The audience consisted of only a few people at the December planning commission meeting, indicative of a lack of hot button issues. Nevertheless, a lot of policy was discussed which will have an effect on people of the city.
The first big agenda item was further review of the off-street parking and loading ordinance that is being revised. The issue was discussed last month, but many questions were left unanswered because the planning experts were absent.
At the December meeting Doug Lewan of Carlisle-Wortman Associates addressed many of these issues and further questions raised by the commissioners. His recommendations for revisions to the ordinance were based on a review of requirements in comparable communities including Chelsea, Dexter and Pittsfield Township.
One revision is to establish a maximum as well as a minimum number of parking slots required for each business. He recommended a maximum of just 20 percent more than the minimum.
“It’s been the planning buzz for awhile and that’s to do what you can to reduce impervious surfaces,” Lewan said. “It can create problems with storm water runoff and pollution that gets into the lakes, creeks and rivers in our area.”
Some big box stores, for example, like to have massive parking lots because they believe customers find them inviting. Allowing this goes against environmental goals in the master plan.
All of the minimum requirements for parking spaces at various types of businesses were reviewed and several numbers have been adjusted up or down. Space for bicycle parking has also been added, not just for customers, but also for employees that may want to ride to work.
The question had been raised as to whether space for snow piles was considered in the parking regulations. Lewan said that it was not, but the commission could add rules if they so choose.
The regulations also deal with requirements for stacking spaces at businesses with drive-through windows. Some local businesses will no doubt need to make changes when these rules are enacted.
Commissioner Dean Girbach was concerned about how changes in available street parking would affect requirements for off-street parking. City Engineer Gary Roubal said the rules allow flexibility.
“If you notice the flexibility section has been enhanced quite a bit,” Roubal said. “It gives the Planning Commission much more prerogative to increase or decrease in their consideration, based on the site plan developers furnishing of the information of his realistic demands . . . This will be more attuned to the way property is actually used rather than theoretical.”
The Commission voted to authorize revisions to the ordinance. A public hearing will be held, probably on January 27.
Car Dealership Overflow Storage Raises Questions
Another parking-related issue was Lewan’s recommendation that car dealerships be allowed to store cars in areas zoned I2-industrial. Increasingly these businesses are being required by the manufacturer to hold more inventory than they have room for on site. It has become an issue in many area municipalities, Saline Township for example.
“This section is supposed to give dealers a little bit of a safety valve,” Lewan said.
Cars could be parked more densely for this purpose and lots would be screened by some sort of fencing. Some commissioners were concerned about this becoming an eyesore.
Bill Beardsley was concerned that many industrial parking areas are clearly visible and also that the provision could lead to areas looking like junkyards. Lewan emphasized that it is new car storage that is currently the problem for dealerships, but restrictive language could be added such as “serviceable” or “operable” vehicles.
Lewan also assured Beardsley that the Planning Commission would still have the authority to approve or disapprove any arrangements made between dealerships and industrial property owners.
Since Lewan had already included this provision in the off-street parking ordinance, no further study was required. The Commission voted to approve drafting of the rules and will consider final approval in January.
The sign ordinance was also discussed. Previously Lewan and many commissioners had been somewhat dismayed by the major changes recommended by city attorney Nick Curcio to their carefully crafted sign ordinance.
A meeting between Lewan and Curcio helped to provide clarity. Some of the language that was stricken from the document was actually just a reorganization where similar language was inserted elsewhere.
However, there were first amendment issues as well. A decision rendered this past summer by the Supreme Court in ‘Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona’ has caused municipalities all over the country to revisit their signage laws.
The court decision caused municipalities to make sure their signage rules were content neutral, i.e., there could not be different rules based on the message. The Post discussed this in more detail three months ago.
People Interested in Parks, Walkways
On October 27, a Master Plan Open House was held to discuss changes in the Parks and Recreation component. Lewan reported that 30 active participants provided 144 comments. The most popular comments related to parks and pedestrian walkways.
Those interested in seeing the discussion and perhaps adding their own opinions can find the information by navigating from the city home page to the community remarks site. The site should remain up for at least a month.
A decision on acceptance of the revised parks and recreation plan will need to be made soon for the city to maintain eligibility for certain grants.
Diebol Joins Commission
At the close of the meeting, Mayor Brain Marl took the opportunity to introduce new commissioner Steven Diebol and to note that commission chair Jack Ceo will be leaving to become a member of City Council.
Steven Diebol was added to the group to replace Scott Lemm who resigned in July 2015. Marl said that his proposed replacement for Ceo is Terri Sibo-Koenig.
“I personally appreciate your three years of service and particularly your tenure as the board chair, Marl said to Ceo. “As I’ve said in the past Mr. Chairman, you excel at everything you do.”
The next scheduled meeting of the Planning Commission is January 13 at 7 p.m.