Rooftops, trees among issues being studied
Posted on 12/01/2022
Photo shows how a rooftop is used in another country. photo by Vladimir-kudinov for Pexels.At its Nov. 15 meeting, planning commissioners presented updates on four pressing topics, with new ordinances being considered for rooftop uses and architectural design standards, and potential ordinance changes for trees and downtown parking.

In October, the commission formed four work groups, consisting of two to three commissioners, to address each of these topics. At the Nov. 1 meeting, the teams presented problem statements on each topic. The Nov. 15 meeting followed up on the Planning Commission’s discussion of the problem statements, where work groups reported their updates. Going forward, work group reports will be a standing item on the agenda for those groups with an update.

Changes recommended to tree ordinance
The Planning Commission believes there’s room for improvement in the existing tree ordinance. That topic is being led by Commissioners Steve Kirk and AnnaMaryLee Vollick.

The current ordinance language allows shrubs to be planted as replacements for trees in certain situations. Some commissioners have said that doesn’t meet the intent of keeping Northville a vibrant Tree City by replacing diseased, dead or large, unwanted trees with a beneficial shade tree species. Among other aspects, the commission wants to see a list of invasive tree species and recommendations for prohibiting these types of trees, as well as a list of environmentally beneficial replacement trees and recommended sizes.

Kirk and Vollick advised that a licensed, certified tree arborist be used to determine a tree’s health, both on the owner’s property and also on neighboring lots, to ensure proper tree protection. The arborists who met with Kirk and Vollick encouraged them not to make the process too hard on owners of residential lots.

As all commissioners discussed the tree topic, they noted that Northville is different than other communities in that it regulates trees on residential, single-family lots as well as on commercial and industrial property. Most communities only regulate tree removal during the site plan development process, or if large numbers of trees or large trees are being removed.

Commissioners and some residents say the current ordinance is difficult to understand. They want the ordinance to balance individual homeowners’ needs as well as the need for tree preservation in the community. Commissioners asked whether the ordinance should allow property owners who pay a fee to the tree fund to decide where a replacement tree is planted in the city. This may be considered during future discussions.

Features of a rooftop ordinance
Work group members Paul DeBono, David Hay and Donna Tinberg recommended that an ordinance on rooftop uses be compatible with the character of the district (whether residential or commercial); encourage interaction with others in the community; and promote health, safety and welfare.

During discussion, a commissioner asked that the ordinance reference sustainable design and green rooftop uses (such as growing plants or a stormwater garden on the roof) and possibly incentivize these elements.

More study needed before any changes are made to parking ordinance
Work group members Carol Maise and William Salliotte said parking is perceived to be a challenge in the downtown Central Business District and called for a better understanding of the current situation by having a new parking report commissioned. The Downtown Development Authority’s Parking Committee is considering such a study. With new development coming, they said it’s important to know how parking will be impacted in the future. With a robust parking report that captures more than supply/demand data, the commissioners would know whether to maintain or modify the existing parking ordinance.

They noted the existing ordinance as written “lacks clarity and transparency in how it is administered.”

During commission discussion, it was noted that paid parking should be considered as well as free parking, along with the need for mixed-use parking, parking reductions, and parking credits. The overall solution should offer a cohesive, easy-to-understand plan that would be clear to people who park downtown as well as businesses that need parking. Effective way-finding (maps, pavement guides and directional signage) is part of the solution.

Much to consider for an architectural design ordinance
Commissioner Thom Barry updated the Planning Commission on the work that he and Commissioner Jeff Gaines did on the topic of standards for architectural design. He reviewed the problem statement and outlined action steps. These include researching the legality of using ordinance language to regulate project building designs outside of the Historic District. The work group is looking at community models that address local architecture in a positive manner. They have reviewed and summarized the city zoning ordinance architectural references for clarification.

Barry noted that it may not be possible to legislate specific building architecture outside of the Historic District boundary. He said some communities have done a good job of defining “good design” – including architectural expectations with examples. The work group believes if community expectations are clear then outcomes will improve.

During discussion, it was noted that design standards could recommend material standards. Also, the ordinance could influence architectural design by regulating setbacks, fenestration, massing, screening, etc. It was also stated that architectural preferences could vary in different areas of the city.