The majority of the audience for the November meeting of the Saline Planning Commission was made up of students from Saline High Schools AP Government classes. At one point well into the meeting, chairman Jack Ceo took time for “a teaching moment.”
“Some of this seems to go by very quickly, Ceo said. “We talk a lot in terms of ordinances, codes and a lot of things that might not make a whole lot of sense to folks sitting in the audience.”
“I guess what you need to know is that usually a week before the meeting as members of the planning commission we get a whole packet of information as background for the items we’re going to address at these meetings. We therefore have the opportunity to read through it, somewhat understand it, listen to Mr. Roubal’s explanations and Mr. Campbell and other subject matter experts.”
These were comforting words for those lost in the terminology and the discussion of documents that are only available to the planners. The questions posed at the end of the meeting by one of the students illustrate some of the communication gap.
The first question was what is the APA MI? The commission had recently received a trophy of sorts in recognition of their having been members of this organization for thirty years. This had been the first topic of discussion.
The APA is the American Planning Association and MI refers to the Michigan chapter. It is a Lansing-based group that helps train planners and keep them apprised of changes in planning laws and practices.
The second question was about the difference between a C.U.P. (Community Unit Plan) and a P.U.D. (Planned Unit Development). Saline has the former option in place, but not the latter.
“The C.U.P. is sort of a limited version of the P.U.D. in that it only deals with residential type uses,” said City Engineer Gary Roubal. “The P.U.D. allows more flexibility to all uses: residential, business as well as industrial.”
Both forms of zoning allow increased flexibility in planning such as the ability to incorporate different lot sizes within the same development, or, for a P.U.D., even mixed uses in the same area. Because of the limitations of a C.U.P., the planners voted to commission Carlisle/Wortman to develop draft language for a P.U.D. classification.
The third question asked by the student drew a few chuckles. Why does it seem that the commissioners agree on everything? Is there ever any dissent?
Ceo said that they probably have a lack of unanimity about 5 – 10 percent of the time. Commissioner Cheryl Hoeft said that in the course of following parliamentary procedure, commissioners often change their minds in the direction of consensus. Mayor Brian Marl said many of the issues were so “cut and dry” that “the outcome and conclusion is pretty obvious.”
Marl also pointed out that, as mayor he gets to appoint the members of the commission. He says that especially for the Planning Commission he tries to appoint people who are “very reasonable, pragmatic and have the community’s best interests at heart.”
Other issues were discussed at the meeting besides the APA MI award and the intention to develop a PUD option. However, some discussion had to be delayed because professional planner Doug Lewan was unable to attend and his backup from Carlisle/Wortman Associates was ill.
In lieu of Lewan, Roubal presented a “quick overview” of proposed revisions to the Off-Street Parking and Loading Ordinance. It lasted over 18 minutes.
Among the changes were: allowance of new and used vehicle storage in I2 districts, provisions for shared parking arrangements between adjacent businesses, and rules to create a maximum parking space requirement as well as a minimum in order to reduce excess areas of pavement and the resultant high rates of storm water runoff.
There were numerous changes in the required number of parking spaces for businesses, both increases and decreases depending on the type of business. Rules for stacking spaces, i.e., the number of vehicles that can be accommodated in an off-road queue, was also increased or decreased for different businesses.
Bicycle parking is to be required – one space for every 20 vehicle parking spaces.
“I had a hard time reconciling everything that was recommended, because I didn’t really know where it was coming from,” said commissioner Dean Girbach. “Is it coming from some sort of industry standard that our consultant consulted or what was the methodology behind it?
Girbach found the idea of increasing stacking requirements for fast food restaurants while decreasing then for cars exiting car washes to be counterintuitive. He also wondered how these particular metrics would work out when compared with actual cases of too much or too little parking.
“All the parking ordinance can do is establish a baseline,” Roubal said. “You really can’t define maximum use, nor would you want to because it really devalues the land.”
If parking were required to accommodate the historical maximum load, properties would be largely taken up by paved lots and storm water retention basins, Roubal remarked.
The parking ordinance will be taken up again in a future meeting.
Plans for a 17-unit residential condominium development to be built at 218 Monroe Street were also discussed. Roubal and planner Lewan have met with the Mark Lewis who requested rezoning to R1C.
The project is next to Curtiss Park and directly north of the contaminated Johnson Controls property, recently cleaned by the company. Ceo worried that contamination at the JCI site could have adverse effects on the condo project.
Roubal said that was unlikely. City Manger Todd Campbell said JCI never did anything at 218 Monroe and he thought that the owner had already done an environmental assessment.
A recent meeting for community input on the city master plan attracted about 40 participants, Ceo said. Lewan should report results at the next meeting. In the meantime, suggestions can be viewed and new ones entered at the MI Community Remarks website.