The 18 Mile Road and Ryan Road intersection is one of 11 intersections that are part of a newly approved Traditional Mixed Use Development Node District.

The 18 Mile Road and Ryan Road intersection is one of 11 intersections that are part of a newly approved Traditional Mixed Use Development Node District.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Sterling Heights City Council adopts zoning changes for 11 intersections

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 24, 2020


STERLING HEIGHTS — A new denser building development strategy could soon be coming to an intersection near you.

At the July 21 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the council unanimously voted to adopt a proposal to change zoning codes by adding something called the Traditional Mixed Use Development Node District.

This amendment defines a new overlay district composed of development “nodes” at 11 city intersections. City officials say the node concept conforms to the goals in the 2017 Master Land Use Plan, which is meant to guide the city for the next two decades. It has used that plan to create redevelopment frameworks for districts concerning Lakeside Mall, Van Dyke Avenue and Mound Road that offer more flexibility with building uses and sizes.

The 11 nodes are centered on the following intersections along 15 Mile Road: Dequindre Road, Ryan Road, Dodge Park Road and Schoenherr Road. More intersections would be included along 17 Mile Road: Dequindre, Ryan, Van Dyke and Schoenherr. The other intersections would be 18 Mile Road and Ryan, 19 Mile Road and Schoenherr, and Utica Road and Van Dyke.  

The Planning Commission discussed the proposal in June and unanimously agreed that the City Council should adopt it.

The city said the nodes’ purpose is to offer developers more flexibility in developing or redeveloping properties for a bigger range of uses, such as mixing residential and commercial space, or expanding office and retail properties. The city also wants to make these hubs amenable to pedestrians by increasing sidewalks. And they want the capability for denser development and taller buildings.

City Planner Chris McLeod explained the proposal’s intent during its July 7 introduction presentation.

“Gone are the days of more rigid standards, to say, in single-family the lots are X size versus Y depth, and commercial development can only occur in certain areas and separation of uses,” McLeod said.  

“While lots of areas of the city are going to maintain that same premise, the city has been on its main corridors, and now with potentially these 11 districts, providing a lot of different flexibility options for developers and landowners to utilize or better utilize their property in an ever-evolving economy.”

McLeod said the transitions will occur over time. Buildings in the overlay district wouldn’t be directly affected by it unless the owner chooses to build or rebuild on their properties.

Node districts would typically span about a quarter-mile radius from their intersections, McLeod said. Properties near residential would have to abide by screening requirements.

“Those residents that aren’t inside the node would still be afforded protections from the more intensely developed node area,” McLeod said.

“We’re basically taking our more traditional development pattern as a more suburban community, flipping that and putting the building closer to the road,” he said.

McLeod said it’ll cut down on the need for variances and the need to appear before multiple boards. He also said he hopes it’ll spur reinvestment and innovation

“We don’t want to be the zoning ordinance that says, ‘You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.’” he said. “We want to be the zoning ordinance that says, ‘We can review that. We can look at it. We can approve that.’”

In response, Councilman Michael Radtke praised the project but wondered why other intersections — like Metro Parkway and Schoenherr, or Plumbrook Road and Dodge Park Road — weren’t part of the node district plan. McLeod said the current plan simply follows the Master Plan’s guidance, but he said the city could always think about more intersections and amend the ordinance later.

“Once this gets rolling, I think that there will probably be other property owners saying, ‘Why not; why not us?’ So there’s probably other intersections that we could ultimately look at,” McLeod said.

McLeod said the city would try to work with property owners over the new regulations’ ramifications and inform them about how the changes could help their own properties.

“I’m not going to lie — there probably will be some growing pains,” he said. “There will be some times where developers or property owners may not be happy that a development they feel may be too close to the road or may block their view. … We will work as well as we can through the Planning Department to try to ease those concerns.”

Mayor Michael Taylor said the zoning amendment might cause some growing pains, but he said he wasn’t concerned due to the way that neighborhoods evolve over time.

“Just when you look at it as it’s happening, it probably looks messy,” he said. “And then 20, 30 years later, when you look back … it all seems to make sense.”

For more information about Sterling Heights, visit or call (586) 446-2489.