How does the new zoning ordinance address the major issues?

Below please find comparisons of the proposed Zoning Ordinance and the current Zoning Ordinance on a number of topics. Please note that the language in this memo is a paraphrase and summary of the Ordinance. It is not regulatory language. Please consult the Zoning Ordinances (both current and proposed) for actual language.


Lake Michigan Waterfront

Current Ordinance: The current Ordinance regulates waterfronts in Section 15.14. This section includes setback requirements that supercede district minimums, regulations on uses that could pose threats to waterways (such as storage of hazardous substances), and a requirement for a  “natural vegetative strip” along the water’s edge. The technical review during the update process identified a key flaw, however. While the Purpose and Intent of the Section (Section 15.14.A) mentions Lake Michigan, there are no regulations that apply to Lake Michigan, other than a reference to DEQ regulations.

Proposed Ordinance (Section 5.01.C): The proposed Ordinance would create a new zoning district – R-1-W Waterfront Single Family Residential. This district would have specific standards for the Lake Michigan waterfront. Paraphrased and summarized, the new standards are as follows:

  • Defining the Ordinary High Water Mark as 581.5 feet above sea level, the same level used by the State of Michigan for regulations.

  • Requiring a 150 foot setback from the Ordinary High Water Mark for all structures (with an exception for lots that are less than 300 feet deep).

  • Requiring accessory structures located between the principal structure (i.e. the house) and the water to be less than 225 square feet in area.

  • A prohibition on fencing and signage within 150 feet of the Ordinary High Water Mark.

  • A Lake Michigan-specific version of the Vegetative Strip requirement.

  • A requirement to demonstrate State approval prior to building erosion control devices or altering a Critical Dune or High Risk Erosion Area. No Township standards for these activities are included, however.

  • Smaller front (roadside) setback requirements than the R-1, and the ability to put accessory structures between the principal structure (house) and the road (with at least a 30 foot setback), in order to alleviate the impact on property owners of the 150 foot setback

Commercial Areas/Community Centers/Green Corridor/I-94 Interchange

Current Ordinance: The current Ordinance has only one commercial district, which covers the Community Centers, the Red Arrow Corridor, and the I-94/Sawyer interchange. The character of these areas is very different, but current zoning treats them the same.

Proposed Ordinance (Section 5.01.G-H): The proposed Ordinance would create five new commercial/mixed use zoning districts – C-I (Interchange), C-S (Sawyer), C-H (Harbert), C-L (Lakeside), and C-U (Union Pier). It also alters the existing C district to make it more compatible with the “Green Corridor” vision for Red Arrow Highway. Following are important characteristics of each district:

  •  C-I

    • Does not allow dwelling units.

    • Allows indoor storage, shooting ranges, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes, drive-thrus, and sexually oriented businesses, all by special use permit. Those uses would not be permitted, by special use or otherwise, in any other commercial district.

    • Note: Because of required separation distances, no additional sexually oriented businesses will be permitted while the existing adult bookstore is operational.

    • Allows larger signage than other commercial districts.


  • C-S/C-H/C-L/C-U/C

    • Setbacks and building heights in keeping with the current character of each area.

    • Permit dwelling units above commercial first floors.

    • Architectural guidelines to ensure new buildings complement the surroundings (Section 5.01.H.1.a).

    • Simple form and design guidelines designed to encourage walkable and quaint village centers (Section 5.01.H.1.b).


Current Ordinance: The current Ordinance has no standards for these types of uses, despite their prevalence in Berrien County. 

Proposed Ordinance (Section 6.03): The proposed Ordinance permits “Agritourism” (which includes wineries) by right in the C and C-I districts and by Special Use Permit in the AG and R-2 districts. Section 6.03 includes standards for aspects of the use such as trash containers, bathrooms, and overnight accommodations (which are regulated like Bed and Breakfasts).

Solar Energy

Current Ordinance: The current Ordinance has no standards for these types of uses.

Proposed Ordinance (Section 6.21): The draft Ordinance has different standards for “Small Solar Energy Facilities”, which are smaller in footprint than the principal building on the site and “Large Solar Energy Facilities”, which are larger in footprint than the principal building on the site. Small Solar Energy Facilities are permitted in all zoning districts and subject to fewer regulations than Large Facilities. Large Facilities must receive a Special Use Permit and must be located in an AG district, in addition to other regulations.

Wind Energy

Current Ordinance: The current Ordinance has no standards for these types of uses.

Proposed Ordinance (Section 6.27): The draft Ordinance prohibits all wind energy facilities over 50 feet tall (in effect prohibiting wind farms), but allows smaller windmills by special use permit in the AG district, in order to allow agricultural operations and large lot landowners to make personal use of wind energy.


Current Ordinance: The current Ordinance regulates Intensive Livestock Operations, Horse Stables, and Kennels, and has a limit of four dogs or cats on a residential property. It only permits “the keeping of animals other than customary, domestic household pets” in the AG district and on lots over 10 acres in the R-2 district. Landowners with greater than two acres in other districts may apply for a Special Use permit to exceed the animal limits or keep non-pet animals on their property.

Proposed Ordinance (Section 7.07): The draft Ordinance also regulates Kennels and Intensive Livestock Operations, but outside of those two uses, it has a single regulatory framework for all animals:

  • Animals are classified as “Pets”, “Domestic Livestock”, “Commercial Livestock”, or “Exotic and Wild.” These terms are defined in Article 20 under the definition of “Animal.”

  • Up to five pets may be kept on any lot, of which up to 3 may be dogs.

  • Chickens and Bees are considered Domestic Livestock and are permitted in all residential zoning districts, provided that the owner is in compliance with the regulations of Sections 7.07.B.4.c-d.

  • Commercial Livestock are only permitted in the AG district.

  • Wild and Exotic Animals are prohibited unless the owner has the proper licensing to house and care for the animal.


Current Ordinance: The current ordinance allows signs up to 80 square feet in area and 40 feet in height in the C district, which covers the entire Red Arrow corridor. It also allows up to 3 “off-site” signs per lot, and opens the door for billboards.

Proposed Ordinance (Article 12): The proposed ordinance does the following with regard to signage:

  • Prohibits billboards, except where MDOT regulations supercede the Township.

  • Prohibits electronic messages and video displays along Red Arrow Highway, except at Township Hall.

  • Restricts temporary signage to 90 days, and prohibits inflatable signs, balloon signs, and feather banners.

  • Restricts signage on Red Arrow Highway to 5 feet tall and 48 square feet in area.

Issues that are NOT Included

The proposed Zoning Ordinance does not include woodlands preservation regulations (and therefore does not require a permit to cut down a tree) and does not address vacation rentals.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.