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COA clarifies restrictions for businesses operated on residential land

October 18, 2016

Two families that operated small businesses out of their homes have to cease their activity on their land because it violated Lyon Township’s zoning ordinance, which had designated the land “residential agricultural,” according to a state Court of Appeals (COA) ruling this week.

In Charter Township of Lyon v. James E PETTY and Marlene HOSKINS (Nos. 327685 and 327686) the three-judge panel of Elizabeth GLEICHER, Karen FORT HOOD and Colleen O’BRIEN ruled unanimously that although the structures constructed on the land each family owned adjacent to each other did not violate the ordinance, the uses of them did and affirmed the lower court’s order for them to stop. 

Both families had used the land for storage of equipment and supplies for their businesses for decades without interference from municipal officials, but once a subdivision was built up next to their properties’ border, complaints prompted enforcement. 

Both families argued at trial that because they had used the land uninterrupted, and made additional investments on the land, that they were precluded from having to cease the commercial activity, and used both laches and estoppel defense, which refer to delays in enforcement and the significance of prior positions, respectively. 

The ruling relied primarily on precedent to determine whether there was enough evidence in these instances to show that the township’s enforcement, now, was prejudiced. 

They found that a business would have to suffer nearly disastrous losses from the enforcement of the ordinance, or the municipality would have to be pointedly deferential — neither of which were the case here — and noted “precedent emphasizes the inadequacy of the evidence in this case.” 

The judges also noted the pole barn one of the families had erected, and the dirt parking area created by the other, could serve other residentially-oriented uses and would not be rendered useless by the enforcement, meaning they were not established at a total loss to the families. 

“The enforcement of the township’s zoning ordinance will work an inconvenience to the defendants who have operated their businesses for years without the expense of owning or leasing commercial property,” the judges wrote in the opinion. “That inconvenience, however, does not overcome the township’s statutory authority to ensure that neighboring parcels maintain compatible uses.”

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