SPECIAL JOINT MEETING OF THE COUNCIL AND THE PLANNING COMMISSION AND ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS OF
THE CITY OF NOVI
THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 1999, AT 7:00 PM
Novi Civic Center – 45175 W. Ten Mile Rd. – Novi, Michigan 48375
Mayor McLallen called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m.
ROLL CALL: Mayor McLallen, Mayor ProTem Crawford, Council Members DeRoche, Kramer, Lorenzo, Mutch, Schmid
Planning Commission Roll Call: Capello, Canup (absent), Churella (absent), Csordas, Koneda (absent), Mutch (arrived at 7:05 pm), Piccini, Watza, Weddington
AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION - None
PURPOSE OF SPECIAL MEETING
Mayor McLallen advised the purpose of the meeting is to meet with the various boards and commissions outside the budget process to determine their expectations and issues for the upcoming year.
Chair Weddington advised the issues that were identified by the Commission were Council related issues. She explained they would like to discuss and get a consensus on issues that are rather controversial (i.e. wetlands ordinance, façade ordinance). She continued by stating their second item concerns residential development options in terms of its lack of use. She explained the Commission will be proposing some things in the Master Plan to encourage more flexibility with certain options to encourage development that does not impact Novi’s natural resources. Chair Weddington advised the third item is Economic Development as related to OST and the Grand River Corridor, and the fourth item is the relationship between Council and the Planning Commission.
A. Wetlands Ordinance
Chair Weddington advised they did not believe there would be much value in specifically discussing the budget this evening because they will be presenting Council with the budget shortly. However, she advised the issue of wetland mitigation is related to the budget because they have added some monies for related studies. Chair Weddington advised one specific issue is the definition of wetlands and what wetlands the city protects. Further, Chair Weddington advised related to that is, under what conditions do they require mitigation.
Mayor McLallen reported the wetland issue is currently before Ordinance Review and the first reading has come before Council. However, she noted Council sent it back to Ordinance Review based on input from the Chamber of Commerce and others. The Mayor continued by stating that Ordinance Review has retained Joe Galvin and Todd Holloway for their professional input. Mayor McLallen understands subsequent meetings have been held with members of the planning staff and the results of those meetings will be coming forward at the Ordinance Review meeting scheduled for next Thursday.
Councilman DeRoche asked whether the Planning Commission is asking for a policy about how they can currently proceed if the wetland mitigation is not brought forward for several months? Chair Weddington replied they would continue to proceed as they have in the past. However, she advised there is a difference of opinion on the Commission as to whether they should require mitigation for smaller wetlands. She continued by stating her observation over the past six years has been that they do protect smaller wetlands and require mitigation. However, she noted that has been challenged by Commissioner Capello and the Commission is now experiencing a wetland permit issue.
Councilman Kramer advised that those definitions were addressed in one form or another by the Ordinance Review Committee.
Mayor McLallen believes the key issue in the ordinance is the verbiage revolving around the word "essential" and who is responsible for defining a natural wetland. She noted there seemed to have been a shift in the burden of proof about what is essential in the initial ordinance from the city to the developer and it is now being shifted back.
Councilman Schmid believes the staring point to define what is essential should begin with the city’s consultants.
Commissioner Piccini stated if that determination is left with the city’s consultants, then they are really saying that the Planning Commission and Council are not needed. She believes they need to take more into consideration than just the consultant’s opinion.
Councilman Schmid believes they should follow policy.
Commissioner Csordas believes they make policy.
Chair Weddington believes the oath they take as commissioners is to uphold the ordinances and they only recommend changes.
Commissioner Csordas believes it is their responsibility to follow the ordinances and the Master Plan, and he does not believe they are up for interpretation. However, he added he has seen that they follow an unwritten policy of mitigation. He believes they need to have it clearly defined in writing so they do not have to interpret it so they can protect the ordinance and the Master Plan.
Councilwoman Mutch believes policy is something that is written down at a City Council level and is something other than an ordinance. She continued by stating she believes a practice is something else. She explained if they have a practice that has been working and they do not have a policy, then perhaps they need to write that down so there is a written policy to supplement the ordinance. However, if there is some debate over the practice she believes it would be helpful to ask those who have strong opinions put them in writing in a way that the Ordinance Review Committee can evaluate the merits of the opinion. Further, Council could also have that information when they revise an ordinance.
Councilwoman Mutch also believes staff should research whether there was ever a policy in place and if not, advise what the practice had been at a Planning Commission and Council level.
Commissioner Capello disagreed and believes they could be wasting their time in determining what their policy and practices were. He believes there are two major aspects that they need to look at and they need to understand where policy fits into those aspects. He continued by stating the definition of essentiality is the number one issue. He explained this verbiage comes from the state statute and how they interpret it is up to them unless they draft it differently within the ordinance. He understands if they draft it differently, they cannot be any more restrictive than the state is.
Commissioner Capello believes the Planning Commission must determine the definition of essentiality because the state statute states that they must grant the permit unless they can establish that it is essential. He explained the granting of the permit is not a function of a consultant’s opinion; it is a function of the Planning Commission.
Councilman Schmid asked how can they determine whether a wetland is essential if they have never seen the site? Commissioner Capello replied they rely on consultants for that. However, he explained the issue of essentiality is no different than any of the issues they have had in front of them as planning commissioners or council members when granting wetland permits. He continued by stating the state is merely saying they are granting a permit and they shall grant a permit unless it is proven to be essential. Commissioner Capello explained "essential" are just a group of facts that are in front of them that they determine from those facts whether or not a permit is going to be granted.
Commissioner Capello advised this is exactly how they have done it in the past. He continued by advising that the city attorneys agree to some extent that the burden falls upon the city. However, he added they disagree about whether the definition of essentiality is based on one of those ten criteria or whether they need to determine that this pocket of water is essential. He continued by stating if it is determined to be essential, it must have at least one of the ten criteria. Commissioner Capello believes this must be brought forward as policy and incorporated into the ordinance. Commissioner Capello reported that the Planning Commission has never had any input on this even though they make decisions based on the wetland ordinance and possibly implement it more than Council.
Commissioner Capello stated the second issue is also a policy decision and is about how they bypass the essentiality issue. He explained the issue is about whether they are going to require mitigation in all cases. He believes they also need to address this issue as a policy and then incorporate it into the ordinance.
Commissioner Capello believes they are at a point where the consultants cannot work any further with the Chamber because they can only work within the policy guidelines that they believe they have been given from the Ordinance Review Committee. Consequently, Commissioner Capello restated he believes they need to make some policy decisions and then further review should be made within those policy decisions.
Commissioner Capello reported the third issue brought forward by the Chamber is regarding procedures. Commissioner Capello noted he agrees with Jim Wahl in that this item should actually appear under Administration in the budget, but they wanted the figure to appear so that the issue can be addressed. Commissioner Capello continued by stating since everyone agrees that the burden of proof for essentiality lies with the City that they need to have a means to contract JCK to provide the wetland studies on sites two acres or less. He then asked since the burden of proof lies with the city, then is it the city’s responsibility to stake the wetlands to determine if they are two acres or less. Commissioner Capello noted Dave Bluhm from JCK can provide additional information regarding this issue. Commissioner Capello restated these costs should not be in the Planning Commission’s budget, but should be in Planning’s Administration budget because he believes it is a cost of the city.
Commissioner Capello advised they are looking for a preliminary procedure so that a petitioner can file an application for determination of essentiality and pay whatever the permit fee is. However, he noted JCK or whoever the city designates would conduct the study to determine a wetland’s essentiality. He continued by stating the developer would then have an opportunity to review that decision and that decision would come before the Planning Commission like any other wetland permit application. He explained the only difference would be that a policy would have to be established as to whether these cases should go directly to Council.
Commissioner Capello believes these are the planning decisions that need to be made by the Council and the Planning Commission before they can do any further redrafts to the ordinance.
Although Councilman DeRoche supports establishing a policy, he has some difficulty about how this has been proceeding. He explained there seems to be an expectation that everyone needs to start behaving like there is already an ordinance in place prior to it being there. Further, it seems to Councilman DeRoche there are two standards that Council and perhaps the Administration projects. He believes one is the Planning Commission is an autonomous body that is allowed to make decisions of their own and they should be respected for their decision-making ability. However, on the other hand there is a perception they should not be respected and should do what Council directs them to do. Councilman DeRoche finds this confusing.
Councilman DeRoche believes because of the disagreement between all the parties involved in this issue that the best way to address the issue is to continue to have the committee work on this. Further, if Council is to respect the Planning Commission’s opinion for what they believe is best for the City of Novi, they should review it also.
Councilman Schmid believes if there is a policy and ordinance in place, it should be followed.
Councilman Schmid believes if there is a state statute regarding essentiality, he assumes that the city consultants would visit the wetland and make a determination based on the wetland. Councilman Schmid believes if this is the city’s policy that the Planning Commission and Council can make a decision based on that determination.
Commissioner Capello believes one of the policy problems is that the wetland must be essential to the entire city and if it is essential to the entire wetland network, then they refer to the 1-10 test to see if the wetland fits in with one of those criterion. He continued by stating that the ordinance has been implemented in the past by determining essentiality strictly by the 1-10 criteria. However, he noted several experts have determined that three to four of those criteria are found in every single pocket of water in Novi. Consequently, those ten criteria do not make it essential because they are found in every wetland. Commissioner Capello continued by stating he understands there is an Attorney General opinion that supports the Chamber’s view that first they need to determine that the wetland is essential to the entire area.
Commissioner Mutch believes the one problem he has found with this whole debate is one of consistency. He explained whether it is a policy or practice of the city for a long period of time, he believes the city should address all projects on a consistent basis. Over the past six months, Commissioner Mutch reported they have been handled inconsistently and leaves the city open for litigation. Further, he advised that the Planning Commission was given direction by the city attorney to apply the ordinance in a certain manner and at times, they have disregarded that directive. Consequently, Commissioner Mutch believes until a clear definition and a new ordinance is adopted, Council needs to give direction to the Planning Commission about how they want this addressed.
Councilwoman Lorenzo believes there is no question as to what standard the Planning Commission should follow in regard to the issuance of wetland permits once the city attorney gave direction to the Planning Commission. Councilwoman Lorenzo added she can understand there may have been some confusion about policy prior to that directive, but she still believes most Planning Commissioner’s understood what the city policy was regarding this issue. Councilwoman Lorenzo restated there is a policy in place and although it may not have been written down as the city attorney interpreted it, that policy should be followed.
Further, Councilwoman Lorenzo believes the state has provided language defining essentiality of one or more of that ten criteria. She explained the ordinance provides the test of essentiality and in making that determination, there shall be found one or more of the criteria. She further explained essentiality is the test for determination and how they make that determination is based one or more of that criteria. Councilwoman Lorenzo believes if there is a concern, then that person has the right to lobby the state.
Councilwoman Lorenzo recalled the statute states that the local unit of government must determine the essentiality. She further recalled that it states a permit must be granted unless it is found to be essential. She continued by stating in making that determination of essentiality, one or more of the ten criteria must be found to exist. She explained that is the test of essentiality and essentiality is finding on or more of those criteria. Councilwoman Lorenzo stated if the Chamber, a property owner or any particular individual has a concern about the criteria or the language that the state has provided, then those citizens have a right to bring their issue to the state. Councilwoman Lorenzo does not see any need to further define essentiality because it has been defined to them by the state. She noted if a wetland meets one or more of the criteria, then they would review the site under all wetlands according to their review standards. She explained just because it meets the ten criteria, it does not mean that they cannot get a permit to fill it; it means it is a regulated wetland.
Mayor McLallen believes Councilwoman Lorenzo’s interpretation is very clear, but the state’s language is not.
Councilwoman Lorenzo added Mr. Weisberger agrees with her interpretation.
Commissioner Capello stated that is Councilwoman Lorenzo’s interpretation of the statute. He then asked whether the Planning Commission could get some direction from Council. He asked whether they are going to go back over the old issues or are they going to move forward to determine how they want to address this issue in the future.
Councilman Kramer would propose that they move forward. He believes it is obvious there is some question about policy; written or unwritten. Councilman Kramer does not believe a policy is a policy unless it is written.
Councilman Kramer advised the members of the Planning Commission are on the Commission because their opinions are valued and they are there to provide judgement. Councilman Kramer believes they should consider the ordinances and although the ordinances are imperfect, they are striving together to improve it. However, in the mean time, he believes the Planning Commission must consider all input (i.e., the ordinance, the expert advice) and make thoughtful decisions. Councilman Kramer understands although the Commission would like a more concise answer to their questions tonight, he believes their answers can be found in the ordinance.
Councilman Kramer is not certain whether he approves of the amount of time it has taken to establish the process and he would suggest that someone (i.e., Council or Ordinance Review) consider including the Planning Commission in this process.
Chair Weddington advised that the Planning Commission looks forward to wrapping this up and she believes the final word should come from Council. She explained it is currently before them and believes the best course of action at this time is to continue on that course.
Mayor McLallen noted this matter would be taken up at the next week’s Ordinance Review meeting. She added if someone would like a specific item addressed at that meeting, they can forward the information to her, the Deputy Clerk, Councilwoman Lorenzo or Councilman Schmid. Mayor McLallen agrees a policy needs to be written.
Commissioner Mutch understands there is a question of procedure or policy, but he noted that they have received an opinion from the city attorney and have at times they have disregarded that directive. He asked whether the Planning Commission is expected to follow the attorney’s opinion? Mayor McLallen replied that the attorney has advised when he offers an opinion it is up to the body as to whether they want to follow that opinion. She added there is an ordinance in existence and until it is changed, it is the law.
Commissioner Capello would like to see the Planning Commission as a body make suggestions to Council. He explained that he does not mean that they should make comments on the text of the ordinance itself, but that they should discuss some of the policy decisions in terms of making them a part of the ordinance.
Commissioner Capello advised he does not believe everything should be treated in the same way. He noted they have Special Land Use and they have Façade waivers in which they do not treat everyone in the same manner. He explained they have criteria to follow and then as a body they use common sense to make a decision and he believes that is exactly how the wetland is structured because every wetland is different. Consequently, they cannot apply the same standard to every wetland.
Mayor McLallen believes they have some direction and that the policy should continue to move forward with the Ordinance Review Committee.
Councilwoman Mutch understands until the ordinance is changed, they should continue to follow the standards currently in place.
Mayor McLallen restated that there is an ordinance in place and until that ordinance is changed that is the only standard they can follow.
Commissioner Piccini assumes Thursday’s Ordinance Review meeting is not a final meeting on this issue. She explained the Planning Commission needs time to organize their opinions. Mayor McLallen replied the Committee may decide that the ordinance is ready to go before Council for a reading, but she believes there is ample time for input.
B. Façade Ordinance
In regard to the Façade Ordinance, Chair Weddington advised Lee Mamola appeared before the Planning Commission at their last meeting and cited a number of problems with the new ordinance. She added that she has heard other comments in addition to the comments made specifically by Mr. Mamola.
Since the Façade Ordinance is under the control of the Planning Commission, Councilman Kramer hopes that they would refer it to Ordinance Review. He continued by stating he believes both bodies need to continually analyze the ordinances because of the changes taking place as time moves forward.
Chair Weddington is concerned about the ordinance being too restrictive.
Commissioner Csordas noted Mr. Mamola believes the ordinance is very restrictive.
Prior to the establishment of the ordinance, Commissioner Piccini recalled there were several attractive projects that would now not meet the ordinance currently in place. She added she believes the ordinance backfired.
Mayor McLallen recalled the ordinance came before Council with a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission and was then passed by Council. She added she did receive calls from Mr. Mamola about the ordinance until after it was in place.
Commissioner Mutch advised some of the comments made by Mr. Mamola were the type of issues that the changes in the Façade Ordinance were directly intended to address. He explained Mr. Mamola raised the issue of color and noted that the projects referred to by Commissioner Piccini were projects that Council had also expressed concern about. Commissioner Mutch stated the purpose of the new Façade Ordinance was to prevent these kinds of questionable projects (i.e., Best Buy) from slipping through the cracks. Commissioner Mutch recalled Mr. Mamola spoke pointedly about the color issue in that it may be more stringent, but on the other had they have seen what can happen if there is too much latitude given. Commissioner Mutch restated the issue raised by Mr. Mamola are exactly the issues the city wanted to address and he is not certain about how much more they really want to do with it.
Mayor McLallen asked whether they have reviewed a project following these criteria that has raised any issues. Commissioner Capello advised they have not.
Commissioner Piccini noted one of the examples that would not now comply with the standards of the Façade Ordinance is Panera Bread. She believes if the ordinance is too restrictive, it will be unproductive.
Councilman Kramer believes if they have an ordinance in place that offends no one, then perhaps it would not be accomplishing its intended purpose. Therefore, he believes just because someone has complained, it does not necessarily mean the ordinance is good or bad, but the complaint should just be taken into account.
In working with Mr. Necci from JCK and the committee on this ordinance, Mr. Wahl recalled they tried to address the issues they were already aware of and those issues that Council had the most concerns about. He recalled the issue of color came forward because the regulation of color was minimal . Consequently, Mr. Wahl reported they included some controls for color in the ordinance and that they would not have one individual responsible for making the decision. He added the applicant still has the option to seek a waiver. Further, Mr. Wahl restated these criteria provide a basis so they can make judgements without leaving the decision up to one individual. Mr. Wahl believes the ordinance could be reviewed once again, but he believes they did what Council asked them to do and asked that Council consider the philosophy about what they are trying to accomplish.
Councilwoman Lorenzo suggested that they forward at least part of the Façade Ordinance to Ordinance Review to address the matter that came before Council when questions were raised in terms of requiring façade treatments for an existing building.
Councilwoman Lorenzo added she believes it would be helpful for Council to review Mr. Mamola’s comments in writing (i.e. Mr. Mamola’s letter and/or Planning Commission minutes).
C. Residential Development Options
Mayor McLallen moved forward to the issue of residential development options and the question is why aren’t some of the residential options being used. Mayor McLallen added the Smart Growth group is organizing a national conference in May about this very issue. The Mayor asked how can both bodies make the final build out of Novi meet the dreams of those that originally put the city together while staying in compliance with current environmental practices.
Chair Weddington believes as they bring forth the next Master Plan there will be some discussion about the different residential development options. In addition, Chair Weddington reported that as they move forward into the next year there will be some additional support in the budget. She explained she believes there are priorities that they need to move up in obtaining additional support for this issue.
Councilman Schmid’s believes it sounds as though that they once again want to eliminate one-acre lots. Councilman Schmid believes there are literally thousands and thousands of people who would love to live on a one-acre lot. Councilman Schmid asked who is pushing for smaller lots?
Councilman DeRoche agrees with Councilman Schmid and because of the abundance of beautiful subdivisions in Novi, he does not see why there is any need to develop more in the west side of Novi.
Commissioner Piccini advised there is no suggestion by anyone that has been working on the Master Plan to change the density. However, according to the consultants, she understands that this has been an issue and if they had more flexibility (i.e., configuration of roads or placement of utilities) that perhaps more areas could be preserved.
Councilwoman Lorenzo stated she is willing to listen if they are talking about flexibility in terms of road width, slopes or similar items. However, if they are talking about flexibility in downsizing lots or other kinds of options she is concerned that the city will end up getting "the short end of the stick." She explained they always adopt ordinances that give the development community what they want in terms of reduction of lot sizes and increased density. However, she believes they push aside what the city should be getting in return from the principles of open space. Councilwoman Lorenzo cited the Harvest Lake development as one example. Councilwoman Lorenzo believes they should look at the principles of Smart Growth and Open Space Planning, and fully adhere to those principles.
Commissioner Capello asked whether Councilman Schmid would consider the exact opposite. He explained if they had a half-acre or one acre lot and anytime the developer went a tenth of an acre in excess of what is required, they would permit the developer to cut down ten trees in the woodlands. He continued by stating it is the opposite of the ordinance, but it is also providing something Councilman Schmid would like to see in that it is giving the developer the incentive to develop larger lots than what is allowed for in the ordinance.
Councilman Schmid asked why should the city change its ordinances to benefit a developer just for the sake of maximizing profits? He asked why shouldn’t they develop the City of Novi in the best interest of the city. Councilman Schmid is concerned about maintaining the ordinance and one-acre lots.
Commissioner Capello advised he is just providing the other alternative.
Commissioner Mutch does not believe the development option issues are in RA districts. He advised the problems are in projects like Willowbrook Farms where there is remaining R-4 zoning and the remaining parcels are the most environmentally sensitive. He explained there is no preservation option in R-4 and they cannot use RUD in R-4. Consequently, Commissioner Mutch believes there are zero options available. Commissioner Mutch added he is not talking about giving the developers something above and beyond what the ordinance provides for. He would like to see the options structured in a way that they are attractive to the developer and the city can get what they want to get. Commissioner Mutch advised that the current residential options are not providing for that.
Councilman Kramer suggested that the Planning Commission provide Council with several scenarios for review to determine whether they can get Council’s support.
Commissioner Mutch asked whether Council believes the current residential options are useful (i.e. Willowbrook Farms)? Because of the road alignments that are required and the positioning of the woodlands on the site, Mayor McLallen believes if there had been some greater flexibility, the project could have achieved a more harmonious effect.
Mayor McLallen believes there is a consensus of both bodies to achieve greater environmental preservation and aesthetic quality that is not being provided for under the current ordinances. Mayor McLallen added she believes the density issue is a side issue.
Councilwoman Mutch is hearing that Council likes large lots in and of themselves. She added that she can think of two good reasons why the west side is zoned for large lots. She explained one is that they want to have a variety of housing types and neighborhood styles, and the other is to control density. Councilwoman Mutch believes if those are the two reasons, then she believes they already have variety and they do not have a lot left to develop. Consequently, she believes the scales will not be tipped dramatically one way or the other. Secondly, Councilwoman Mutch believes if the density stays the same and it is a matter of how lots are configured when developed, then she believes they have had some very compelling evidence from Linda Lemke that it is not a matter of quantity of trees preserved. She explained it is the maintenance of the integrity of an environmental feature (i.e., woodland or wetland) as opposed to the preservation of a bunch of trees or isolated trees. Councilwoman Mutch believes new tools within the ordinance will provide the flexibility to provide a variety of housing, to maintain density, and improve the options for environmental preservation.
Mayor McLallen advised there is a Council consensus to hear changes to the residential development options as proposed by the Planning Commission.
D. Economic Development – OST and Grand River Corridor
Mayor McLallen advised the next issue before them is Economic Development in terms of OST development and the Grand River corridor.
Commissioner Mutch stated there has been much discussion about the development of the Grand River corridor by the formation of a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and similar tools. Commissioner Mutch believes maybe they will then be able to address this development and that there is funding in place to provide for exploring the implementation of an overlay zoning district for the Grand River corridor. Commissioner Mutch believes this is something Council must support because first of all, a DDA is not going to encompass the entire Grand River corridor. Secondly, Commissioner Mutch noted it is not the purpose of the DDA to create the zoning mechanism to create a corridor.
Mayor McLallen understands a DDA is a financial mechanism; Commissioner Mutch agreed.
Commissioner Mutch continued by stating the Planning Commission, with the direction of Council, needs to create some kind of overlay zoning district or some other zoning mechanism to create a consistent image along the Grand River corridor. Commissioner Mutch believes they have missed some opportunities over the last two years because there have been many projects that have taken place along the eastern end of the Grand River corridor and if they had something in place, they may have had a more cohesive image. Consequently, Commissioner Mutch believes something must happen sooner rather than later with the Grand River corridor. He reminded Council they support the concept that Grand River should have an image and he believes Council must get behind something specifically to make that happen. Commissioner Mutch believes it is something broader than the DDA (i.e. a legal mechanism) to guide the development instead of developing on a project by project basis.
Commissioner Capello is uncertain about whether an Economic Development tool is the proper classification. He believes they must really watch what they do on Grand River and he does not recall why the Planning Commission brought this forward at this joint meeting. Commissioner Capello advised they are discussing a DDA to try to enhance Grand River because it does not affect the property owners. Further, Commissioner Capello advised that Grand River now has the highest façade classification in the new ordinance (Region I). Commissioner Capello continued by stating that the properties located on Grand River west of the bridge have not increased in value like other properties in Novi that have tripled in value (i.e., Twelve Mile Road and Haggerty Road). Consequently, Commissioner Capello explained they must be careful not to create additional financial burdens on those property owners that may result in a further decrease in their property values. He noted property located on Grand River at Napier without sewer and water is worth more than property in this area with sewer and water. Commissioner Capello believes they need to address this issue beyond just requiring greater building standards.
Councilman Kramer understands they have conducted a lot of analysis based upon existing data and noted the 1999 assessment data has just been brought forward. He continued by stating the 1999 information was supposed to test and analyze the feasibility of a DDA and as far as that segment of the DDA, it appears as though the analysis is the same as before. Consequently, Councilman Kramer believes they are not prepared to move forward with the DDA. In addition, Councilman Kramer believes they still have more work to do.
Commissioner Mutch believes the DDA is just one element of what they would do with the Grand River corridor and he believes that they do not want to hold up the other elements. He explained they need to keep moving forward to help create a character in the corridor even if they are experiencing delays in things like the DDA.
Mayor McLallen advised there is a Council consensus to improve the character and the presentation of the city throughout this corridor and therefore, the Planning Commission has their support to further explore the development of the Grand River corridor.
Councilwoman Lorenzo is unclear about what they are talking about. She asked whether they are discussing land use, aesthetics or so forth. Councilwoman Lorenzo believes there are two sides to this issue in terms of who is going to pay the price. On one hand she hears people saying that they do not want to overburden the property owners, but on the other hand if they are talking about it coming out of the General Fund she asked what else can the city sacrifice to make Grand River look beautiful (i.e., parking lot repairs for the Civic Center and fire station, storm maintenance program, snow plows). Councilwoman Lorenzo is not certain whether the beautification of the Grand River corridor should be a priority.
Commissioner Mutch believes they have to look at where they can make their investments and leverage them to have the greatest impacts. He continued by stating there may be some justification for spending money on Grand River, but there may be other areas (i.e., extending water and sewer to an OST District) that they may see a much more direct and immediate return. Commissioner Mutch believes these are Council policy decisions and will be part of the direction that they can give the Planning Commission in terms of what are the priorities.
E. Relationship between City Council and the Planning Commission
Chair Weddington advised Commissioner Canup was unable to attend tonight’s meeting and because he is concerned about the relationship between Council and the Planning Commission, he asked that this topic be discussed tonight.
Mayor McLallen agrees that they need improve their behavior on debating issues on an issue level by leaving names and personalities out of the discussion. She continued by stating if there is any basis for any allegations, then there are other channels to address those allegations. Mayor McLallen believes both bodies should regard one another at a higher standard.
Councilman Kramer reminded Council during their Goal Session they adopted the Norm for Council Action as recommended by the facilitator. He explained the norms serve as a type of behavior policy and suggested the document may be something the Planning Commission would like to incorporate into their rules.
Councilwoman Mutch believes Council and the Planning Commission’s rules should include a procedure for someone who has an issue that they believe is not being addressed.
Councilman DeRoche understands there is a chain of command that every body must recognize. The Mayor agreed all bodies should abide by this chain of command.
Councilman DeRoche understands the bodies should keep their debate at an issue level and not take it to an individual level. Further, he believes if there is a problem with an individual that it should not be debated at a meeting but should be referred to Administration and City Council. Mayor McLallen advised if there is an issue with an individual, then that body should have a mechanism within their rules to have it resolved by its members. She continued by stating if the members are unable to resolve the problem, then it should go to their chair, to Administration and to Council through the office of the Mayor. Mayor McLallen believes they should avoid taking the issue to a personal level.
Councilwoman Mutch believes more recently the concern was that it was a Council member that spoke up with a concern about another body and an individual member. She believes every body as well as Council should formulate a mechanism so that the issue is not brought up at an open meeting.
Councilwoman Lorenzo does not consider any of this personal; it is city business. She explained they are talking about Planning Commission actions and Commissioner actions, and there are duties and responsibilities that go along with that. Councilwoman Lorenzo has not been offended by anything anyone has said or anything she has read in the newspaper because she does not take city business personally. Councilwoman Lorenzo continued by stating there were actions taken that she was concerned about that raised questions (i.e., city policy, state policy) and not allegations about other issues. Councilwoman Lorenzo asked the city attorney to answer those questions and she could not get an answer to those questions. Consequently, Councilwoman Lorenzo turned to Council to get her questions answered because she does not know how to interpret those things.
Councilman Schmid stated if he disagrees with an action of the Planning Commission it is his prerogative to state his opinion in a public forum.
Commissioner Piccini asked whether it is Council’s role to make allegations or make decisions for other bodies.
Councilman DeRoche recalled Councilwoman Lorenzo had questions she wanted to ask and she did not have the support of Council to ask those questions. Consequently, Councilman DeRoche reported Council agreed that the Planning Commission addressed the issue correctly.
Mayor McLallen added although Council took that action, the individual decided that she wanted more answers.
Commissioner Capello stated he is subject to the license of the State Bar and he is subject to a real estate broker’s license and his conduct his personal life is still governed by those licenses even though it is outside his profession. Commissioner Capello believes that anyone representing the city needs to govern their actions on a higher standard than normal citizens because they have access to the various media. He continued by stating that he believes they should have some kind of controls if they overstep bounds and take inappropriate action outside of the issues by being subject to review and sanctions. Further, Commissioner Capello does not believe the review should take place in-house and that it should be made part of the ordinance.
Commissioner Watza volunteered to serve on the Planning Commission to give back to the community. However, instead of giving back he had his name dragged through the front page of the Novi News because of letter that was written to the Attorney General that had untrue characterizations. He believes even if a question mark is placed after a statement, it is still a statement and is defamatory. Commissioner Watza has not done anything about this out of respect for the Mayor.
Commissioner Watza does not believe they get to call a statement a question and not make it part of the authority of a Council member. He does not believe a member can make that decision and that others make that decision. He believes the action was irresponsible, personally embarrassing to him and untrue. Commissioner Watza expects an apology. Commissioner Watza believes unless they want every individual action to be taken to the Attorney General, he would suggest that they start addressing these issues within the confines of Council and the Planning Commission. Commissioner Watza does not ever want to see another letter like that and he expects to see an apology on the front page of the Novi News.
Mayor McLallen believes this issue deserves more time
than they have tonight and suggested that a cross-section of members of
the various bodies can be brought together to formulate a policy.
Members Zoning Board of Appeals: Frank Brennan, Laverne Reinke, Gerald Bauer, Jim Harrington, Michael Meyer, James Antosiak (absent)
Mayor McLallen asked members to describe their typical caseload.
Frank Brennan believes over the past four to five years that the board has consisted of a harmonious group and have been able to address issues efficiently. He continued by stating that their caseload seems to fall into three categories: signs, renovations on the north end, and new construction variances on setbacks on side yard and rear setbacks. Mr. Brennan noted they have also made decisions on cases where the ordinance was changed days after not knowing changes were forthcoming and consequently, they did not offer the petitioner the option of tabling it. Although Mr. Brennan does not have any big issues with how the system works, he believes there are instances when the ZBA is not aware of ongoing changes in the ordinance that may affect cases that are immediately before them.
Mayor McLallen asked whether the city attorney attends ZBA meetings? Mr. Brennan replied the city attorney rarely attends their meetings.
Mayor McLallen asked which staff members regularly attend the meeting? Mr. Brennan replied Mr. Saven, Mr. Morrone and Mr. Amolsch attend their meetings.
Mayor McLallen’s noted that those staff members are not involved in the ordinance development and consequently, the ZBA’s challenge of getting better communication is limited.
Mr. Brennan understands that may be changing because Kelly Schuler from Planning and Community Development has attended the last several ZBA meetings.
Councilwoman Mutch suggested that they automatically inform the Building Department when there is potential for an ordinance revision, and when an ordinance is going through a first and second meeting. Mr. Brennan agreed.
Laverne Reinke advised when they have needed a legal opinion for a case they have asked that the city attend the meeting and they have found that to be sufficient.
Gerald Bauer noted they are having difficulty with development on cul-de-sacs. He explained petitioners still want to put a $400,000.00 home on the smaller lot.
Mr. Brennan added that the developer will construct as large of a house as he can and if the homeowner wants a four-foot square deck built in the rear, he needs a variance because he immediately infringes on the setback. He continued by stating that the ZBA almost always has to give the variance because there is no alternative and the house is already constructed.
Mr. Reinke advised the cul-de-sac is one situation, but he believes almost any subdivision layout is maximized with the number of lots that they can possible have. He explained the size of homes that are being constructed allows for no deviation because no matter whatever the owner wants to do, they must almost always need a variance. Basically, Mr. Reinke believes the lots are being overbuilt and restated there is no room to allow for expansion.
In regard to ordinances, Jim Harrington advised they need ordinances (proposed and/or projected) that may have a variance provision in them. He explained because the ZBA does not address all variances or ordinances, it would be helpful if they could be proactive by providing Council with some feedback for the first or second reading rather than be reactive a year later.
Secondly, Mr. Harrington believes there has been an unspoken sense of the ZBA that they are the hidden board in Novi and nobody really knows what they do. Consequently, Mr. Harrington encourages keeping their meetings on television because he believes it is important for the citizens to know what they are doing. He added they have spent a great amount of time rewriting their procedures which are really a guideline for the public for applying for variances. He noted that had not been done in twenty years. Mr. Harrington continued by stating that he and Mr. Saven met with the Chamber of Commerce to address issues involving the Chamber’s concerns about the ZBA. Mr. Harrington believes there should be brochures published that explains how to file a variance request so the citizens can get the relief they are looking for.
Mr. Harrington also believes that the board needs a larger pool of more qualified candidates so they may continue to provide the city with the quality of representation it needs.
Mayor McLallen suggested holding something similar to a Job Fair once or twice a year in the Civic Center. The Mayor believes their biggest pool of volunteers tend to be referrals.
Michael Meyer believes the public needs to know that there are opportunities for training.
Mr. Harrington reminded Council that he made a suggestion two years ago to have a historical database so that citizens and/or developers can see how similar cases have been addressed in the past. He suggested that the cases be categorized by the type, by the petitioner and applicant, and the result. He estimated the cost of the project would amount to approximately $10,000 to $20,000.
In spite of any major differences they may have, Mr. Meyer believes the members of the ZBA are very respectful of each other.
Councilman Kramer understands the ZBA’s administrative support is under the Building Department and recommends that the request for a database be forwarded to Mr. Saven.
Mr. Reinke believes the database would be one of the most helpful tools to the ZBA and noted that the Building Department has supported seminar attendance and training sessions for the ZBA members.
Councilman Kramer advised the city is in the process of developing a web site and suggested that the ZBA find out what is being planned on their behalf. He explained that the ZBA could provide ideas to Lou Martin for the city’s site.
Craig Klaver understands there is funding for the ZBA and the Construction Board of Appeals in the Building Department’s budget for training. Mr. Klaver suggested that ZBA members consider filming an interview for the bi-monthly news program on cable.
Mr. Reinke asked that the Planning and Building Departments provide complete packages of information prior to the night of the meeting because he will not consider any information that he has not had time to fully review.
Councilman DeRoche believes there needs to be some flexibility because he would sincerely doubt that applicants would withhold information as a strategy because they understand if their case is not addressed that the next opportunity for them to be on another agenda is a month later. Councilman DeRoche explained that timing in the development cycle is very important and that the applicant should not be punished if paperwork is being held up in a city department.
Mr. Harrington believes Mr. Reinke is talking more anecdotally rather than about the status of a problem. He explained it is not a problem, but the board does reprimand the departments when they are given a stack of paperwork on the night of meeting.
Councilwoman Mutch asked whether the additional information is generally supplemental? Mr. Harrington replied it is supplemental.
Mr. Reinke understands there are exceptions to every rule and they try to work with the petitioner as much as they can. However, Mr. Reinke explained it seems to get out of hand at times. He stated it is difficult to assess information that comes before them five minutes before the meeting begins.
Councilwoman Mutch asked if there is anything they can do to help correct that? Mr. Reinke asked that the Building and Planning Departments be instructed to put everything in the packet.
Mr. Klaver believes a good example is the Senior Housing Project because they have had to provide additional information to the ZBA after the packets were distributed. Mr. Klaver believes it is often just a part of the process. However, he believes it is a different issue in those cases where some people use withholding of information as a strategy.
Mayor McLallen asked whether Kelly Schuler’s presence at the ZBA meetings is a means of improving communication? Mr. Klaver understands her attendance is on an as needed basis and is uncertain about whether it is a standard practice. However, he noted based on tonight’s comments he will look into it.
Councilman Kramer asked whether the ZBA members believe meeting once a month is sufficient? Mr. Brennan replied their caseload has grown considerably over the past few years and they have asked Nancy McKernan to cap the number of cases at sixteen cases.
Councilman Kramer asked if they are still able to serve the public or should they increase the number of meetings? Mr. Brennan suggested that Council raise that issue with the Building Department’s staff. However, he believes one meeting per month is sufficient because they do experience some slow periods during the winter months.
Mr. Harrington believes the rules procedure is helpful to Council to understand the direction the ZBA is heading. He explained they are more than just rules and procedures; they are educating the people as to what the ZBA is doing. Mr. Harrington believes the most important rule is what he would call the "Best Buy Rule." He explained the ZBA will not consider a sign variance unless a mock up or rendering of that sign is in place for the board’s review.
Councilman Schmid is pleased with the board. He then asked how would the ZBA prefer variances to come before them? He explained he is uncertain about whether projects should go before Council first with the approval subject to ZBA approval or that they should go before the ZBA first. Mr. Bauer believes the process should begin with the Planning Commission, then Council, and finally the ZBA.
Councilman Schmid asked what criteria for hardship does the ZBA consider for requesting a variance for signs higher than five feet? Mr. Brennan replied they first advise the petitioner that the conversation for their variance request begins based upon the actual ordinance; five foot up and not for example, nine foot down. With that said, Mr. Brennan advised that the ZBA then considers setbacks, elevation, dips and highways, and site line.
Speaking for himself, Mr. Harrington added where there are particular issues that have had a history with Council, he appreciates getting additional information about that issue from the appropriate person (i.e., staff, Council members, etc.).
Mayor McLallen appreciates the comments from the ZBA members and is hopeful they can change some of the procedures to facilitate the communication and exposure to the public.
There being no further business before City Council, the meeting was adjourned at 9:55 p.m.
Kathleen S. McLallen Tonni L. Bartholomew
Date Approved: April 5, 1999