Council introduces proposed business landscaping rules

Proposal yet to receive vote for adoption

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 26, 2016


Proposed requirements for manicured landscaping could make Sterling Heights businesses more attractive, according to some Sterling Heights City Council members.

On Sept. 20, the City Council unanimously voted to introduce a proposal to make landscaping standards on nonresidential properties more stringent in exchange for loosening requirements to install potentially superfluous parking spaces. However, the proposed regulations are not officially approved yet, and they will reappear before the council for consideration at a future council meeting.

Officials said the new ideas would buttress the ideals found in the 2030 Visioning Plan that city stakeholders crafted in 2014. Those standards call for vibrant commercial centers, destination focal points and eye-catching green spaces.

During the meeting, City Planner Chris McLeod said the proposed standards largely represent the Planning Department’s recent preferences for landscaping requirements.

“We’ve been actually working with developers. They’ve been fairly receptive to the idea — most have,” McLeod said. “And it’s actually reflective of current industry standards as well in creating better sites for their patrons as well as the city as a whole.”

According to a city memo, the proposed rules would recalculate tree-planting guidelines for frontage landscaping based on square footage instead of linear footage. The regulations would also require the planting of various approved species of shrubs, grasses and flowers near the roadway.

McLeod said this would be “one of the most visual impacts that you’ll see coming up and down the roadways,” and he said it would create a more park-like setting. He added that it mimics what the city has been doing to landscaping lately along Van Dyke Avenue and in Dodge Park.

“The city is committed to landscaping, so we’re asking that the developers also be committed to landscaping as well,” McLeod said.
McLeod said the regulations would call for foundation plantings by buildings. Parking lot islands would also require some landscaping, and one tree would be required in parking lots for every five parking spaces — a move up from one for every six.

Regulations would promote decorative fencing and pedestrian connections to sidewalks. The new rules would require bicycle racks for commercial buildings that are at least 5,000 square feet. And they would require businesses to obscure waste bins, transformers, air conditioning units and more.

In return, the city could, in some cases, no longer require a property owner to pour in asphalt on an area for superfluous parking space and could instead just reserve a green space area for possible parking expansion if it’s needed in the future. McLeod said this could potentially give a break to some qualifying developers and could save them thousands of dollars in development costs.

In addition, a portion of the proposal also sets up a system in which the city could, over time, require properties to upgrade their nonconforming landscaping if parts of it are becoming noncompliant.

Among the other council members, Mayor Pro Tem Joseph Romano said he supports covering up dumpsters, adding bicycle racks and letting some business owners reserve green space without having to install extraneous parking. But he said he was concerned about the proposal’s overall costs, and he encouraged the council to do its homework to make sure it will be financially feasible for business owners.

“There is going to be some heavy cost factors for people that have to modify what they currently have if something dies on their property,” Romano said, referring to plant life or trees. “I don’t want to hamper developers coming to the city of Sterling Heights and putting up small centers to realize that the center is going to cost them a half a million dollars — they got to put up another $100,000 in landscaping. It’s just not feasible; it won’t happen; they won’t do it.”

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko recommended that city buildings such as the library, the recreation center and City Hall comply with new bike rack requirements as well.

“We certainly can’t ask somebody else to do something that we’re not doing,” she said.

Mayor Michael Taylor said the city needs to improve its landscaping standards, and he said he hopes the city will work out any issues before the measure comes up for possible adoption.

He added that the city needs to attract more businesses and residents, and while asking businesses to spend more may seem counterintuitive, he said people are attracted to vibrant business areas.

“I think when people drive through a city that looks downtrodden and it looks like it’s not maintained properly, I think people continue driving through,” he said. “But when they see aesthetically pleasing green spaces and parks and commercial centers and districts with decorative lighting and decorative landscaping, they’re more inclined to stop and do business there.”

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