Land-use Regulations, Part 2: Livestock Operations In Urban Areas

Let's pick up the thread of the discussion we began last week of land-use regulations in Michigan.

As we noted in our April 29 post, government restrictions on land use sometimes result in real estate litigation.

In this part of the post, let's dig deeper into the details of the tension between property rights and land-use restrictions on livestock operations.

At issue is a state commission's decision to cut back on legal protections for people who want to raise livestock (such as chickens) in areas that are zoned as residential.

Those protections were put in place years ago under the state law called the Right to Farm Act. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is responsible for overseeing the administration of this law.

The Michigan Commission on Agriculture, a special board within the Agriculture Department, decided last week to remove blanket protections for livestock operations in residential areas.

As Michigan radio reported, a spokesman for the commission asserted that the Right to Farm Act was never intended to apply to backyard chickens in urban areas. It was passed, rather, to provide protections for large-scale farmers from non-farmers moving out into rural areas.

In other words, the Right to Farm Act made it difficult for newcomers to the country to claim that farming operations - with all of the accompanying odors and noises - were a nuisance.

With those protections removed, cities and townships will face decisions on whether to permit the raising of chickens or other livestock in urban or suburban areas. Those decisions could conceivably be subject to legal challenges.

Indeed, it may be that the decision by the Commission on Agriculture to remove the statewide restrictions could itself be challenged in litigation. After all, it is unclear whether a rule change by a state board is enough to actually change state law.

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