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St. Clair Shores

December 17, 2013

Wall moratorium could end in spring

By Kristyne E. Demske
C & G Staff Writer

ST. CLAIR SHORES — After more than three years, City Council is getting ready to require concrete walls between business and residential properties once more.

Community Development and Inspection Director Chris Rayes said, of the city businesses that abut residential property, 87 percent have a concrete wall installed in accordance with a city ordinance dating back to 1966.

Of the 13 percent remaining, some have chain link fences, PVC barriers or no wall at all. Thirty-one of those properties have been able to take advantage of the moratorium on masonry wall construction since it was first approved in 2010 to help businesses succeed in tough economic times. It was extended once more in October to run until April 1.

Under the ordinance, a business without a masonry wall between it and a residential property has to erect a wall if it is undertaking larger outside renovations, or when the ownership of the business changes hands.

At a previous City Council meeting, Councilman Chris Vitale had suggested the city investigate composite material fences, which could be just as sturdy but would not be as costly as cement.

Rayes told City Council at a Dec. 9 study session that he looked into that and, at about $50 a linear foot, it would be cheaper than concrete, which is usually about $75 a linear foot to install. But in discussing the matter with a local fence contractor, he said he was told the fence would not be able to sustain hits from vehicles or large piles of snow being pushed up against it from a snowplow.

“(If) they take a hit by a snow load, they’re going to pop right out,” he said.

City Attorney Robert Ihrie said business owners already have the opportunity to get variances to the ordinance approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, including a change in material used for the fence or for an objection of a residential neighbor to the fence.

City Manager Phillip Ludos said his goal would be to get businesses in compliance as soon as possible. He suggested the Ihrie investigate the possibility of the city extending zero- or low-interest loans to the businesses to help them finance the project.

“It gets us back into compliance,” he said. “I don’t think (council should) continue to pass moratoriums. You’ve given pretty adequate opportunities here.”

City Councilman Peter Rubino said he would like the portion of the ordinance removed that says a wall must be installed if a business undertakes outdoor renovations. In part of the city where that was an issue, he said, the business instead decided not to do the renovations.

“We could have a beautiful building without a wall,” Rubino said. “Now, we have an old building and an old wall, (and) it’s been four to five years now.”

He also suggested that a wall not be required for an individual business unless a majority of the businesses in the same building or strip are changing hands.

Councilman John Caron agreed.

“Have we ever looked at how many places (there are) along one alley (where) we have just sections of wall where the businesses have turned over?” he said.

Mayor Kip Walby directed staff and Ihrie to work to update the wall ordinance to trigger a wall requirement when ownership of land changes hands, but not if just one business in a large strip undergoes a change in ownership. He also directed them to consider removing the trigger for outdoor renovations.

“It seems like people want to make this change and lift the moratorium,” he said.

Any change in the ordinance or a lifting of the moratorium will come back before City Council at a future meeting for official approval.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske at kdemske@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1041.