Over the years, the Michigan courts have struggled with which parties can bring a lawsuit or appeal in a county circuit court to challenge a zoning decision by a Michigan city, village or township. The concept is often referred to as “standing,” and centers on which party or parties (typically, a neighbor) has sufficient interest in a controversy to be able to bring a lawsuit or to appeal a zoning approval decision via a circuit court in Michigan. The standing issue arises in a variety of different zoning contexts, including challenging municipal zoning decisions such as rezonings, variances, special land use approvals, site plan approvals, and other zoning approvals.
Much of the legal community in Michigan thought the issue had been settled two years ago in the published Michigan Court of Appeals decision in Olsen v Chikaming Twp, 325 Mich App 170 (2018). That decision indicated that neighbors can appeal a variance decision by a municipal zoning board of appeals if and only if the neighbors could prove that they had incurred “special damages.” The Court of Appeals in Olsen made a distinction between “standing” and whether or not a party is “aggrieved” for purposes of a zoning board of appeals case, and indicated that a variance appeal involves only “aggrieved party” status. However, the Court also implied that the standard is the same in both a lawsuit challenge and a variance appeal, and that the challenging parties must prove “special damages” in either situation.