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Land Use, Development and Zoning


Varnum has become a trusted advisor to real estate and manufacturing developers, as well as governmental entities because of our depth of knowledge in real estate, zoning and other regulatory matters, municipal law and environmental issues. We supply the full range of legal services in the areas of land use, development, condemnation, municipal law and construction, and also counsel in issues of design, entitlements, government consulting, acquisition and risk management.

We represent clients in connection with zoning compliance, variances, preparation of ordinances, drainage and runoff issues, wetlands regulation, condemnation and historic preservation issues. Small businesses, major developers and municipalities rely on our skills and knowledge for projects and land use planning.

Our clients include shopping center developers, restaurant chains, petroleum companies, office park developers, single-family subdividers, industrial developers, mobile home park developers, and multiple residential and hotel developers. We occasionally represent cities and other municipalities in zoning, land use and condemnation matters, as well as revisions to master plans and zoning ordinances.

For more information, please contact either your Varnum attorney, or Matt Zimmerman at 616/336-6536 or

Land Use Planning

Land use planning has many aspects:

  • Understanding zoning requirements and seeking variances
  • Pre-acquisition planning and due diligence
  • The condemnation process
  • Developing strategies to optimize land use
  • Urban growth and urban planning issues
  • Environmental risk analysis
  • Special circumstances and situations

Land Use Permitting and Due Diligence

Varnum attorneys are experienced in federal and state due diligence requirements and industry standards. Our due diligence, land use permitting and real estate development experience includes:

  • Counsel concerning environmental assessments prior to acquisition of new properties or lending associated with real estate and ongoing operations (recently conducted environmental assessments/audits for international merger of 100 facilities in six weeks)
  • Assessment of statutory and regulatory criteria required for an extensive range of industrial developments, including brownfield redevelopment and financing
  • Representation of developers seeking wetlands, sand dunes, floodplains and other natural resources permits, as well as site remediation
  • U.S. EPA prospective purchaser agreement for National Priorities List Superfund site redevelopment
  • Guidance to financial institutions on environmental lender liability issues for loans, foreclosures and work-outs, and defense of such claims

We work with clients to find solutions to problems with municipalities and other regulatory agencies on a non-adversarial basis. However, if litigation becomes necessary, we are prepared to advance our client's interest. Condemnation is one area in which litigation is often necessary.

Environmental Risk Analysis

In the area of environmental risk analysis, we help clients evaluate potential environmental concerns associated with the purchase or sale of a business or real estate. We perform specific types of review and analysis of environmental due diligence documentation, including:

  • Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments
  • Baseline environmental assessments (BEA)
  • Environmental compliance audit reports

With respect to special circumstances of situations, we have addressed issues such as the following:

  • Power plant projects multimedia environmental development
  • Bond counsel for Clean Michigan Initiative
  • Preparation of municipal ordinances for brownfield redevelopment and risk-based/land use cleanup restrictions
  • Acquisition of federal and state mining and exploration drilling permits
  • Inland Lakes and Streams Act after-the-fact permit negotiation for dock construction
  • Reassessment and redetermination of remedial obligations for property owners in light of changes to Michigan Part 201 risk-based cleanup criteria

At Varnum, we are continually working to maintain the trust of our clients and to address their changing service needs. It is this attention to detail that helps our clients focus on building their business.

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