Mixed use districts looked at in master plan
By Kevin Elliott
Birmingham Planning Board members are nearly finished with the second review of the city’s 2040 Plan, which will serve as the long-range planning document for the city, following the board’s meeting on Wednesday, February 9.
The city received the second draft of the master plan in October, and the planning board has reviewed several chapters in the following months. On Wednesday, the board met to review Chapter 4 (Support Mixed-Use Districts) and Chapter 5 (Advance Sustainability Practices).
Matthew Lambert, with DPZ Co-Design, which is the city’s consultant on the project, highlighted several recommendations in the chapters for board members.
In terms of mixed-use districts, the plan recommends continuing with the improvement of the Maple and Woodward District by activating sidewalks; adding connections to public space and supporting parks; and addressing parking imbalances between residential and commercial use. To do so, Lambert recommended pursuing updates with the city’s multi-modal, and parks and recreation plans. Lambert also recommended establishing Market North, on N. Old Woodward, as a distinct district.
“Historically, the one-third mile-long Market North – Old Woodward retail district has been viewed clearly different from the core downtown,” he said. “It has now become a dining and shopping destination of its own. North Old Woodward has transitioned from a collection of fine art galleries into a busy district. This district requires its own identity, branding and focus on it's specific needs independent of other districts.”
Additional mixed-use recommendations includes the implementation of Hayes Square; adopting a South Woodward Gateway plan; and keeping plans “loose” in the Rail District.
Board member Daniel Share commended the recommendations overall, but said the plan was too specific with some recommendations, such as the type of seating that should be used in public spaces. Other areas of the plan, he said, are out of line with the direction the city is moving.
“There’s a statement referring to outdoor dining enclosures,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s what we are going to have in a master plan. We just had a discussion (about prohibiting them.)”
Lambert said some of the specific recommendations came out of the extensive public surveys conducted.
Chapter 5 – Advance Sustainability Practices, focuses on green designs, recycling and other sustainability practices. Lambert recommended the city establish a sustainability board to oversee recommendations in the plan, such as the implementation of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.
The plan also recommends expanding recycling and composting; installing green stormwater infrastructure; and improving the Rouge River natural area.
Share said LEED certification standards may prove to be problematic in the future, and could discourage development based on cost issues. Additionally, Share recommended the city take a regional approach to stormwater, working with neighboring communities and the Oakland County Water Resources Commission.
Board member Bryan Williams said the city needs more buy-in from residents who would be impacted by the South Woodward Gateway Plan before promulgating it in the master plan. Chiefly, he said, the city must address noise and traffic speed along Woodward in the area.
Planning board chair Scott Clein challenged his fellow board members at the meeting to complete the review and implementation of the master plan, rather than get bogged down in critiques.
“Respectfully, I’m more than a little frustrated from what I heard. If we strip away everything in the master plan, what is the point of doing it,” he asked. “Do we want 14 Mile to Lincoln to look the way it does now? We have been actively surveying comments from the public for two damn years, so any thought that we need more – I challenge us to push forward on finishing this plan, rather than sitting in more analysis paralysis and sitting here in another two years and not having pushed forward on anything.”
The board will meet on Wednesday, March 9, to review the final chapters of the plan prior to forwarding recommendations to the city commission, which will give direction to DPZ Co-Design on the third and final draft of the plan.