Village gets first peek at Southfield Road Overlay District outline

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 26, 2013

BEVERLY HILLS — Taller mixed-use buildings, walkability, green space and more efficient use of parking are among the highlights of the long-awaited Southfield Road Corridor Overlay District plans that the Village Council will consider for approval next month.

Brad Strater and Sherrin Hood of LSL Planning Inc. introduced the plan for a first reading at the Nov. 19 regular council meeting. The plan details the future development of the Village Center near the intersection of 13 Mile and Southfield Road, as well as the transition to a form-based code that will be the basis for development and expansion in the corridor going forward.

“This took a little longer getting to you than we expected, but it’s because your Planning Commission really dove into it and spent a lot of hours taking pictures and fine tuning, and going back and case-studying to make sure the ordinance would actually work,” Strater said.

“We had public workshops and meetings with business owners, so a lot of input went into it.”

The village has been contemplating what direction to take for future development and improvements along the corridor since 2008, and worked for more than two years to reconfigure the sign ordinance.

Strater said the idea of the Village Center is to make it feel like more of a unique place, with a mix of uses and designs. The Village Center includes the west side of Southfield Road from 13 Mile to Beverly Road.

“We also consider the Village Center to include Southfield Township across the street, the shopping center and the uses on the southwest corner,” he said.

“The idea was to create a sense of place to encourage economic development, a sound economic resource for the village and also to add to the quality of life so residents would have a place they could call their own in addition to the park and the schools.”

Strater said the Planning Commission felt that traditional zoning would not work to achieve the vision of the Village Center, “because zoning regulates uses and has minimum standards for setbacks.”

“That resulted in buildings like McDonald’s, that was set way back off of the road, and other buildings set closer,” he said.

“We are looking at a new type of regulation known as form-based code, which looks at the form of the building (location, height, scale, mass and site design) as just as or more important than the uses.”

The plan calls for:
• Taller mixed use buildings.
• Buildings closer to the street.
• More walkability, shared parking and shared access.
• Better traffic flow.
• Better places to walk.

Strater said the plan might also include a service drive connecting all uses, “but there’s flexibility in the code so that other designs would fit in.”

Hood said the main component she looked to was the design guidelines — trying to prescribe where buildings should be located in order to create more unity and cohesion.

“There would be increased height as you proceed toward the intersection of 13 Mile and Southfield, and that would transition lower as you get closer to the residential neighborhoods,” she said.

The greatest allowed height at the intersection would be three stories, with the possibility of an additional story “if the Planning Commission feels there’s an element that promotes the vision of the redevelopment plan.”

Hood said she envisions a rear internal main road in the center, with Southfield Road and 13 Mile being the main street scape.

“Those are places we’re going to be most rigid, in terms of parking location and making sure the building is the most prominent feature on the site,” she said.

“We also want to make sure of the quality of the materials used. The theory is, if you invest in the part of the site that lasts the longest, which is the building, now you’ve created the character you’re looking for, and hopefully the uses follow suit. The concept is that the marketplace will drive the uses.”

The new code will allow for the continuation of existing uses so as not to step on the toes of existing businesses, Hood said. For existing businesses looking to expand, minor expansions up to 10 percent of the building could be done under the existing ordinance. For expansions of between 10 and 25 percent, businesses would be asked to meet the form of the ordinance “as best they can” to bring the building closer to conformity. Anything beyond 25 percent would be required to meet all design facade requirements and form-based standards of the ordinance.

“In applying the code, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of flexibility. We’re going to have to adjust on what’s actually there or what makes the most sense,” she said.

Slater said the project has generated much interested from property owners and residents alike.

“A couple of them said to get right on with it because they’d like to see the investment in the right-of-way redevelopment so they would stay in the area,” he said.

“We heard from residents to respect the businesses that are there today, to make sure this was not a way of chasing the existing businesses out, but to make them stronger — and certainly the core businesses that are there today, we’d like to see them remain.”

Council President Tim Mercer said the plan will be up for a second reading and public hearing at the Dec. 3 regular meeting.

“Ms. Hood will be back to answer questions, and that will be the time for the public to have a say at this. We thought it was important to bring this forward tonight so people could see the plan, have some time to look at it and bring it back to public hearing.”