LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Zoning ordinance is a benefit to the Mount Pleasant community
TO THE EDITOR:
If you have driven around town over the last couple of months, you have probably seen signs claiming that the city is trying to “force out Central Michigan University students.” You may have also seen articles quoting local landlords saying that the city is trying to “get rid of students” with its proposed zoning ordinance.
We would like to assure residents, including our student residents, that the city is NOT attempting to “get rid of CMU students.” We recognize the valuable role both CMU and the students who attend CMU play in the community. With the many academic offerings, art and cultural activities, sports events and the tremendous economic impact, Mount Pleasant is enriched in many ways by the presence of CMU and its students.
It is true that the city is in the process of re-writing its zoning ordinance. The last significant update was done in 1984 and much has changed in Mount Pleasant during that time.
The consulting firm hired by the city spent over a year studying the community and Master Plan, meeting with a broad cross-section of community members and conducting a four day workshop with extensive participation. The preliminary draft was sent to the city last June.
The active involvement of the community in reviewing the draft has been an important part of the process and a number of concerns expressed by residents have been addressed.
While many agree that the new zoning ordinance is a major step forward, there continues to be controversy over the recommendation to rezone six blocks immediately north of campus from the current multiple occupancy zone to a more traditional residential zone that restricts occupancy to no more than two unrelated persons.
This recommendation is not about who can live in that area. It does not say students can’t live there. Zoning ordinances can’t tell people where to live. Zoning ordinances determine the type of housing allowed in different districts.
The current multiple occupancy zoning allows a model of housing in those six blocks that generally involves four or more unrelated people living together in a single unit. These types of houses are usually rented by the “bed.” In the area immediately north of campus, there are many units that provide that type of rooming housing that are not affected by the proposed rezoning. Those units alone provide close to 2000 beds. Moreover, even in the area that is proposed for rezoning, the current rooming houses will be grandfathered in and are likely to continue to be available to rent for many years.
The proposed ordinance also adds new areas abutting campus on the east that can be used for developments that include rooming houses.
So why did the consultant recommend different zoning for a small part of the area north of Bellows Street?
One reason is because this is a character based code. That means that recommendations were made that preserve areas that add character to the city and make it a desirable place to live. Although those blocks have experienced some changes over the last couple of decades, they still retain an essentially “residential neighborhood” feel. As a recent Central Michigan Life editorial pointed out, students also appreciate the feel of that area. That residential character is what this code is trying to preserve.
Another reason is because the city already has many options for anyone looking for rooming type housing, but very limited options for more traditional rentals. While some have argued that there is no evidence to support that, many reports including one just completed this year show a need for more traditional housing options. That study said: “There is a very limited supply of modern conventional market-rate rental product offered within the Mount Pleasant site as most market-rate properties identified in the market are student-oriented and/or rented by the bed/person…”
Those studies reinforce the observation of many potential residents that it is difficult to find affordable housing options in Mount Pleasant.
Not only is the city not trying to “force out CMU students,” one of the goals of the city is to convince CMU graduates to stay in Mount Pleasant permanently. Experts in urban planning agree that having a population that includes young college graduates is key to creating a vibrant community. One barrier to keeping graduates has been the lack of affordable rental housing. This point was made in a recent post by a graduate who wanted to stay in Mt. Pleasant, but could not find any affordable apartment options that didn’t involve sharing the space with at least three or four other renters.
Rezoning those six blocks just north of campus means that there will be no further expansion of dorm-style rooming houses in that area. The hope is that over time it will become a desirable mix of permanent and non-permanent residents who enjoy the convenience of renting or buying a house in a residential neighborhood close to campus and downtown.
If that goal is achieved, Mt. Pleasant will continue to be a place that many people, including CMU graduates, choose to make their home.
Allison Quast Lents
past Mayor, 2016-2017