DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE ON CITY HALL

Simon PLC Attorneys & Counselors – March 2021 Memorandum

DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE ON CITY HALL

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan – Have you ever had an issue with your local municipality?  Are your elected leaders trying to change local ordinances that affect your business?  Effective challenges to proposed changes to local laws can stop and or eliminate negative impacts on your business.  The key is to be proactive and you do not need to be afraid to take on city hall.  In many instances, the processes and procedures of government can be put to work for you.

In 2019, our Firm was engaged by a client to challenge the amendment of a local municipality’s zoning ordinance regarding restrictions on off-premises liquor merchants.  Off-premises liquor merchants sell packaged liquor for consumption at home as opposed to on-premises liquor merchants, like restaurants and bars.

Back in 2018, this municipality, let’s call it, “Z Township” passed a zoning ordinance dealing with the health, safety and welfare of persons and property of the community by restricting, among other things, the number of off-premises liquor merchants that could operate in one square of each other to just two (2).  The ordinance also would not allow off-premises sale of alcohol to be located within five hundred feet of a place of worship, public park, licensed daycare facility, pre-and/or K-12 school.

In 2019 less than a year after the passage of the zoning ordinance, the Z Township Board of Trustees was approached by two gas station owners (the “Petitioners”), who requested an amendment to the local zoning ordinance to allow any merchant that had license to sell beer and wine to upgrade that license to a hard liquor.   This would allow the merchant to upgrade its beer and wine license without any special land use approval from Z Township resulting in the proliferation of off-premises liquor merchants within Z Township.

The Petitioners’ zoning ordinance amendment request was properly noticed for public hearing.  A first public hearing was held before the Z Township Planning Commission, which voted against the amendment because such an amendment would undermine the restrictions on liquor sales passed by Z Township in 2018 regarding the health, safety and welfare of its people and property.   A second publicly noticed hearing was later held before the Z Township Board of Trustees, which voted 4-3 to pass the Petitioner’s request and allow an amendment to the zoning ordinance.  The sentiment among some board members was “what’s wrong with a little competition?”

Our client, a neighboring licensed wine and liquor store, approached our Firm to assist with challenging the decision to amend the ordinance.  Our client’s store is located next door to one of the gas station-Petitioners and would be negatively impacted by having another liquor merchant right next door.  As fate would have it, the attorneys for the Petitioners were allowed to provide the board of trustees with the proposed amendment language.  The proposed amendment language was less than eloquent, and an additional public hearing was needed to reconsider the proposed amendment.  This gave our client the opportunity to retain counsel, who carefully reviewed the 2018 ordinance and the 2019 amendment request.  This allowed our client to vigorously object to the proposed amendment and to publicly voice concern about the impact the amendment would have on the community at large as well as to current liquor merchants located in Z Township.  Our client stood up for herself against “city hall.”   

After a second public hearing before the Z Township Planning Commission and another unanimous vote against the zoning ordinance amendment, the Z Township Board of Trustees considered the Petitioners’ request for a second time.  After a vociferous public hearing filled with arguments from counsel against the amendment along with impassionate pleas from members of the community, the Z Township Board of Trustees reversed course and voted unanimously against the Petitioners and denied their request to amend the zoning ordinance.

The moral of the story is: do not be afraid to take on city hall.  We at Simon PLC Attorneys & Counselors will have your back.  We are always ready to answer your questions and can assist you with your challenge at your local municipality.  Proactive measures by business owners really do pay off.  The key is to pay attention to your local municipality.

N.B. Not Legal Advice: Please contact us if you would like to discuss the facts and circumstances of your specific matter. Simon PLC Attorneys & Counselors expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this memorandum. The information contained herein may not reflect current legal developments and is provided without any knowledge as to the recipient’s location, industry, identity or specific circumstances. No recipients of this content, clients or otherwise, should act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of any content included in this memorandum without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction for which the recipient’s legal issue(s) involve. The application and impact of relevant laws varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and our attorneys do not seek to practice law in states, territories and foreign countries where they are not properly authorized to do so.

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