Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 11:41AM
Clark Hill

The Wastenaw County Circuit Court overturned an adverse decision by the Webster Township Zoning Board of Appeals, determining that seasonal barn weddings are a permitted use in the Agricultural zoning classification.

I represent a farmer who has operated a part-time wedding barn in Webster Township for several years.  The Township prevailed in unrelated litigation resulting in the closure of another year-round event barn and ordered closure of my client’s facility as a result.  However, the zoning ordinance allows “seasonal agritourism” as a permitted use, a provision not at issue in the other litigation due to the fulltime nature of that facility. 

“Agritourism” was not defined by the zoning ordinance.  The ordinance required the ZBA to provide a definition according to the “standard or common utilization” of the term.  

I provided proof that the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Agritourism Association, and dozens of other governments, universities, agricultural extension offices, or trade organizations around the country recognize that agritourism includes weddings.  Unfortunately, the ZBA did not take the proof into account and created its own definition in order to prevent barn weddings.  The ZBA created a brand new definition, which I asserted did not fulfill the ordinance’s mandate.  Something that is a new creation cannot have a common or standard utilization.  Further, Michigan law requires ambiguities to be interpreted in favor of the property owner.

Under Michigan law, my client was entitled to appeal to the Washtenaw County Circuit Court.  Last week, after the lengthiest oral argument in my career, the Court ruled in favor of my client.  The term agritourism includes weddings and therefore his use was permitted under the zoning ordinance.  The Court found the requirement that ambiguous ordinances be interpreted in favor of the property owner compelling. 

This is a significant victory for a fourth generation farming family approaching centennial status.  It is also the second major victory that I have had against a municipality in the last month.  See this post discussing an injunction my colleague and I obtained against the City of Royal Oak.

In addition to my eminent domain practice, I represent property owners in many issues involving municipalities.  In doing so, I can draw upon the experience of colleagues who specialize in representing the municipalities themselves.  If you are dealing with issues relating to a city or township, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Article originally appeared on Clark Hill Property Owner Condemnation Services (
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