Council, Planning Commission at odds on downtown Clawson’s future

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published September 25, 2013

CLAWSON — The City Council and the Planning Commission are at a stalemate over whether central city, or downtown, zoning should be expanded to include some residential areas near the intersection of 14 Mile Road and Main Street.

Since May, the Planning Commission has maintained that the residential area needs to be rezoned to help the downtown grow and to make way for more parking off of Main Street.

A majority of City Council says the move would sacrifice the character of the neighborhoods and that the expanded zoning should only include the businesses.

The change would have expanded downtown zoning, which currently includes only the businesses along the intersection of Main Street and 14 Mile Road, to 180 commercial and residential properties. The Downtown Development Authority would not have expanded with it.

Council voted down the expansion Sept. 3 and sent it back to the Planning Commission to consider restricting it to just the businesses, but the commission made no changes to the plan during its Sept. 10 meeting.

“It’s like the goldfish: It only gets as big as the bowl,” said Planning Commission member Glenn Shepard, referring to the downtown.

The Planning Commission directed Vidya Krishnan, a planner with the city, to speak to the council at its Sept. 17 meeting to clarify the reason they believe the rezoning should incorporate the residential areas.

Krishnan told the council the downtown’s growth is limited by the lack of parking, even though parking is not at full capacity.

“If we should choose to take all these (residential) parcels out from the city center district rezoning, our downtown doesn’t have room for any more growth,” she said.

Krishnan said there are still vacant lots along the 14 Mile and Main corridor, but those should be sites for businesses.

“We do not want people to come and park on a lot that is on Main Street,” Krishnan said. “That’s not what a downtown is.”

She said that if the rezoning were to occur, it doesn’t mean a developer would come in and destroy entire blocks to replace them with parking lots and apartments.

“If your concern is safeguarding the interest of these homes, we can have regulations where any business that goes in there under city center (zoning) will keep to a residential style of building,” she said.

Krishnan added that for the past year, she has been fielding phone calls from potential business owners waiting for the rezoning to happen.

Mayor Penny Luebs was not convinced that more parking was needed immediately.

“I think this is putting the cart before the horse — that we have enough vacant buildings to fill and then move forward in looking at that,” Luebs said.

The impasse left City Attorney Jon Kingsepp to call for a joint meeting between the Planning Commission and the City Council to rectify the differences.

“It might be wise to consider a workshop session … to determine whether or not there’s a middle ground,” Kingsepp said. “Sometimes, those discussions can bring about a solution that everyone is satisfied with”

No official meeting had been scheduled, as of press time.

“These issues are not unusual when you have a growing community, as you have,” Kingsepp said.

City Councilman Tom Palmer, who has been the lone council member to support the downtown zoning expansion, said it is something the city has been planning since 2009, and he believes it is pertinent to growth particularly along 14 Mile Road, west of Main Street.

“I believe it is our responsibility to make a decision based on the benefit of the entire community, even though it may negatively impact some properties,” Palmer said.