City passes ordinance changes to student neighborhoods
After much debate and the passing and failing of several motions, the Mount Pleasant City Commission voted to amend several sections of the city's zoning ordinance to update standards for student-populated neighborhoods north of campus.
Known as the M-2 district, the redevelopment of the area has been an issue for city government for years. The commission split the issues into two problem areas: A high density of people living in areas north of campus, and the behavior of those individuals, who are mostly Central Michigan University students.
Changes approved Sept. 28
The first change to the zoning ordinance includes creating a transitional area or "buffer zone" between M-2 and neighboring district R-3, which consists mostly of single-family homes. An M-2 lot cannot have a common line or be located across a local street or alley from any R-zoned lot. No registered student organization dwelling, which are primarily Greek houses, would be allowed to have more than 12 occupants per dwelling until. A "dwelling" is the entirety of a property, and a "dwelling unit" is each separate home within the property.
Those living in the transitional area may have no more than four occupants per dwelling unit. No M-2 or RSO dwelling can have more than five stacked parking spaces. All unstacked parking would have to be accessible via an approved maneuvering lane so backing directly onto a street would be unnecessary.
Finally, properties would no longer be able to be combined for the purpose of constructing a multi-family home, which are primarily occupied by students. Required parking for these dwellings would have to be approved upon the same lot as the home to avoid more parking lots in areas north of campus.
"We believe this is a much better proposal addressing concerns of the neighborhood and what is working the best right now," said City Planner Jacob Kain.
Changes to the ordinance include creating a transitional area between M-2 a neighboring districts, setting a limit on how many occupants can live in these units, parking issues and rules on combining properties.
Residents and commissioners voiced their opinions on the changes at the city commissions Sept. 28 meeting.
The city commission received a number of email communications from residents who are not students, supporting the proposed changes to M-2.
One resident, however, vehemently opposed the changes. University Street resident Michael Lents questioned why the occupancy was set at four occupants, insinuating that the city had done no research to arrive at this "magic number."
Speaking further of the lack of research, Lents vocalized his feelings on the city spending money to research neighborhood response to Hannah's Bark Park, but not on issues that affect the humans living north of campus.
"Would it help if I told you dogs live in the neighborhood?" Lents asked the commission.
Lents said he is totally opposed to M-2 changes as they stand, because it fails to address the problem of student behavior. He said after this year's Welcome Weekend, he saw vandalism and trash in the neighborhood.
"The city spent more money on Welcome Weekend than we did on the Dickens Christmas Festival," Lents said.
Other residents commented on the high density of the area, but also said there were too many apartments lining the streets with no one to fill them. Franklin Street resident Mark Marshall said the reason why his family moved to the area was that they could see the changes the city was working to make.
Marshall said now, however, he is worried about the value of his home.
"It changes the market when rentals and parking lots go up," he said. "If less students come to CMU, there will be less people to take over all the rentals. It's a more community-oriented neighborhood when there's permanent residents than the three or four year residents that we have now."
University Street Resident Sam Raisanen encouraged the commission to adopt the "most stringent policies" in the M-2 area because of the behavior he and his family have seen there.
"When we've tried to ask students to quiet down, we've been greeted with foul language," he said. "Unfortunately the amount of students who go to CMU to party is increasing. Special celebratory weekend behavior is not needed all the time. (The transitional zone) buffers current residents from ruckus parties students have come to enjoy."
One student, Cheboygan junior Ian Elliot, spoke at the meeting on behalf of Student Government Association. Out of more than 20,000 undergraduate students at CMU, 686 voted in last year's election. Elliot will serve as the liaison between the city and the student body, he said.
"I think the density and behavior problem is split more 90/10 than 50/50, with more on behavior," Elliot said. "Activity and student behavior has been going on for decades and will continue."
After public comment, commissioners struggled to come to an agreement on how to move forward.
Commissioner Kathy Ling made motions to amend and postpone the changes, but the motion was not passed, though she and Commissioner Matthew Sous said they didn't want to rush through the decision.
"It's a mix of both zoning and behavior," Sous said before the original changes were passed. "I want to make some tweaks, and we can get it passed by the end of the year. I don't want to cut the dialogue short."
Commissioner Mike Verleger said student behavior was more of the problem, and he suggested the city and law enforcement "hammer down" on areas north of campus.
"We aren't doing nearly enough to deter student behavior," he said. "Welcome Weekend stories--you couldn't write them. I'm more prone to drop the hammer down there because I'm sick of it."