Vacant Southfield schools to be rezoned for development

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published May 8, 2019


SOUTHFIELD — The Southfield City Council recently approved a plan that will turn the city’s numerous vacant schools into developable property.

City Planner Terry Croad pitched the idea during a public hearing at the April 29 meeting, and it was approved 5-0. Council President Lloyd Crews and Councilman Myron Frasier were not at the meeting.

Croad said the plan is in the form of a zoning ordinance text amendment to add a new section, called the Residential Unit Development District, or RUDD, and it amends an article to add small event venues as a special land use.

“These text amendments specifically address adding the eligibility of an overlay district of residential development of various vacant school district properties in the city and allowing for the use of residential structures and properties as small event venues subject to specific conditions,” he said.

For RUDD, six vacant schools sites throughout the city — Brace-Lederle K-8 School, Eisenhower Elementary School, the John Grace Community Center, Leonhard Elementary School, McKinley School and Northbrook Elementary School — are being considered for potential redevelopment.

“The purpose is to allow for adaptive reuse, to provide attached single-family and multifamily development, to provide additional housing options within the city, and to discourage blight and charter schools,” Croad said.

Along with housing, Croad said at the meeting that the properties could also be used for accessory buildings, such as rental offices, community buildings, noncommercial golf courses, libraries, parks and nature preserves.

There is also a provision in the ordinance, Croad said, that requires 25% of the site to be designated open space.

“The project is to encourage flexibility and creativity, and setbacks, density and parking may be granted, providing they will result in a higher-quality development than what would be possible using conventional standards,” he said.

When it comes to small event venues on the sites, Croad said, the buildings must be located on a major thoroughfare, and the maximum building size is 3,000 square feet on the first floor, with a 1-acre minimum of land area required. The buildings’ maximum height is 30 feet.

“We are asking the council to approve six eligible overlay sites, to approve the regulations for the Residential Unit Development District, and to approve adding small event venues as special land use in certain residential districts,” Croad said.

Councilwoman Tawnya Morris asked Croad if he could delve deeper into the provisions of the zoning ordinance.

“In reference to the zoning, can you bring some light onto that? Are we rezoning based on what’s going to be built or what’s already there?” Morris said.

“Should the property owner decide to move forward, this just provides an additional option for redevelopment. They would have to come through our normal zoning amendment process … but it gives us some flexibility on the underlying zoning requirements that only do allow for schools, single-family uses and so forth,” Croad said. “So this is giving an extra option for these larger development sites.”

Councilman Don Fracassi ultimately supported the ordinance, but he said he was hoping for more green space.

“I would like to see John Grace as a park. That would increase the value of those homes in that area,” Fracassi said. “We have that same thing in Bonnie Acres. The homes went up (in price) after the school was taken down, and it’s just a leisure park now. I’d like to see the same thing happen at John Grace.”