of-the-century barn at Misty Farms and had booked their wedding receptions there. That’s when I, the township’s community planner, got the phone call. Meeting halls are only permitted in the township’s commercial zones.

The zoning ordinance is, by its nature, prohibitive and inflexible. When a zoning ordinance meets a violation like Misty Farms, the results are usually not pretty for either party. You’re immediately in conflict.

Others might have slammed the barn door before anybody said, “I do.” But I was very much taken by the beauty of the place. The owners were thoughtful and earnest. I saw a chance to help them and bring new opportunities to the township.

My efforts were aided by the fact that the township’s master plan specifically establishes open space, natural feature and agriculture preservation as priorities.  A culture of preservation is pervasive.

This challenge fell outside the traditional approaches to preserving agricultural land, such as planned unit development, open spaces paired with housing clusters and sliding scale zoning in agricultural zones.

We instead thought about non-traditional, permissive approaches

  • Agricultural tourism
  • Bed & breakfast
  • Limited retail
  • Wineries and cider mills
  • Meeting space & other related uses

We wrote a zoning ordinance that allowed commercial land uses that are complimentary and accessory to the primary agricultural land use, subject to all provisions of the ordinance. We established these as special land uses, requiring a public hearing, so neighbors could weigh in.

Consider specific non-discretionary standards

for these types of uses including:

  •  Lot Area minimum
  • Lot Width minimum
  • Access to paved roads (or some similar standard)
  • Buffer setbacks
  • Conformance to community noise standards

Of course the barn had to meet building codes, which turned out to be surprisingly easy.

In addition to commercial activities like cider mills, farm stands, wineries and meeting spaces, the zoning classification also permits value-added procedures, for example, a farmer growing apples could add a commercial kitchen on his property to bake pies. Initiatives like these might save a struggling farm, while preserving the property for a subsequent owner to use solely for farming.

Misty Farms has added a second site, Misty Valley, with a natural pond site and garden as wedding locations. They accommodate one event per weekend from May through October and, at this writing, are only accepting bookings for 2015.