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Master plan, public projects, Woodward review

By Grace Lovins

Birmingham city commissioners and planning board members held a joint workshop on Monday, June 10, continuing discussions on prioritizing actions highlighted in the city's new master plan, the process for reviewing public projects and the hot topic of Woodward Avenue.

Planning board members have been preparing for the joint meeting for months by taking the key actions table included in the 2040 master plan, adopted last year, and condensing it down to separate tables for each of the city's boards and commissions to focus on.

The table was discussed at length as the city’s planning board posed the question if the actions were successfully prioritized and if the commission was willing to add an agenda item that would give the city’s other boards and commissions direction to start tackling the key actions.

Included in both boards’ tables are three major components: updating the zoning ordinance, addressing the issues pertaining to Woodward Avenue and neighborhood concerns. Planning director Nick Dupuis and planning board chair Scott Clein both explained that updates to the zoning code were of the utmost importance to them, stating that updates to the code can address some of the issues in all three categories.

Discussions between the master plan prioritization overlapped with the second topic on the agenda about addressing issues on Woodward Avenue, including pedestrian safety, noise and speed. Currently, the city is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to investigate a road diet on Woodward, which is also included in the master plan.

Multiple commissioners said they feel that Woodward should remain a priority, but given that it will require significant time and collaboration with MDOT, they felt they should still focus on items that they can control.

“Maybe we keep other things as equal priority [to Woodward Avenue], knowing that where we have the opportunity, we should take it, and where we can make it a priority and we can do anything about it we should,” said mayor pro tem Katie Schafer.

To wrap up the workshop, board members and commissioners shifted gears to focus on the current review process for public projects. The planning board has mentioned in past meetings that they are uncomfortable with the current lack of expectations that public projects must meet.

“It can be frustrating for board members to receive a site plan submittal for a public project. Typically it’s done at the end of a project as opposed to earlier,” said Clein. “There are no standards in place for what the development must conform with from a zoning perspective.”

Clein offered that the city’s public projects, in the planning board’s eyes, should meet the same requirements and expectations that are given to private developments. On the other hand, he and city manager Jana Ecker both explained that the current ordinance does not require public projects to visit the planning board as private projects do.

Some of the commissioners agreed with Clein that the city should hold itself to the same standard that they hold private developers to. Commissioner Clinton Baller said he agrees, but feels they need more help than that and the city’s problems are broader than what was discussed during the workshop.

Board member Bryan Williams commented that the planning board should review the process with city administration, the legal team and the rest of the board to start developing a better way to approach the city’s projects that don’t cause any ramifications.

Since the meeting was a workshop, no formal action was taken but the commission provided some direction and answered the questions of the planning board so the master plan can continue to be implemented. Planning board members Stuart Jeffares and Bert Kosek were absent from the workshop.


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