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Amendments Will Make It Easier to Build in Critical Dune Areas
On August 7, 2012 Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 297 which amended Part 353 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (commonly known as the Critical Dune Act). The amendments place a tougher burden on the Department of Environmental Quality ("DEQ") to deny permit applications. It will now have to demonstrate that the proposed use will significantly damage the public interest in the land. The amendments limit who can challenge the DEQ's decisions to the applicant and adjacent property owners. Thus it will be harder for the DEQ to deny permits, and the number of people who can challenge an issued permit will be reduced.
The amendments also eliminated the "public interest" standard from the special exception provisions of the Act. That standard required, among other things, an analysis of the availability of feasible and prudent alternative locations or methods for proposed construction on steep slopes (areas with slopes steeper than a one-foot vertical rise in a three-foot horizontal plane). The DEQ used this standard to deny many permit applications. This should make it substantially easier to obtain special exceptions to allow such construction.
Finally, the amendments require the DEQ to permit driveways and other accessibility measures for dwellings or other permanent buildings allowed in a critical dune area. The DEQ had often denied applications for the construction of driveways over steep slopes within critical dune areas in favor of the so-called "park and walk" alternative. That required homeowners to construct parking spaces in flatter areas well off the steep slopes of the dunes and then access the planned structure by stair. This proved unworkable for many senior citizen homeowners, those with disabilities, and others unable to traverse steep steps during Michigan winters. This change will enable many property owners to utilize their property for year round residences