Too many changes to be decided in one meeting, council decides

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 26, 2016

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Facing changes to dozens of sections of the zoning ordinance, City Council instead tabled the matter, with the mayor creating a new committee to go through the changes and make recommendations to council. 

“I don’t think the public has had adequate notice about a lot of the changes on here today,” Councilman Chris Vitale said.

Among the changes that council debated Jan. 18 were amendments that would allow outdoor parking of commercial vehicles in business districts, but would require the businesses to receive a special land use approval to do so.

Currently, City Planner Liz Koto said, the city does not allow the parking of commercial vehicles overnight, but “we’ve kind of turned a blind eye to it.”

The change, she said, “attempts to try to clarify what storage is and what overnight parking is.”

“Subject to special land use approval and a series of conditions ... there are particular types of vehicles that would be considered allowable.”

But council members questioned what would happen to business owners who have always parked their vehicles at their businesses who would now be required to come before different city entities to get special land use approval to continue doing so.

“This just seems like a money grab of some sort,” said Councilman Ron Frederick. “There are businesses who are doing this now and have been doing (it for years. Now they would have to) pay us $500 to ask permission to do what they’ve been doing?”

City Manager Mike Smith said the permission was suggested so that the businesses wouldn’t permanently park a vehicle in front of their business to act as another sign, but Mayor Kip Walby said that there are legitimate businesses in the city that need vehicles to do their business, such as catering companies.

“They need these vehicles so they can operate and make a living and be successful,” he said. 

Councilwoman Candice Rusie agreed that the measure would make the city less business friendly. She also had issues with an amended definition of “kennel” that would define any lot or premises on which dogs or cats from another owner or property are either temporarily or permanently boarded.

“What if a family member’s babysitting a cat? What if my mom’s going out of town and I’m watching her dog? I just turned my house into a kennel?” she asked. “That just doesn’t seem appropriate.”

Vitale took issue with another change that would eliminate provisions to stagger homes next to each other and also prohibitions against building completely identical homes next to each other.

“You build two homes next to each other, one of the houses you put an arch on the window, the other you put a gable,” he said. “We all know that generally is something we do because that helps property values.

“We haven’t had any trouble selling adjoining lots with the requirement that they not look identical. ... Why would we want to back off from that?”

Koto pointed out, however, that with lots being sold to fill in neighborhoods, you would never end up with an entire neighborhood of identical houses, and this gives developers more flexibility.

Councilman Peter Rubino pointed out his problem with changes to the off-street parking ordinance that would require recreational vehicles to be parked in the backyard, except for the days allowed to load or unload after a trip.

He pointed out that a boat is also a recreational vehicle and so, by making this change, it could hamper residents who keep their boats in the driveway during the summer months.

“We’re St. Clair Shores, we’re the boating capital of Michigan, (and) you can’t have a boat in your driveway, so that doesn’t make much sense to me,” he said. 

Walby called for a committee to be formed that includes Koto, three members of council and a representative from the City Attorney’s Office. 

“It will take multiple meetings and it will take several months,” he said. “It’s large; she’s done a lot of work on it. It needs to go back to work together.”

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