Flint, MI—Nearly a decade after the adoption of the city of Flint’s Master Plan, Flint City Council has passed a new zoning ordinance to codify it. However, that decision places a three-month timeline on also adopting a new marijuana ordinance or the city risks having no marijuana business regulations at all.

“There’s a conflict with [the updated zoning code] and the latest adoption of the marijuana ordinance,” said Flint City Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer at a July 25, 2022 city council meeting. “So if we adopt this, the marijuana ordinance will get overwritten and go away.”

Flint’s Director of Planning and Development, Suzanne Wilcox, clarified that the issue could be avoided by also updating the city’s marijuana ordinance, which is why her department included a 90-day implementation timeline for the new zoning code.

“The marijuana ordinance is a part of the zoning code in the city of Flint,” Wilcox explained. “The reason that we put in the language in the zoning code that it wouldn’t take effect for 90 days is because the zoning code changes all of the district classifications, and so we have to change to update the marijuana ordinance to reflect those new classifications.”

The discussion then focused on whether city officials and city council would be able to adopt a new marijuana ordinance in that 90-day window.

“Under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, the zoning code has to be published within 15 days,” said Assistant City Attorney Joanne Gurley of the timeline. “So whenever it’s published, that 90 days will start afterwards.”

Janell Johnson, Flint City Council Secretary, said she expected that the new ordinance would be published on Sunday, July 31, 2022 if the council passed it at the July 25 meeting.

“I’m just not comfortable that we’re going to get rushed and we’re going to get everything in time and not have time to discuss the marijuana ordinance,” Pfeiffer said.

Wilcox told the council that she believed the city could get council members the updated marijuana ordinance ahead of the three-month implementation deadline.

“The only things that have to be made to that ordinance right now are changes to reflect the correlation between the marijuana ordinance—and this is for everybody, I know you know, this Councilman Pfeiffer—between the current ordinance and the new zoning code,” Wilcox said. “And that work is relatively close to being done. So I think it’s likely we will have the marijuana ordinance to you within 30 days.”

Ultimately, Pfeiffer approved adopting the new zoning ordinance alongside Councilmembers Ladel Lewis, Quincy Murphy, Judy Priestley, Allie Herkenroder, and Eva Worthing.

Councilman Eric Mays voted “no,” Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter abstained, and Councilwoman Tonya Burns was not present for the vote.

While the stakes of the new zoning code’s adoption have been heightened by the concern over the city’s marijuana ordinance, that did not stop advocates from rejoicing over the zoning code’s passage.

“Celebrate!” read an email from Flint Residents for Stronger Neighborhoods (FRSN), a grassroots group that has been lobbying for the zoning code passage since late 2021. “Tonight after a decade of work, over 5,000 people engaged, hundreds of community meetings, and dozens of council meetings, committee meetings, and public hearings, the Flint City Council passed the new zoning ordinance based on the City of Flint Master Plan.”

As noted by FRSN organizers, the creation of Flint’s Master Plan, a land-use visioning document referred to as the “blueprint for the City,” saw the participation of thousands of residents through the course of its development in 2012. 

That process was awarded the 2014 Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach by the Michigan Association of Planning, and by 2017, the city’s Planning Commission adopted an updated zoning ordinance to codify the Master Plan’s vision for Flint’s land use.

However, that updated zoning ordinance did not come before council until mid-2021, when it was partially passed before city officials realized adopting it in such a way actually invalidated the zoning code altogether.

Since then, the city’s old zoning code, which contains language dating back to the 1960s, has been in effect while the new code was reintroduced, edited, delayed, and now adopted at the July 25 meeting.

Should the new zoning code be published as promised on July 31, Flint City Council will have 90 calendar days, or until October 29, 2022, to also adopt a new marijuana ordinance before the city’s current one is invalidated.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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