Zoning ordinance regulates new home construction styles in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 3, 2020

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Marilyn Florek moved to St. Clair Shores 20 years ago and lives in the area near Nine Mile Road and Mack Avenue. She said it’s been a wonderful neighborhood to live in, but she understands that the area needs some revitalization. Some homes that have been constructed on vacant lots or as blighted homes have been torn down, however, just don’t match the neighborhood.

Florek said she started paying attention to different older communities, like Berkley, and saw that new houses constructed there were in the “old neighborhood style,” not like those being constructed in newer subdivisions in further-out suburbs.

That’s why she worked with some members of City Council and city staff to develop new regulations regarding attached garages on newly constructed homes in the city.

“Now we’re here with these proposed ordinances. It’s very exciting. Our neighborhood needs a little revitalization, but we want something that’s complimentary, something that fits the neighborhood,” she said at the Aug. 17 meeting of St. Clair Shores City Council.

She said she’s spoken to younger people moving to the area who are looking for that architectural style, as well.

City Planner Liz Koto said the amendment would add a footnote to the zoning ordinance specifying that attached garages shall not occupy more than 55% of the front of a home.

The footnote states that attached garages shall not occupy more than 55% of the linear building width of the front facade of a residential structure, and it shall not extend beyond the remainder of the facade unless it matches the roofline of a covered porch with a depth of 5 feet or less.

“The idea is to prevent the attached garage from protruding from the front of the home and, essentially, being the first thing you see driving down the street,” Koto said.

A Residential Building Review Committee had been formed to take a look at some design options to try to keep the character of St. Clair Shores neighborhoods intact when new homes are constructed in existing neighborhoods.

“This would really bring us in line with a lot of other cities that are having in-fill construction booms,” said Councilman Chris Vitale, who has brought the issue of attached garages protruding in front of homes to City Council before. “We’re probably the only city in Macomb County that’s having an in-city construction boom.”

He said he knows it’s not an impossible request because, “we have a builder here that builds homes that are not the garage-dominant” style.

Another member of the subcommittee, Councilman John Caron, said there is a big difference in the look of the house that he described as keeping “the home look, versus a garage sticking out.”

There will be an appeal process for unique lots, such as properties on the lake or corner lots, where a larger garage facing the street might make sense.

“This is making sure these fit within the neighborhoods they’re going in,” he said. “It fits the majority of what we would see being constructed in the future.”

No homes currently under construction in the city will be affected by the change, but applications for new construction moving forward will have to comply.

City Council approved the change with a 5-1 vote. Councilwoman Candice Rusie was opposed.

The council also took action on a 13-year-old requirement that all new construction should be brick on all four sides to the top of the first floor. Koto said the ordinance didn’t take into account improvements to homes that were not brick to begin with or styles of homes that do not look good in brick.

“It won’t require many of them to go through an appeals process that they were going through before,” she said.

Now, brick will be required on blocks where two-thirds or more of the homes on the block are at least 50% brick on all sides. The use of accent materials such as wood, stone or siding, shall be permitted but cannot exceed 30% of each facade. Additions to any side of an existing non-brick structure, as well as to the rear of existing brick structures will not require brick. All materials, including siding, however, must have a minimum 25-year warranty to be allowed.

Vitale said this could provide relief to builders in some neighborhoods where no house on the block is brick, and will make the new home better match the neighborhood.

“I’ve been on the property maintenance board of appeals,” Vitale said. “I feel bad, sometimes, that people have to come before us and all they want to do is put an addition on the back of their house. This should lighten that workload.”

Councilman Peter Accica said he thought changing the requirement would lead to lesser quality materials being used on homes.

“You can’t beat a brick home, so I can’t vote for it,” he said.

A motion to add the footnote to the ordinance passed 5-1, with Accica opposed.