Zoning Ordinance Variance Information

Ordinance History and Statistics

Lately there has been a significant amount of conversation regarding the City of Mt. Pleasant’s restaurant drive through vehicle stacking requirements. Therefore, what better time to review and share the history and process of zoning ordinance and variance information. The City’s zoning ordinance requires 200 feet of stacking space to enable safe traffic flow and avoid any backups on City streets and sidewalks. This standard, adopted by the City Commission in 1984, applies to all restaurant drive throughs established since that time. There are currently 22 drive through restaurants in the City averaging 227 stacking feet. The average amount of stacking plus additional on-site overflow is 319 feet.

The Process

Businesses wishing to establish a drive through must:

  • Apply to the Planning Commission and receive approval of a special use permit. This process includes a review ensuring all ordinance requirements are met and a public hearing is held. In general, special use permits are established to address potential impacts on neighboring properties and the general public.
  • If a business does not believe they can meet one or more of the requirements for a drive through they can apply to the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and request a variance (a modification of requirement).

Per the State of Michigan’s Zoning Enabling Act, the ZBA acts as a quasi-judicial body reviewing local zoning ordinance cases. The ZBA is a separate entity from the Planning Commission, City Commission and City staff. The ZBA must review a request for variance against criteria related to practical hardship (that is, the need for a variance arises from a circumstance unique to the property which is not the result of actions taken by the applicant.) A variance cannot be granted in situations where the standards of the ordinance can be met.

Variances require the approval of a majority of the members of the ZBA, which for the City of Mt. Pleasant’s ZBA is three affirmative votes. As specified by the State of Michigan’s Zoning Enabling Act, applicants who wish to appeal a ZBA decision may do so at Circuit Court. ZBA decisions are not appealable to any other board or public body under state law.

Recent Variance Request

On December 15, 2021 the ZBA reviewed a request for two variances from the City’s standards for drive through restaurants. One was a variance related to screening, which was approved. The second was a reduction of the required vehicle stacking from 200 feet to 120 feet which failed to receive the three votes required for approval.

The City Commission discussed this specific case at its January 24, 2022 meeting. Per State of Michigan law, the City Commission is unable to hear an appeal of any ZBA decision, nor is it able to refer the ZBA to review the same issue again. However, the City Commission did direct the Planning Commission to review the City’s drive through stacking requirement standard and provide options, if any, for the City Commission to consider. This review will occur at the Planning Commission’s March 3, 2022 meeting.

The City has not issued any tickets or halted drive-through operation through this process, and the City Commission has directed City staff to continue to stay enforcement related to the drive through stacking requirement while this ordinance is being reviewed.