Eastpointe receives state planning award for ‘fun’ approach to zoning ordinances

By: Brian Wells | Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider | Published August 10, 2023


EASTPOINTE — The Michigan Association of Planning recently recognized the city of Eastpointe and planning firm McKenna for a project that the association said is a “best practice.”

The Eastpointe Zoning Ordinance Update and Steering Committee’s seven workbooks won the 2023 Outstanding Best Practice Award at the association’s Planning Excellence Awards.

A zoning ordinance is a rule that defines how property in specific geographic zones can be used, such as detailing whether specific geographic zones are for residential or commercial purposes. They can also regulate other factors such as lot size, placement, architectural style and height of structures.

“Zoning ordinances that are too restrictive often make it difficult for developers to build necessary projects, such as multi-family housing. Zoning ordinances that are too loose create communities that aren’t walkable and that don’t have the best utilization of property,” Eastpointe Community Engagement Manager Juanita Waltower said in an email.

Waltower said some of the main changes for the city’s ordinance include streamlining the development review process and providing an opportunity to request parking waivers. The new zoning ordinance will also permit greater density and development along the Kelly and Nine Mile roads corridor. Additionally, the city established two overlays, Central Downtown and Gratiot Gateway, both of which have higher design standards, including minimum building height requirements, she said.

“We strived to ensure that our Zoning Ordinance Steering Committee was representative of the community and that there were consistent and unique efforts to engage residents and business owners for their feedback,” Eastpointe City Manager Mariah Walton said in a prepared statement.

A jury composed of members of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association found that the variety of activities, games and learning experiences that Eastpointe used to make planning regulations “more accessible and fun was admirable.”

Eastpointe presented the organization with the seven workbooks that contained urban planning topics such as missing middle housing, height, density, flexible land use, nonconformities and facade materials. Additionally, the city presented different learning activities meant to create more conversation around urban planning, such as Land Use Bingo, according to a post on the Michigan Association of Planning’s website.

“We were particularly impressed with the engagement with the general public at the Gratiot Cruise Public Participation Booth, as zoning ordinance updates would not typically be something the public would find engaging,” the post states.

Some of the things the zoning ordinance does, according to the city, is it regulates the intensity of land uses and lot areas, which prevents overcrowding and protects light, air, privacy and convenient access; it allows a variety of residential housing types, plus commercial, industrial and public uses; and it protects against nuisances and hazards.

“At an exterior level, the city updated the zoning ordinance to be the most user friendly and align with their visionary and strategic plans,” Mara Braciszewski, Eastpointe’s city planner, said in a statement. “But the core of the project provided policy makers with educational and creative material on how to update a zoning ordinance per best urban planning practices.”

Braciszewski said there are too many times where conversations around zoning ordinances are left for attorneys and technical planners, but with the city’s project, inclusivity, transparency and “having a good time were at the forefront.”