Berkley Planning Commission adopts new master plan amendment

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published March 8, 2017


BERKLEY — After the end of the monthly Berkley Planning Commission meeting, resident Lori Robertson exited City Hall and let loose a gleeful shout of “Victory!”

The shout was in response to the passing of a new master plan amendment at the Feb. 28 meeting after an eight-month disagreement with residents that began with talks of a potential form-based code and problems with the 2015 master plan amendment.

The new amendment, passed 8-0 at the meeting, supersedes the August 2015 amendment, and many of the changes relate to several sections or words about multifamily housing in the city that caused residents to worry.

“I want to thank the residents for their participation in this process,” Planning Commission Chairman David Barnett said. “This has been a long and drawn-out process, and I understand the concerns of the residents, and I think everyone (on the Planning Commission) also understands the concerns of the residents, because all of us, every which and every one of us, have concerns for our city. And that being the case, that’s why we serve up here, because we have strong interests in how this city is and how it will progress.”

Barnett said there are many issues that are going to be confronting the city as it moves forward, and if the city gets to rewriting the master plan, it will be addressing problems dealing with infrastructure, streets, water, sewers, gas, telecommunications and transportation.

“These are items that we don’t regularly deal with, but because of the way time is marching on within the city, these are issues that are going to be affecting us, and we will have to deal with these as we come along.

“Will there be changes to zoning in this city coming forward? More than likely there will be this, that and who knows what. But we will deal with each and every one of them as they come before the Planning Commission. And again, I just want to thank the citizens for your time, because you all put a lot of time into this, and everyone really does need to be vigilant, and if you feel we’re not doing the job and you have a complaint, come before us.”

Though the room was filled with residents, not many spoke during the meeting about the plan, a stark contrast to the preceding months, when the amendment was discussed over countless hours and in tension-filled moments between the commission and residents.

Resident Rachel Piacentini said so many people showed up to bring closure to the matter and an end to the conflict.

“It was a show of solidarity (for) the residents,” she said. “This is important to us, and we want to make sure we don’t end up here again — where we were eight months ago.”

Piacentini added that she was very pleased at the outcome of the meeting and the passage of the amendment.

“I just hope moving forward that the residents’ input is (sought) before we move forward with such a huge endeavor,” she said.

Commissioner Dean Smith described the last eight months as “interesting” during the meeting and recounted how the commission was discussing people and housing in the city, and how he felt the topic quickly changed.

“Somehow that discussion becomes, ‘What are we doing to the city of Berkley?’” he said. “I’m still flabbergast that the discussion we had about what Berkley might look like that rolled into the poorly written rezoning proposal that was soundly rejected somehow was able to twist itself into a threat of mowing down a quarter of the city and creating low-income, high-rise housing.

“Those kind of rumors, they’re not healthy, they were wrong; whoever started them knew they were wrong. Whoever believed them, that’s even more unbelievable. When you get something that absurd to stir up the city and have people wrecked emotionally, I was really disappointed. I still am.”

Going forward, Smith laid out four takeaways: how the Planning Commission needs to do a better job of articulating its vision and explaining the strategies and tactics it would like to use to get there; when they propose an update, they need to change the timing of the public comments portion and maybe even make it more than once, as they need active participation in a positive way; any changes they propose in the future should be broken into smaller sizes; and if residents see or feel that something doesn’t feel right, they need to come and see them.

“To assume bad intentions right out of the gate is the wrong way to start a discussion,” he said. “I speak for myself and my fellow planning commissioners: There is no desire to destroy the city of Berkley. And when somebody tells me that I’m part of a group that wants to hurt the city, I’m offended by that.”

Robertson said the passing of the new amendment was “exhilarating” and that the grass-roots movement led by some of the residents had been an amazing experience.

Although she was considering speaking during the meeting to thank the commission, she declined to say anything, as she felt something would go wrong because that had been the pattern for the last eight months.

Robertson did not, however, appreciate the comments by Smith at the end of the meeting.

“I just think that more credit should be given to the residents,” she said. “Yes, there were emotions involved. However, he was not on the board at the time when this all broke through in late May-June.”

Robertson said that as far as misinformation about Section 8, low-income housing, she said that happened at the very beginning of the dispute and was shut down by several residents, including herself.

“That (was) maybe 1 percent of everything that happened,” she said. “For him to focus on that and to go back to that, I’m a little disappointed.

“I feel he should focus on the positive, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do: move on. He should’ve probably recognized our efforts as more of a positive instead of a negative.”