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Zoning "All or nothing" site plan review standards


I've recently received the green light to research possible changes to our site plan review and nonconforming structure/use ordinances. Economic volatility and Covid have caused the higher-ups to instruct us to make "business friendly" modifications to the ordinance. In my opinion, our ordinance is indeed pretty strict when it comes to site plan review. Administrative reviews are permitted within a very small and specific subset of circumstances, and everything else goes to the Planning Commission (that's for a future thread).

However, the language “The proposed site plan shall meet all applicable requirements of the zoning ordinance in terms of intent, use, dimensional, design guidelines and other requirements” was interpreted before my time as requiring all site plans, administrative or Planning Commission, to come into full compliance with all zoning ordinance provisions. So even relatively minor changes, such as a small parking addition in the rear or a new small accessory structure, theoretically require the whole site to be brought into compliance with zoning, including areas unrelated to the proposed modifications. This "all or nothing" approach has gotten a lot of attention lately, and I've been told to look at alternatives to change this long-standing policy.

This text from the City of Pontiac's ordinance stuck out to me as an interesting (but somewhat vague) way to allow for "reasonable" improvements based on the scope of work being proposed, to avoid requiring full compliance with all zoning standards:
Existing improvements or features of the site that do not comply with current ordinance standards shall be brought into compliance as nearly as is reasonably possible. The requirement to bring existing improvements into compliance on a site requiring sketch plan approval shall be proportionate and commensurate with the scale of the proposed improvement requiring sketch plan approval. The reviewing authority shall determine what constitutes proportionate and commensurate improvements based on existing conditions on the site and the cost of proposed improvements.

Does anyone know of language similar to this, or have an ordinance in their community that helps deal with incremental site improvement/adaptive reuse/nonconforming lots?


I'd have to find it, but we have a proportionality test. Basically we only update the part of the site that is being affected. We also have some allowances to get a use permit to allow expansion that we wouldn't do administratively - we do just about everything admin style.