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Van Dyke, Mound zoning district proposals introduced

New districts could bring taller buildings, flexible developments

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 18, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — The heart of the city could achieve a higher elevation if the Sterling Heights City Council eventually follows through on adopting some new zoning proposals.

During an Oct. 15 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to introduce zoning ordinance amendments that together would create two new economic development districts. One zoning amendment would create a Van Dyke Mixed Use District; the other would define a Mound Road Innovation Support District.

Because the amendments were only introduced, the council must approve them in a subsequent vote before they could officially take effect.

City Planner Chris McLeod said the city’s 2017 Master Land Use Plan inspired the proposed districts, and the Planning Commission unanimously recommended them.

McLeod said the plans would produce overlay districts that should spur redevelopment along the Mound and Van Dyke corridors. The new rules would offer more options for building designs, parking and more, he said.

McLeod added that the proposed districts would make the city more proactive with trends while streamlining the development approval process.

“Right now, some of our older developments are very inefficient in terms of how we utilize land since we’re running out of land, so to speak,” he said. “We need to find a way to utilize it more efficiently.”

For instance, the Van Dyke district would generally run along Van Dyke Avenue between 14 Mile and 18 Mile roads, excluding a cluster of property around 17 Mile Road. The district would mostly cover the avenue’s east side, though small areas like the Sterling Ponds plaza at 14 Mile would be included, McLeod said.

McLeod said the new overlay district would alter the “commercial setting that is rather rigid and rather traditional in nature.”

City officials hope the district could become denser and livelier for residential, retail and mixed uses while still considering walkability. The district also could allow mixed-use properties to add retail space at the ground level and residential space on upper levels.

Van Dyke district buildings could become taller too, as the proposed district’s regulations could welcome edifices exceeding two stories. In addition, the district could relax regulations on minimum parking capacity.

The Mound innovation district, which would basically span from 14 Mile to 18 Mile roads almost entirely on the west side, has a goal of bringing more high-tech, research, light industrial and office uses, with retail congregating at major intersections. This district, too, would ease regulations, allowing taller buildings and flexibility on minimum parking.

“If they can show that they don’t necessarily need the parking for that particular development, we have the right to administratively change that (parking) calculation, again, without going through the additional review process,” McLeod said.

In both districts, the city would impose regulations that would screen residential areas from nonresidential ones.

According to city officials, redevelopment projects would submit a site plan, and McLeod said nonresidential developments that abut residential ones would still need Planning Commission oversight. But the proposed overlay districts would supply “almost built-in variances” to the zoning regulations already in place, he said.

During the meeting, council members asked city officials further questions about the districts. Councilman Michael Radtke wanted to know how high the buildings would become on Van Dyke. McLeod said he would be surprised if buildings go above four stories.

“Realistically, you’re changing construction methodology once you go over four,” McLeod said. “We’ve seen new delivery of four-story buildings on 15 and Van Dyke. I think that very well may become the norm if the property is there.”

Councilman Henry Yanez wanted more assurance about parking, public safety and accessibility to the Fire Department. McLeod said the Fire Department is “very active in our plan review.”

Mayor Michael Taylor praised the proposals and thanked the Planning Commission for its role in making the proposed development districts possible.

“Van Dyke is a corridor —  Mound too — that isn’t just an industrial area. It is a place where we can really showcase the commercial and retail — and not just that, but mixed-use concepts there,” Taylor said.

“We always really focus on Hall Road (and) talk about our ‘golden corridor,’ but there’s no reason that Mound and Van Dyke can’t mimic that in some way as well.”

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