We address in this case the authority of a local governing body to disapprove a proposed subdivision plat pursuant to the Subdivision Control Act (SCA), MCL 560.101 et seq.; MSA 26.430(101) et seq., and the scope of such a body's authority to place conditions on the approval of such a plat consistent with this Court's decision in Arrowhead Development Co v Livingston Co Road Comm, 413 Mich. 505; 322 N.W.2d 702 (1982). We conclude that the local township board of trustees in this case acted within its authority under the SCA and Arrowhead.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On December 15, 1987, Meridian Township granted the developer plaintiffs' request to rezone a fifty-three-acre parcel of property north of Haslett Road in Meridian Township for single-family, medium density residential development. The proposed subdivision plan submitted in connection with the rezoning provided for two access routes to Haslett Road. The first was an indirect access at the western end of the development, connecting
In any event, the developer submitted a preliminary plat for the first phase of the development, entitled Meadowbrook Estates, on March 2, 1988. This plat proposed construction of twenty-five new homes on an 8.8-acre parcel at the eastern end of the overall development area. For this initial phase of the development, access to Haslett Road was to be provided only through Creekwood Lane, and not through the direct boulevard access. As required by the SCA, the developer submitted the plat to the Ingham County Health Department, the Ingham County Drain Commission, and the Ingham County Road Commission, and obtained the necessary approvals. The road commission, however, imposed the condition, not challenged by the developer, that a direct access route to Haslett Road be built for hauling and construction purposes. The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and the Haslett Public Schools also approved the plat.
The Meridian Township Board of Trustees, the final local authority with regard to plat approval, considered the proposed plat at its regular meeting of September 20, 1988, and disapproved it by a vote of five to one. At meetings on October 3 and November 22, 1988, the board amended the minutes of its September 20 meeting to specify the reasons for its disapproval of the plat and the key condition of approval, which were adopted by a vote of five to two, as follows:
The developer filed suit to overturn the disapproval of his plat on November 3, 1988, contending that (1) the township board failed properly to approve or disapprove the plat within ninety days of filing, with reasons for disapproval and conditions for approval stated in writing, in accordance with SCA § 112(2), and (2) the township board lacked substantive authority under the SCA and Arrowhead, supra, to disapprove the plat and condition its approval on the requirement that the developer build the direct access route to Haslett Road. The Ingham Circuit Court, on February 1, 1989, granted the township's motion for summary disposition, rejecting the developer's § 112(2) claim, finding that the board's disapproval of the plat was supported by SCA § 182(4)(a), and distinguishing Arrowhead. The court also stated, in its oral opinion of January 25, 1989, that the township board was entitled to require the developer to build an entrance to Haslett Road more than 750 feet east of the Creekwood-Haslett intersection, thereby indicating that the court also endorsed the board's reliance upon § VII.B.1 of the road commission plat procedures. The developer appealed.
On June 25, 1991, the circuit court clarified its opinion as follows:
We then granted leave to appeal, 439 Mich. 868 (1991), and we now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, finding ourselves in agreement with the reasoning of the circuit court.
A. THE TOWNSHIP BOARD'S STATUTORY AUTHORITY
The authority of local governing bodies to approve and disapprove proposed subdivision plats is created and governed by the SCA. SCA § 106 provides:
SCA § 105 provides:
(a) The provisions of this act.
In this case, the township board asserts three grounds for its rejection of the developer's proposed plat, one deriving from each quoted subsection. The board argues that its action is supported by (1) a "provision of this act," namely, SCA § 182(4)(a), (2) a "published rule of a municipality," namely, § 101-4.12(a) of the Meridian Township Subdivision Regulations, and (3) a "published rule of a ... county road commission," namely, § VII.B.1 of the Ingham County Road Commission Procedures for Plat Street Development.
We do not address the validity of the township board's reliance upon § 101-4.12(a) of the subdivision regulations, in view of the fact that neither the circuit court nor the Court of Appeals has passed on that issue, and we find that we need not address that issue in order to resolve this case. The three issues before this Court are the validity of SCA § 182(4)(a) and § VII.B.1 of the road commission plat procedures as bases for the township board's action and the relevance of this Court's decision in Arrowhead.
B. SCA § 182(4)(a)
Section 182(4)(a) of the SCA states:
The Court of Appeals held that § 182(4)(a)
This interpretation would preclude rejecting any plat on the basis of § 182(4)(a) unless it were totally isolated, without regard for the suitability of whatever minimal access to some public street is provided. The interpretation thus effectively rewrites § 182(4)(a) so as to eliminate the requirement of "suitable access."
While "isolated" generally connotes detachment
In any event, reading § 182(4)(a) as an integrated whole, it clearly provides that the remedy for "isolation" is to provide "suitable access." Not just any access, or some access, but suitable access. It would contradict ordinary usage to deem any access, no matter how minimal or inconvenient, to automatically constitute suitable access. One standard dictionary defines "suitable" as "[a]ppropriate to a given purpose or occasion," and offers such synonyms as "fit, ... meet, proper, appropriate, apt, fitting, happy, [and] felicitous." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: New College Edition (1982), pp 1217, 508. "Suitable ... implies ability to meet requirements related to a particular need or to an occasion...." Id. at 508.
Under the Court of Appeals interpretation, if a plat starts out totally isolated from any public street, a township is free to reject the plat until
The Court of Appeals interpretation, in effect, rewrites § 182(4)(a) to read as follows:
The effective excision of the term "suitable" from § 182(4)(a) violates, of course, the familiar principle of statutory construction that "[e]very word of a statute should be given meaning and no word should be treated as surplusage or rendered nugatory if at all possible." Baker v General Motors Corp, 409 Mich. 639, 665; 297 N.W.2d 387 (1980).
At the very least, the foregoing analysis demonstrates that the meaning of § 182(4)(a) is open to serious question and cannot be resolved on the
We just recently reaffirmed the importance of this principle of liberal construction. See Adams Outdoor Advertising v East Lansing, 439 Mich. 209, 218, n 14; 483 N.W.2d 38 (1992). Furthermore, as we have held:
Thus, the township board's authority under § 182(4)(a) must be broadly and liberally construed in light of the stated legislative purposes of the
The township board's authority to determine whether the access provided to a proposed subdivision is "suitable," above and beyond the minimal existence of any access to any existing public street, flows naturally from § 182(4)(a) when that provision is interpreted in light of the principles set forth above. The township board's ability to ensure "suitability" of access clearly serves the stated legislative concerns relating to public safety, the orderly use of land, and proper ingress to and egress from lots.
In sum, we conclude that while Creekwood Lane is, technically, a public street and would provide some access to the outside world for the proposed subdivision, the township board was entitled to conclude that Creekwood Lane would not provide suitable access to the subdivision in light of all the circumstances, in particular the safety concerns regarding the Creekwood-Haslett intersection discussed more fully in part II(C). Therefore, § 182(4)(a) supports the township board's disapproval of the proposed plat.
Finally, the condition for plat approval imposed by the township board in this case — that the developer
In Arrowhead, the developer submitted for approval a subdivision plat adjoining Chilson Road, a public county road. A steep hill on Chilson Road threatened to create a hazardous sight obstruction for traffic entering and leaving the proposed subdivision by Navajo Trail, one of three planned entrances to the subdivision.
We expressly emphasized two other crucially important factors in Arrowhead. First, we noted that conditioning plat approval on the developer's improvement of land totally outside his own property would exceed the authority of local governments under the SCA because "only the parcel or tract of land in which the proprietor has an ownership interest can be partitioned or divided by him...." 413 Mich. 517 (emphasis added). "[W]e think the Legislature cannot be said to have intended implicitly to extend the requirements of § 183(1)(b) to roads outside the subdivision which are not `required to be shown on a plat.'" Id. at 518.
Significantly, this Court noted in Arrowhead that "under § 183(1)(b) the commission could have required that Arrowhead lay out Navajo Trail in a way which would locate its intersection with Chilson Road at a safe distance from the hazardous sight obstruction ...." 413 Mich. 518 (emphasis added). This hypothetical condition bears a remarkable similarity to the condition that the township board has imposed in this case, which is essentially that the developer locate the main access road to his subdivision at a safe distance from the sight obstruction (the s-curve) on Haslett Road. The developer in this case has not been asked to remedy the sight obstruction on the county road itself, as was the developer in Arrowhead.
While the required access road would extend beyond the boundaries of the initial plat submitted by the developer, it does not constitute, as did the county road in Arrowhead, a road "outside the subdivision which [is] not `required to be shown on a plat.'" 413 Mich. 518. To the contrary, the required access road would traverse the developer's own property across the overall planned subdivision, which the developer himself has already slated for eventual platting and development.
In sum, nothing more has been asked of the developer in this case than that he develop his own property in a manner consistent with governing statutes, local regulations, and legitimate safety concerns. The duty to provide suitable access in accordance with such statutes and regulations rests with the developer. The township board's request in furtherance of that goal does
The courts cannot sit in judgment on the precise merits of the myriad discretionary and factbound decisions reached every day by democratically elected local governing bodies in the area of zoning and development. We can only review whether local governing bodies have discharged their powers in a manner consistent with applicable law. We find no basis for concluding that the township board has done otherwise in this case. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the circuit court.
LEVIN, BOYLE, and GRIFFIN, JJ., concurred with CAVANAGH, C.J.
RILEY, J. (dissenting).
This case arises out of the rejection by defendants township and township
I dissent from my colleagues because SCA § 182(4)(a)
As conceded by the circuit judge, "Creekwood is literally, a public street itself, and ... provides some access to the outside world." The Court of Appeals also found that "§ 182(4) does not apply to the instant situation since access to the subdivision is gained by Creekwood Drive, an existing public street." Id. at 4.
Twenty-five homes currently utilize Creekwood. Creekwood in fact is already equipped to accommodate an extension to a new subdivision by way of the stub street that was constructed as part of the
Furthermore, the finding that the defendants' rejection of plaintiffs' plat was unwarranted is consistent with a fair reading of the SCA and applicable Michigan case law. Approving authorities, such as defendant township board, have no inherent power to approve or reject a proposed development plat. Any power they do have is given by the Legislature, through the SCA.
(a) The provisions of this act.
In the instant case, defendants argue that they assumed a secondary access to Haslett Road would be built because it was included in plaintiffs' larger plan submitted with their rezoning request. Proper zoning is a prerequisite to plat approval. Oakland Court v York Twp, 128 Mich.App. 199, 201; 339 N.W.2d 873 (1983). A zoning plan is not, however, a plat for purposes of the SCA. Because the governing body must act only within the limits of authority given to it by the SCA, it must rely only upon a plat submitted pursuant to the SCA,
Our decision in Arrowhead Development Co v Livingston Co Road Comm, 413 Mich. 505; 322 N.W.2d 702 (1982), does not control the issue in the instant case. Whether or not an alteration could be required outside the plat, but on land owned by the developer and intended to be part of the same subdivision, was not at issue in Arrowhead. The road commission in Arrowhead required that the developer make several alterations to his plat before approval would be granted. Of all the requirements, only the one which involved land outside the submitted plat was stricken by this Court as unwarranted. The commission could have required the developer to relocate Navajo Trail, a road entirely within the boundaries of the proposed plat. 413 Mich. 518. Improvements upon the county road which abutted the developer's property could not be required, for they were entirely outside the land to be partitioned and divided by the developer. Id.
Other cases cited by the parties do not support a contrary result. The pre-Arrowhead decision of Carlson v City of Troy
Similarly, in Eversdyk v Wyoming City Council
Thus with all respect to my colleagues, I would hold that defendants' rejection of plaintiffs' proposed plat was not authorized by the powers conferred upon it by the SCA. I would therefore affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals, reversing the
BRICKLEY and MALLETT, JJ., concurred with RILEY, J.
The dissent relies upon the township's purported "policy of allowing single accesses to developments of fifty homes or less ...." Post, p 644. Such a general policy could not, however, reasonably operate to preclude the township board from assessing the particular safe-access and other issues posed by each development. Equally untenable is the suggestion that the township's prior consent to the construction of the existing Wood Knoll Drive stub street adjoining Creekwood Lane constituted some sort of irrevocable advance consent to the development of any new subdivisions seeking to use that stub street for access. See post, pp 643-644. The township was not under any legal requirement, "at the time the Creekwood subdivision was developed," post, p 644, to give advance notice of what hypothetical future subdivisions adjoining Creekwood Lane it might approve or disapprove, and on what grounds.
Obviously, it is the plat that is submitted that either must be approved or disapproved, with appropriate conditions, by the local governing body under the SCA. But we are aware of no authority, and the dissent cites none, that would preclude the local governing body from considering the full context of the submitted plat and any available, competent evidence bearing upon the plat, including related rezoning plans, in reaching an informed decision to approve or disapprove the plat, as long as the governing body acts in full accordance with the SCA and any other applicable laws.