Royal Oak to seek firm to develop new master plan

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published September 23, 2021


ROYAL OAK — On Aug. 23, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to authorize city staff to prepare a request for proposals in order to secure a consulting firm to help the city develop a brand-new master plan.

The city budgeted $300,000 to fund the initiative ahead of the statutory five-year review period in 2022. The Planning Commission recommended the move at its Aug. 10 meeting.

“(The Planning Commission) discussed the city’s current master plan and determined that the demographics, goals, objectives, future land use map, and recommended actions are no longer relevant and applicable to the physical development of the city,” Director of Community Development Timothy E. Thwing wrote in a memo introducing the item.

He said the last time the city entirely redid its master plan was in 1999.

“It actually started in ’97 and took two years to finish. Since then, the Planning Commission has looked at it every five years, and in 2012, there were some amendments to it,” Thwing said. “The city planning office does not have the staff to (undertake an entirely new master plan).”

One of the top issues staff would like to see addressed, he said, is the implementation of a geographic information system that would chart data to a map. He said the move would be more user-friendly, as opposed to the hard document the city currently has in place.

Another top issue, Thwing added, is the ability to facilitate a robust communications and engagement process to include as much public input as possible.

The last overhaul of the master plan included 36 meetings by the steering committee, six or seven visioning sessions, 14 special meetings by the Planning Commission, and several public hearings, Thwing said.

“I think it would probably be the end of the year starting into January before we’re really probably going to have a contract or someone to bring to you for awarding the contract, so it’s really not early if you look at 2022 as the start date,” he said.

Thwing said conditions have changed in Royal Oak, specifically the increase in high-density units being developed in the city and changes in the retail section of the economy, which led to the recommendation for a new master plan.

Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Paruch, who served on the Planning Commission for 14 years, said having a current and relevant master plan is crucial when dealing with individual planning issues.

“Because our current master plan each year grows more and more out of date, it’s harder and harder for the Planning Commission to reconcile their individual decisions on a plan or (planned unit development) or recommended zoning change,” Paruch said. “The fact that our most recent one was done in 1999 is a huge issue.”

She said redoing the master plan has been a part of the city’s annual goal session for the past several years and, every year, the city decided to put it off because “it was just not the right time.”

“There isn’t a perfect time. There’s always going to be something going on,” Paruch said. “This is a minimum two-year process. … I think we’ll not be able to adopt it until 2023.”

Mayor Michael Fournier said the city has changed a lot, in that it has a larger population of seniors, most people have cellphones, and technology has changed the way residents live and interact.

“The world is changing, and we can choose to sit back and go against an antiquated master plan if it’s convenient, or we can get together as a community to decide what the new ground rules are so we can usher in change to the best possible outcome for every one of our citizens,” Fournier said. “I think it’s time.”

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said he would like to see the new master plan aggressively pursue environmental sustainability, address affordability and increase senior housing. Walkability, he added, means something much different than it did 22 years ago.

“We did do the non-motorized plan, and even that was 10 years ago,” DuBuc said. “I think it’s appropriate to spend this money so staff can keep the business of the city running while we go through this and engage the public on this. I would hope we have reasonable, thoughtful conversations about what this means for the city.”
Several residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to express concern that now was not the time to expedite rewriting the master plan for reasons including cost, uncertainties resulting from the pandemic, lack of widespread publicity and public input, and satisfaction with the current master plan.

“Common sense and good planning means voting no and reconsidering it again during the next fiscal year when hopefully we know what the new normal is,” Janice Wagman said.

Rick Karlowski questioned why the city assumed it needed a new master plan.

“Other cities get development into their city without having to rewrite their master plan or jump through hoops and grant numerous PUDs to get development into their town,” Karlowski said. “Let’s find out what (residents) want before we spend money for a consultant and change the master plan that we may not even want to change.”