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If a township adopts an amendment to its current zoning ordinance, could the property be used for any use previously allowed on that property prior to the amendment?

No. The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act expressly recognizes nonconforming uses in MCL 125.3208(1): “If the use of a dwelling, building, or structure or of the land is lawful at the time of enactment of a zoning ordinance or an amendment to a zoning ordinance, then that use may be continued although the use does not conform to the zoning ordinance or amendment.” The operative language in MCL 125.3208(1) that answers this question: “if the use . . . is lawful at the time of enactment . . . then that use may be continued.” This means that use of a property could only be a nonconforming use if the property was actually being used for that use prior to the amendment.

For example, a property in Township A is zoned Agricultural. This allows the property to be used as a single-family dwelling or a greenhouse. The property was being used as single-family dwelling as January 1, 2017. On January 1, 2017, the property was rezoned by an amendment to the zoning ordinance. The new zoning district classification is Commercial. The Commercial District allows drive-through restaurants and banks (but not greenhouses or single-family dwellings). The owner of the property is allowed to maintain the single-family dwelling as it was a lawful use as of January 1, 2017. The property, however, cannot now be used as a greenhouse merely because the property was previously zoned Agricultural. Since the property was not used as a greenhouse as of January 1, 2017, the property can only be used as a single-family dwelling or any of the new uses permitted in the Commercial District.

As set forth in the Zoning Enabling Act, a lawful nonconforming use is based on the actual use being carried out on the property as of the date that the zoning ordinance is amended.

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