Codification of M-2 district could lead to changes in student neighborhoods
Planning Commissioner Michael Kostrzewa said the M-2 District will never look like a family-occupied dwelling.
Kostrzewa used a comparison to Chicago to demonstrate the differences he sees in student neighborhoods there, and those included in the M-2 District, which are north of campus between Bellows and High streets.
"There is a mediocrity of buildings that have been done there," he said. "The young people in Chicago have landscaping and a diversity of architectural representation. That makes people stay in Chicago and pay more rent. The difference between there and here is night and day."
At the July 9 Mount Pleasant Planning Commission meeting, City Planner Jacob Kain presented possible ordinance amendments related to M-2 codification. The commission set a public hearing on the issue for Aug 6.
The proposed changes consist of several goals and changes to the district to improve aesthetics and decrease code violations.
Commissioner Susan Horgan said the commission has been trying to figure out how to deal with the situation at hand for a long time.
"A lot of things we've talked about are, 'What can we do with the situation we are handed?'" she said. "We've tried to take into account all of the desires expressed here."
The plan for M-2 codification is split into several parts, the first being making a transitional area between the M-2 district and R district. A change in ordinance would make it so a M-2 lot could not have a common lot line with or be located across a street or alley from any lot in R, which is a single-family zoned district. Lots that do share a property line would not be allowed to have more than four occupants per dwelling, and no more than six per dwelling unit.
A dwelling is the overall property, and a dwelling unit is each separate pod within the dwelling.
The only way a registered student organization's dwelling, which are commonly Greek houses, could be near a home in the R district is if the two homes are across a major street from each other. Kain said he doesn't think any of the current RSO dwellings would be affected, although they may be by another proposed ordinance change.
Another goal of the commission is to allow for continued occupancy incentives, but with explicit limitations. This means no RSO house would be permitted to have more than 12 occupants per unit.
Preserving the look and feel of the area was highly discussed by the commission. Their goals are to improve aesthetics, the layout and function for trash pickup and to decrease front-yard parking. To achieve this, the commission would decrease the number of nonconforming properties. It would take into consideration the proposed location, architectural details, including plants and decorative fencing, and get rid of multiple doors on the front of multi-dwelling properties, moving additional doors to the side or back of the home.
Kain said the city encourages unique design of proposed buildings to avoid a "cookie-cutter" look, but they have not been as successful as he would like. Commissioners expressed concerns about the need to cut down trees to make more room for parking lots and the lack of landscaping in the student-populated neighborhood.
"I'm hesitant to put more landscaping requirements in just M-2 because it wouldn't look equitable," Kain said. "We also have no preservation ordinances."
Kain suggested the commissioners keep preservation and landscaping ordinances in mind that the city can regulate in all neighborhoods.
Another goal of the commission is the improve the impact of on-site parking. This would add text to the ordinance saying rooming and boarding dwellings and RSO dwellings have no more than five stacked parking spaces. There would be no case where more than 10 total parking spaces be stacked per site. This would make backing directly into the street unnecessary for residents.
Kostrzewa said these changes are necessary to keep people living in the neighborhood while also enjoying the look of it.
"What have we done wrong?" he said. "That's not a family neighborhood. I'm not satisfied with how things have gone so far."