City Commission passes new zoning ordinance

A draft of the zoning map sits in city hall on Jan. 22 at City Hall.

City Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve a new zoning ordinance at their meeting Jan. 22. 

The character-based code was made in effort to balance the amount of traditional single-family homes and multiple occupancy rentals in the area, to make it a more desirable place for families and graduate students to live. Commissioners Tony Kulick and Kristin LaLonde voted against the ordinance.

The new zoning ordinance is in accordance with Mount Pleasant’s Master Plan, which includes goals to revitalize downtown, transform Mission Street and preserve neighborhoods, commissioner Kathy Ling said.

The commission worked with Town Planning & Urban Design Collaborative — a town planning firm located out of Nashville — to re-write the ordinance. 

“We needed to bring in somebody from the outside, not because there wasn’t expertise or information here, but because sometimes it’s a good idea to bring in somebody who’s both knowledgeable and also can look at the community with new eyes, and in an objective way,” Ling said.

The community was also involved in the planning as well, in a four-day “Planapalooza,” and work sessions with the planning and city commissions.

“One of the reasons why this particular consulting firm was selected was because they had a really elaborate plan for making sure that they were in fact getting input from the community,” Ling said. 

Multiple-occupancy homes

The six blocks of housing directly north of Central Michigan University’s campus will now be zoned for single-family occupancy properties — deeming the existing multiple-occupancy houses as non-conforming. 

This zone, labeled CD-3, has 64 properties — 60 of which will be deemed non-conforming under the new ordinance. While they are non-conforming, they still will be allowed to exist as multiple occupancy homes until there is a voluntary discontinuation, which is when the owner decides to give up the home as multiple occupancy and comform to the code.

There is a lapse of the non-conforming use for 12 months or more or there is damage to more than 60 percent of the structure. 

Besides these three exceptions, the new zoning ordinance will simply prevent new multiple-occupancy homes to be built, allowing for the growth of single-family homes to be constructed in the area. 

Students can still rent rooms from the existing houses that are already multiple occupancy. However, if there is significant damage to the home, such as from a fire or flood, the structure would not be approved to be re-built as multiple-occupancy.

Kulick believes if significant damage occurs to these older, existing homes, it won’t be affordable or desirable for single families to build — resulting in vacant lots. 

“As long as people are making money in that area, what makes anybody think that all of a sudden because we re-zone it, single-family homes are going to appear down there,” Kulick said. “It’s not going to happen.

“When I moved to Mount Pleasant in 1988, I wouldn’t have moved my family in that neighborhood. It’s ridiculous. I would not have put up with the activities that take place down there.”

Kulick proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would have kept the 64 properties north of Bellows Street as multiple-occupancy rentals. The motion died in a 6-1 vote. 

Mission Street residential development

While there won’t be new developments of multiple occupancy homes directly north of campus, the ordinance will permit residential development along Mission Street. 

Any new developments built along Mission Street and south of Bellows Street are allowed up to five stories, with the ground floor reserved for businesses. 

North of Bellows Street, structures with a maximum of two stories with the ground floor allowed for housing will be permitted. These changes were made in efforts to diversify Mission Street and are in accordance with the 2014 Master Plan. 

Two-family duplexes

There are 350 duplexes in Mount Pleasant — many of which are non-conforming. They will continue to exist unless one of the three exceptions are met.

The new ordinance will continue to permit duplexes in the zone CD-4, which is located along Mission Street and in various other places around town such as east of Island Park and north of Pickard Road. Duplexes will also be allowed in zones CD-3 and CD-3L, located north of campus and other surrounding locations, with a special use permit. However, one of the conditions of these permits is that one of the units must be owner-occupied. 

The new zoning ordinance will be the first change to Mount Pleasant zoning since 1984.

Other business

  • The commission voted to pass the removal of the sunset clause to an ordinance made last January regarding material and waste collection, due to a desired positive impact. The ordinance restricted the hours of operation for the collection of waste and recyclables, and the sunset provision was an expiration date for the end of the February. So, the ordinance changes will continue.
  • The commission passed a bid for $20,460 for the purchase of 44 new Self-Contained Breathing Apparatuses for the Isabella County Fire Department, since the current ones they have are set to expire in March. 
  • The commission also passed a bid to purchase upgrades for wireless access points in all of the city buildings for $10,900. 
  • In 2015, City Commission approved a contract with Pat McGuirk Excavating for snow removal with the budget of $12,500. Due to heavy snowfalls this season, over half of the budget has been spent. Because of this, the commission approved a $6,000 amendment to the budget.