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Board adopts zoning plan for Macomb Town Center

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The future Macomb Town Center, an area designed to become the commercial and residential hub of the township, came one step closer to fruition last week, with the approval of an amended zoning ordinance specifying how the land can be developed.

On July 24, the Macomb Township Board of Trustees voted 6-0 in favor of the traditional neighborhood development code for the area. Trustee Roger Krzeminski was absent from the meeting.

Macomb Town Center, which was originally designated within the township’s 2002 master plan, consists of a one-square-mile plot of land near Township Hall and the Recreation Center. Its borders are 25 Mile Road on the north, 24 Mile Road on the south, the future Broughton Road on the east and the future Luchtman Road on the west. Broughton and Luchtman will be extended farther south as part of the project, as they currently do not reach all the way to 24 Mile.

According to Township Clerk Michael Koehs, who also serves as chair of the Town Center Committee, “A decade ago, we took one square mile and decided to create an area for new urbanism within the township. It’s intended to be a throwback to the way that communities were designed during the World War II era, so we’re trying to recreate that traditional type of neighborhood that’s much more walkable and pedestrian-friendly. The commercial business area will be like an old-fashioned downtown district, rather than a mall or strip mall.”

Still, Macomb Town Center is meant to be a relatively modest affair. Instead of trying to mimic the bustling downtown atmosphere of Mount Clemens, Rochester or Royal Oak, Koehs said, the Town Center was envisioned as being more akin to the smaller, quainter business districts of Romeo, Utica or New Baltimore.

The revised zoning ordinance aims to strike a balance that is neither too strict nor too lenient. In the past, residents in the area have complained that the Town Center has vacillated between those two extremes. A previous developer was seen by many as being too fussy and stringent about having each home fit a highly specific design template, while the current one has been criticized for veering too far away from the district’s original architectural model.

Patrick Meagher, president of Community Planning & Management, was hired by the township in March to amend the zoning plan. As he explained to the board on July 24, “My instructions were to come up with some real standards for the ordinance so that every time we get a new design in, it’s not a guessing game about what’s going to be permitted and what’s not going to be permitted. We spelled a lot of those things out and clarified a lot of the language, and so (we were able to) eliminate a couple of conflicts.”

These clarifications included more carefully identifying the permitted specifications for everything, from the size and location of garages and driveways, to window sizes and styles, to the types of building materials. There are also a variety of guidelines outlining every other aspect of home and business design, along with regulations for lighting, parking, landscaping, roads and signage.

In addition, the ordinance identifies a number of specific zones within the Town Center, all of which include slightly different building requirements for any newly constructed properties. These areas include the Neighborhood Edge zones along the boundaries of the district, the high-density Neighborhood Center zones, the lower-density Neighborhood General zones, and the commercial business hub of the core downtown zone. There are also locations defined as Common Space zones — which Koehs described as “passive parks” featuring amenities such as walking paths and nature trails — and Rural Preserve zones designed to maintain some of the surrounding woodlands and wetlands.

One point of contention at the July 24 meeting was developer Philip Leone of the Leone Construction Company requesting that the township allow for carports to be installed on properties within the Town Center. Although the board ultimately voted against this particular provision, Leone still pleaded his case in favor of it, arguing that the lot sizes within the district are too small for traditional garages and thus better suited for carports.

“If we could have carports on those lots … it would allow us to create some absolutely beautiful elevations,” Leone said. “That’s the whole reason why we’re requesting this. It’s not an eyesore — we’re just trying to create a nice architectural look and not have the same cookie-cutter design on every home. … There’s nothing in the ordinance that stops this from happening, so we’re really having a hard time understanding why it’s being rejected in the first place.”

But as Meagher told the board, “I think you’re dealing with a dilemma of how deep you want to get into the traditional home design. If the goal is really to stick with what you have out there, then obviously (carports are not) going to be compatible and consistent with all the surrounding homes.”

Koehs agreed. “Carports are not a typical feature of a new urban community, so they would not have been a good match for those neighborhoods,” he said in a subsequent interview. “We don’t want things to just be cookie-cutter; we still want them to be unique. But even though each property does not necessarily have to be historically accurate to the World War II time period, they still need to fit into the overall character of the area.”

Macomb Town Center has been a long time in the making, and most of it is still in the early planning stages. Koehs estimated that if the recession had not hit metro Detroit so hard over the last five or six years, the Town Center would already be 80 to 90 percent completed by now.

“Unfortunately for us,” he said, “everything had to be put on hold after the economy crashed. Now, we’re just trying to get the ball rolling again on this project. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can get some of these properties built, but it’s really up to the developers to decide how long that’s going to take.”