Circuit Court LC No. 17-004964-AA
Before: Gleicher, P.J., and Ronayne Krause and O'Brien,
RONAYNE KRAUSE, J.
Susan Reaume, appeals by leave granted the trial
court's order affirming the denial by defendant, the
Township of Spring Lake (the Township), of plaintiff's
application for a short-term rental license. We affirm.
2003, plaintiff purchased a home ("the property")
located in the Township. The property has at all relevant
times been located within the "R-1 Low Density
Residential" zoning district. Plaintiff utilized the
property as her full-time residence until 2014. In 2015,
plaintiff retained a property management company, and an
agent of that company made a telephone inquiry to the
Township regarding restrictions on short term rentals for the
property. According to the agent, a person named Connie
Meiste "said that Spring Lake Township had no
restrictions on short term or long term rentals."
Plaintiff made substantial improvements to the property, and
in 2015 and 2016, she rented it out seasonally as a
short-term vacation rental. As will be discussed further,
plaintiff contends that Lukas Hill, the Township's Zoning
Administrator,  "expressly affirmed [plaintiff's]
right to lawfully use [the property] as a short-term
rental." Plaintiff's neighbors, however, objected to
the use of the property for short-term rentals and lodged
complaints with the Township.
December 2016, the Township adopted Ordinance No. 255, which
prohibited short-term rentals in the R-1 zone. However, the
ordinance allowed long-term rentals of more than 28 days. The
ordinance provided that all short-term rentals must be
registered and licensed with the community development
director before rental activity could occur. The Township
also adopted Ordinance No. 257, which amended the Spring Lake
Township Zoning Ordinance to allow "short-term
rentals" and "limited short-term rentals,"
which had independent definitions, in certain zoning
districts. Ordinance No. 257 permitted "limited
short-term rentals," but not "short-term
rentals," in R-1 zones. The amendment defined
"limited short-term rentals" as "[t]he rental
of any Dwelling for any one or two rental periods of up to 14
days, not to exceed 14 days total in a calendar year."
applied for a short-term rental license, which the Township
denied. She appealed that decision to the Township Zoning
Board of Appeals (ZBA), which denied her appeal. Plaintiff
then appealed that decision in the trial court. Following a
hearing, the trial court affirmed the Township's decision
in a written opinion and order. Plaintiff sought leave to
appeal in this Court, which was granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review the interpretation of ordinances de novo. Soupal v
Shady View, Inc, 469 Mich. 458, 462; 672 N.W.2d 171
(2003). Ordinances are interpreted in the same manner as
statutes; we must apply clear and unambiguous language as
written, and any rules of construction are applied "in
order to give effect to the legislative body's
intent." Brandon Charter Twp v Tippett, 241
Mich.App. 417, 422; 616 N.W.2d 243 (2000). We also review de
novo the application of legal and equitable doctrines.
Estes v Titus, 481 Mich. 573, 578-579; 751 N.W.2d
493 (2008); Sylvan Twp v City of Chelsea, 313
Mich.App. 305, 315-316; 882 N.W.2d 545 (2015). It is well
established that courts will consider the substance of
pleadings and look beyond the names or labels applied by the
parties. Hurtford v Holmes, 3 Mich. 460, 463 (1855);
Norris v Lincoln Park Police Officers, 292 Mich.App.
574, 582; 808 N.W.2d 578 (2011).
general, we review de novo a circuit court's decision in
an appeal from a ZBA decision." Hughes v
Almena, 284 Mich.App. 50, 60; 711 N.W.2d 453 (2009).
However, there is no single standard of review applicable to
the appeal itself, because zoning cases typically entail
questions of both fact and law. Macenas v Village of
Michiana, 433 Mich. 380, 394-395; 446 N.W.2d 102 (1989).
The courts must defer to a ZBA's factual findings to the
extent they are "supported by competent, material, and
substantial evidence on the record." Id. at
395. We in turn review the circuit court's factual
findings for, in effect, clear error to determine whether the
circuit court properly applied the substantial evidence test.
Hughes, 284 Mich.App. at 60. The ZBA's decisions
on the basis of its factual findings are also given deference
"provided they are procedurally proper … and are
a reasonable exercise of the board's discretion."
Macenas, 433 Mich. at 395. The ZBA's
determinations of law are afforded no deference. Id.
observe initially that much of plaintiff's argument is,
in substance and effect, an equitable estoppel argument.
Equitable estoppel may preclude the enforcement of a zoning
ordinance if a party reasonably relies to its prejudice on a
representation made by the municipality. Lyon Charter Twp
v Petty, 317 Mich.App. 482, 490; 896 N.W.2d 477 (2016),
vacated in part on other grounds by 500 Mich. 1010 (2017).
Generally, plaintiff contends that prior to the
Township's adoption of Ordinance Nos. 255 and 257, it had
formally determined and communicated that plaintiff's use
of the property for short-term rentals was lawful. Plaintiff
therefore concludes that her use of the property is
necessarily "grandfathered," and the Township may
not deny her permission to continue using her property for
short-term rentals. Plaintiff argues that she expended
considerable sums of money on renovations and modifications
to the property in reliance upon the Township's alleged
assurances that short-term rentals were lawful in the R-1
zoning district. However, plaintiff's argument turns on
making untenable extrapolations from statements made by
individuals who had no authority to bind the Township.
historical failure to enforce a particular zoning ordinance,
standing alone, is insufficient to preclude enforcement in
the present." Lyon, 317 Mich.App. at 489. A
municipality may, in some cases, be estopped from enforcement
"pursuant to the positive acts of municipal officials
which induced plaintiff to act in a certain manner, and where
plaintiff relied upon the official's actions by incurring
a change of position or making expenditures in reliance upon
the officials' actions." Parker v West
Bloomfield Twp, 60 Mich.App. 583, 591; 231 N.W.2d 424
(1975); see also Lyon, 317 Mich.App. at 490. The
general rule is against estopping municipalities from
enforcing zoning ordinances in the absence of
"exceptional circumstances," which must be viewed
as a whole, and "no factor is in itself decisive."
Pittsfield Twp v Malcolm, 375 Mich. 135, 146-148;
134 N.W.2d 166 (1965). However, a municipality cannot be
estopped by unauthorized or illegal conduct by individual
officers. Parker, 60 Mich.App. at 594-595; see also
Blackman Twp v Koller, 357 Mich. 186, 189; 98 N.W.2d
538 (1959). "Casual private ...