Eastpointe making zoning ordinance more business-friendly

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 16, 2013

 The updated sign ordinance in Eastpointe allows for painted-wall signs on the sides of buildings.

The updated sign ordinance in Eastpointe allows for painted-wall signs on the sides of buildings.

Photo by Sara Kandel

EASTPOINTE — Eastpointe City Council is on track to pass an updated zoning ordinance that makes the city more development- and redevelopment-ready.

Council recently received the final draft of the amended and updated zoning ordinance from the Planning Commission, after more than two years of revising, and it was scheduled for discussion at the Jan. 15 meeting.

The updated ordinance aims at being more business-friendly, allowing businesses to have more signage and giving the Planning Commission increased authority to make decisions on variances so business owners don’t have to go through the Zoning Board of Appeals for minor issues. 

“City Council’s direction to the Planning Commission is that they wanted it to be more business-friendly and more generous to the businesses that had expressed concern that they weren’t getting their names out there or their location wasn’t as visible as they wanted it to be,” said Mary Van Haaren, the director of building, public works and community development in Eastpointe.

“They also, in an effort to be more of a redevelopment-ready community, which we are working on getting recertified as, they allowed the Planning Commission to ease up on some of the restrictions previously placed on them,” Van Haaren said.

The old ordinance limited signage to one sign covering no more than 15 percent of the front of the building. The updated version keeps the 15 percent but allows them to have more than one sign, including on the sides of the building, where up to 25 percent is allowed.

Window signage was increased under the new ordinance from 25 percent of the window to 50 percent of the window. The amount of signage on awnings was also increased, from less than 15 percent of the length of the awning to up to 50 percent of the length of the awning.

And, the updated ordinance allows for painted-wall signs and makes it easier to be given a variance for painted murals. The updated ordinance would only require Planning Commission approval on full-wall murals, so long as they aren’t advertisements. Any larger painted-wall sign or advertisement would still have to be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Council passed part of the zoning ordinance that covers signs in the fall, but the remainder of the ordinance is set for adoption this winter. If it is adopted, the Planning Commission will have the power to approve variances for signage, parking, murals and more.

“Overall, they are putting more authority with the planning commissioners to make some minor modifications, or modifications to the site plans of new businesses coming in,” Van Haaren said.

“They didn’t have that authority before. That will allow them to increase signage, decrease parking requirements where they don’t feel it is going to impact the use of the property, make modifications to building materials, and other minor variances. Before, they would have had to go before the zoning board to do all of that. The intention, there again, is to make this community more redevelopment-ready.”

And for businesses, that means better and quicker opportunities for growth with less hassle. When Johnny Beshi, owner of Toarmina’s Pizza and Ice Cream, painted a sign on the side of his building prior to his grand opening a little more than a year ago, he had no idea he was violating city codes, so upon finding out, he immediately filed for a variance with the zoning board.

But the zoning board couldn’t decide. If they gave him a variance, they’d be setting a precedent for painted-wall signs, and they weren’t sure if they wanted to do that. His case sat before them for a year, before City Council adopted updates to the sign ordinance in October.

Beshi is happy council passed the ordinance because, for the location of his business, he says he needs the painted-wall sign.

“This is a good thing for us, for me to advertise what I have to offer,” he said. “I opened up the building, which was vacant for 12 years, and I put a lot of money into it, and it helps having the painted sign, because it shows people what we have to offer. It gives us more visibility, especially when you’re not on the main roads.”

The updated ordinance addresses issues, like the one Beshi had, on two levels: first, by allowing for more to begin with, and then by allowing the Planning Commission to approve minor variances so businesses requesting to use a sign just 1 percent larger than allowed don’t have to go though the zoning-appeal process.

“It’s a lot more flexible now, in regards to landscaping, parking requirements and signage, and it makes it a lot easier for a business to expand or add on to an existing building.” said Chris McLeod, a planning consultant from Community Planning and Development who worked with the commission to draft the updated ordinance throughout the past two years. “The way the zoning ordinance is drafted now, the city can actually work with developers and business owners.”