City Council 5/23/06: Zoning and MERS

Zoning Ordinance Modifications: Majewski read through the changes proposed by the Planning Commission. Townhouses would be added to the list of permitted uses in the residential district. Sidewalk cafés would be added to permitted commercial uses. A conflict of interest clause which prohibits members of the Planning Commission from voting on items of personal interest would be added. All new commercial construction would have to be within 1 foot of the front property line and within 1 foot of the side property line of corner lots. Vinyl and aluminum siding would be allowed. Buildings would have to be a color compatible “with the majority of buildings in the district”. Windows would have to be at least 50% of new facades, and building owners would no longer be allowed to cover 2nd story windows. New buildings would have to be “architecturally compatible” with adjacent buildings. Facade alteration would have to be approved by the Planning Commission, and not less than 90% of facades could be composed of something other than glass, cut stone or textured stucco. Metal overhead doors would not be allowed to face public streets or have less than 60% fenestration. Backs of buildings could be brick or concrete, or the same material as the facade. New curb cuts would not be allowed for commercial properties. Public entrances would not be allowed on the side except on corner lots.

Zwolak said he was opposed to the changes. He pointed out that the wording did not allow bars with sidewalk cafés. Klein suggested an amendment replacing the word “restaurants” with “establishments”. All voted in favor.
Zwolak asked why side entrances would not be allowed. Tungate said the Planning Commission recommended the change.
Zwolak asked about the provision that would prohibit the covering of second story windows. He said many on Joseph Campau are covered. Majewski said the amendment was meant to prevent boarded windows on Joseph Campau.
Zwolak asked if the screen walls around parking lots were still included. They are all damaged, including the one owned by the city. The screen wall requirement was not changed.
Zwolak said the provision requiring new construction to build within one foot of the lot line causes loss of redevelopment by existing businesses and those that want sidewalk cafés. Klein said there have been plenty of construction projects that meet the requirement; Caniff Electric, Gallagher and Caniff, and a medical center. Zwolak said Caniff Electric is a warehouse and doesn’t mind the requirement because they need the space. Majewski asked if he was proposing an amendment. He was not.
Zwolak said we have strip malls with parking in front, and telling the next guy he can’t have one is “discriminatory”. Majewski said the ordinance was an attempt at consistency. Cedar said the strip mall was only built because of an override by Schimmel. Zwolak voted against the amendments to the zoning ordinance, but they passed. A public hearing was set for June 13.
Parks advisory commission: Cedar asked to postpone consideration because he wanted changes to the advisory commission to include charter schools. He said that if the school board wants representation, he wants the city to have representation on the recreation commission. All voted in favor to postpone.
MERS adjustment: Crawford explained that there was a question some months ago as to why payments to MERS were so high. An audit revealed that the city has been paying into MERS for a “fictitious employee”. A resolution is needed to have MERS change the files. The city will save $50,000 per month. There is a $7 million dollar surplus in the general employee MERS account, and nearly the same shortfall in the account for Fire and Police. All the money being paid to these accounts came from one fund.
Zwolak said the retirees would sue. Crawford said they would have no reason to. Klein explained they were only applying over payments to the underfunded account, which is a solution to the problem. Zwolak wanted to get input from the unions because if the city reduces payments, the unions will “take action”. Crawford said the city was building up funds that wouldn’t be spent. Klein repeated that they were only asking MERS to apply over payments to the under funded account, and Zwolak was just trying to “blow a lot of smoke and confuse people”. Zwolak voted against the resolution, but it passed.
Ahmed asked for an appointment to the Zoning Board of Appeals. His request was not on the agenda. The appointee lives on Yemans and works at GM. Council voted to suspend the rules, and the appointment was approved unanimously.

26 thoughts on “City Council 5/23/06: Zoning and MERS

  1. I like the majority of the recommended zoning changes, but some of them are way too restrictive. The requirement for color compatibility is completely subjective, and will eventually result in a drab looking city with less character. How would the planning commission determine if new structures are “architecturally compatible” with adjacent buildings?

    I can see not allowing metal overhead doors for trucks, but would the ban include roll-down door covers like Polish Market?

    If there is one thing that I hope is changed though, it’s the requirement for screen walls. The bricks laying on the ground behind Shopper’s World remind me of the story Crawford told at a recent council meeting about a drinking fountain that someone beat with a baseball bat until it was just a mangled pipe sticking out of the ground. The walls will always targets for attack by vandals and why are we paying maintaining these walls? Knee walls are suburban and pointless, and provide cover for car thieves and purse snatchers.

    About the parks commission: What boards will the charter schools be required to include city appointees on? If that’s the way it is, the city council can just give up on the idea that the school board will share revenue from the recreation millage.

  2. “Cedar asked to postpone consideration because he wanted changes to the advisory commission to include charter schools. He said that if the school board wants representation, he wants the city to have representation on the recreation commission.”

    Hillary asked; “What boards will the charter schools be required to include city appointees on? If that’s the way it is, the city council can just give up on the idea that the school board will share revenue from the recreation millage.”

    Rob Replies;
    What I am suggesting is that because the Hamtramck School board ALREADY has two appointments to the City of Hamtramck’s Parks Advisory Commission, I would like to see two council appointments be allowed on the School Board’s Recreation Commission. Instead of causing a problem I believe this would facilitate (not impede) better understanding and sharing. As it is now, the Recreation Commission is made up of 7 members all of which are school board appointments. My idea is simply that because they already have representation on the city Parks Commission it makes sense for the city to have representation on the Recreation Commission. I did not think it a radical idea.

    As to your question of “charter schools be required to include city appointees on commissions” What I believe I said (or at least meant to say) had nothing to do with city appointees on charter School commissions, but rather that, I would like to see some charter school representation on the City’s Park Advisory Commission.

    As it is currently written the Hamtramck School Board is the only “non-city” body with representation on the Parks Advisory Commission and I welcome their future involvement. My only point was that with nearly 40% of the student population I thought we could have broader representation if we expanded it to include charters schools (if the charter schools wanted to participate.)

    Rob C

  3. Polish Market’s roll down door, along with their blocked off windows, has been in violation of the ordinance since they opened. I think these types of doors should be banned. Their ghetto as hell. But that’s my opinion,

  4. Let me repharase that: roll down doors have been banned for a while and the ban should be enforced. Also, I wrote “‘Their’ ghetto as hell when I should have written “‘They’re’ ghetto as hell.” Proper english or no, roll down doors ARE ghetto as hell. But again, that’s my opinion.

  5. Slight clarification,
    In the past I had expressed an interest in seeing the school board’s recreation commission “opened up” to include charter school representation and increased awareness and participation, but I understand that is an issue for the school board and charters to work out. My “official” recommendations are focused toward the school board and city having improved communications and relations by having representation on each others commissions. Particularly so because the school board already has two appointments to the City Parks Advisory Commission.

    Rob C

  6. Mike: I agree with you on the blocked windows, but the roll downs exist because the property crime rate in Hamtramck is something like 6 times the national average. Broken windows and robberies are 1000 times worse.

  7. I agree with both of you guys. Mike, I know it doesn’t look good, but that’s the only way to protect the property. It looks better than the metal cage looking pullouts they have on some storefronts. The crime rate sucks and I would probably do the same thing. Would it be better to have large, clean windows on all stores? Sure.

  8. 1000 times worse? Surly you sensationalize to make a generalized point?

    I know that even one crime is too many but I’m not sure if we really looked at the specifics involved in comparing crime rates we can make such comparisons. Let alone use those numbers to justify a long term policy regarding the appearance and attractiveness of our shopping district.

    All things considered there must be a better way to secure retail windows then using the post riot response of blocking, bricking, gating and shuddering.

    Rob C

  9. No, Rob, I wasn’t exaggerating. If you’d like a copy of the crime statistics for the last few years, you should be able to get them from the police department.

    I think broken windows look 1000 times worse than gates, and frequent robberies and burglaries make everyone feel unsafe. The majority of our windows at home are either sided over or have bars on them. I don’t care how ugly they are; I am not going to remove the bars until I feel safe in my house without them. I would move first. It’s bad enough that I constantly find screw drivers and butter knives under the rest of our windows.

    I personally think roll down doors are attractive. They are in use in every major city. They are urban, and they serve a purpose. Who would pay to have every storefront secured with the latest technology? The dollar stores? The groceries? They are barely making it as it is.

  10. ^ I agree. I’m thinking about putting the bars on all the windows on the northern side of the house (which looks towards another house, so it wouldn’t look so bad). Our house is a corner house (just like yours), and while I’m hoping that the windows that are facing the street are somewhat safe because of their visibility, the back windows should be secured somehow.

  11. You’ve probably already thought of this, but be sure you have enough windows to escape from in case of a fire.

    My first line of defense between the houses is a thick layer of raspberry brambles. As an added bonus, I think I might have enough raspberries to make jam this year.

  12. LOL, I agree. Wouldn’t want to be on the Worlds Dumbest Fire Victims.

  13. Please paste a link to the figure that places Hamtramck’s smashed window rate at 1000 times the national average.

    From a purely anecdotal point of view, I had a business for three years on Campau and never had a broken window break-in (nor any other kind of break-in for that matter. Never held up, either). Granted, I had an old grandfathered-in accordian gate on the door, but the rest of my facade was naked-to-the-world, easily smashable glass.

    The fact is, there’s an irrational smash-and-grab fear on Campau that simply doesn’t exist in a practical sense. The proliferation of roll-down doors and fixed bars foment a sense of lawlessness and disregard for mutual awareness, and again I’ll point out, look ghetto as hell.

    On the balance, the cost of an overhead rolldown door is compatible with a interior roll down grate, especially when you consider the 24-hour merchandising benefit you can get from allowing passersby to see into your store after-hours, as well at the safety benefits one gains from Mme. Jacob’s “eyes on the street” principle. An interior grate system also adds another layer of security by depriving privacy to a potential burglar who might gain entry via the back door. A metal overhead door affords a robber the same level of cover as a window blocked with posters and/or the ass-side of fixtures: lots.

    But short of gates and grates, perhaps we should set to work designing a retractable bramble. I don’t know. That might look garden as hell.

    Just a thought.


  14. Might as well put my two cents in. According to (supposedly using figures from the FBI) Hamtramck’s property crime rating is about 1.5 times greater than the national average, about the same as Detroit. As windows. yep, corner house, had a new window broken every year. Seems to have stopped for now; of course I did replace the broken ones with polycarbonate. Do have inside bars on the windows facing the backyard. So far so good; only the garage gets hit. Maybe I’m just used to it but roll down steel doors don’t bother me. Just seem like the modern evolution of the wooden shutter – maybe there’s an idea.

  15. Thanks for the stat, albin.

    If roll down doors are the modern evolution of wooden shutters, consider that the function of wooden shutters is to deflect storms. In a typical shopping district, the passerby is not a force of nature (yours truly excepted); he is a potential customer, and customers are things you DON’T want to deflect. Short of naming names, in speaking with a wide range of merchants over the years, I’ve found that the retailers who intentionally block off their windows tend to harbor more than a little contempt for the people outside their doors, and it shows.

    That said, roll-down doors do have their place, in isolated areas with little or no pedestrian traffic perhaps. But in a central business district, where we can assume business-owners are interested in selling merchandise, roll down doors are a disservice to customers, and ultimately, the retailers themselves. Stores aren’t warehouses: they’re showrooms. Common sense says customers like to see the goods before they slap down their dollars. Hiding those goods from view is a great way to stop people from looking, which I think partially explains by Campau is a ghoststreet after 6PM. Contrast this with Conant after 6PM where we see few if any security doors and lots and lots of pedestrians on the street. Those merchants get it, and their customers reap the benefits.

    But all of this is Merchandising 101, isn’t it.

    Back to Crime-prevention 101. Assuming there are folks out there bent on smashing and grabbing–and their are–an interior roll down grate offers all the security of an exterior roll down door or dense accordian-gate, while alowing passersby to see into the store, which as mentioned earlier, has definite security and merchandising benefits, and even in the short run, costs about the same. Yes, with interier grate exterior window glass is exposed to potential smashers. But the motivated smasher is a robber, and robbers tend to be lazy. There’s little point in smashing glass if there is nothing to gain from doing it.

    As for vandals intent on smashing for the helluvit? The Romans couldn’t end the vandal problem, and we’re fools to think we can, too. All we can do is make it hard for vandals to do their thing, and alert and active eyeballs are how you do that, and It think it can be argued (and I’ve tried) that roll-down metal doors don’t help eyeballs of any kind.

  16. I think our energy would be better spent on lessening the necessity of the various security systems. We’d all like a city where such devices weren’t necessary.

    Wouldn’t true cross-use, day and night, get more people on the street? If we pursuaded shops to stay open later we wouldn’t have to see the gates and roll-downs as much.

    If Jos. Campau was an evening place to hang out, eat, drink, and shop, there would be a lot less opportunity to smash things.

    It’s ridiculous to try to reap the benefits of a safe downtown before we plant any seeds. Protecting one’s property is a right that goes back to the Magna Carta, so I think it’s safe to say that it trumps asthetics. Maybe even by 1000 times.

  17. albin: I should have my statistician fired.

    That’s an interesting website, though the numbers from the police department are slightly different. For instance, the 377 it has listed for burglary, I have 441. Most of the other numbers are close. Also, the department hasn’t reported to the FBI since 2003 due to a computer problem of some kind. 2004 was a good year; 2005 was more like 2003.

    We’ve been lucky so far in that our storm windows have been able to deflect the rocks and snowballs. The abandoned house next door, however, lost 2 front windows last year.

    THE GOOD NEWS IS that there is a group that is meeting weekly to talk about crime prevention in the city and apply for a grant, and there will likely be a multi-cultural effort on prevention and education soon.

    (anyone can e-mail me for details if they would like to attend and are available on Friday mornings)

  18. Mike: It’s not the gates and roll-downs that deflect customers. The stores are not open to serve them. A passerby can see better through most gates on the outside than the ones on the inside, and most of the stores downtown already have gates on the outside. Personally, I prefer the look of a well worn exterior gate to the mall style interior gates. Why should stores convert to a different type of gate if the goal is to take them down?

    “That said, roll-down doors do have their place, in isolated areas with little or no pedestrian traffic perhaps.”

    Like Joseph Campau after 6pm?

    There are plenty of bars and fences on Conant. Hippo’s has a gate, as do a few of the Sari shops. Roop Noor is completely fenced off. The arcade has had at least 2 broken windows since they opened, Srodek’s has a broken window, and a sari shop on the south end had or has a broken window.

    The difference is that on Conant, the shops are open late, and there are groups of men hanging out on the sidewalk until after mignight. After Srodek’s closes, the younger guys hang out in front with their motorcycles. Groups of older men talk outside the grocery and Aladdin. There’s always a bunch of cab drivers hanging out at the cab stand and Tripti.

    If the theives can’t get in, then there’s nothing to see. Until the shops stay open later and there are enough people around to keep an eye on things, the gates are needed.

  19. Mike, maybe while you were the proprietor of Urban Break you never experienced a window breakage, however when Richard and Linnea, the original owners had the break they had the windows spidered once and completely broken through on a separate occasion so i guess it was just your smooth jazz and quick wit that kept the vandals away while you were in operation.

    Rob, if you feel the charter schools need more representation or that they are unrepresented entirely, perhaps you should use your council appointments to boards like the parks adv. to give them representation. the school board like the council are elected officials, the boards of charter schools are hired or appointed by the corps. that found the schools. the catholic schools, when thriving in this community, were never given the ability to appoint to the various city boards and commissions. why should we open this up to charter schools.

  20. It’s too bad we need those devices, it’s a shame really compared to what the GREAT Hamtramck USED to be. I hear about the great days from my grandma. It’s all a perception. Once crime goes down the perception is that it is safe, and those security devices won’t be needed, however that perception surely doesn’t exist in the current state of affairs.

  21. “MERS adjustment: Crawford explained that there was a question some months ago as to why payments to MERS were so high. An audit revealed that the city has been paying into MERS for a “fictitious employee”. A resolution is needed to have MERS change the files. The city will save $50,000 per month.”

    So who made up this “fictitious employee”? Smells of a Schimmel scam. How much was being paid on a “fictitious employee”? If it is $50,000/month that’s around $550,000/year. Since the employee was “fictitious” who was stashing the money? Did the City council provide answers?

    It really sounds like a criminal matter to me? Any investigation? Is the police department prosecuting this? $50,000/month is a huge savings!, sounds like the entire deficit has been erased if those figures are right? Or do I misunderstand?

  22. Dominique: Richard and Linea took to closing the coffeehouse at 6PM with the rest of the merchants. But never underestimate the power of jazz, though I take umbrage at the “smooth jazz” classification: we were strictly a hardbop joint. And latin. And hot club. And hip hop. And folk…

    Steven: I’ve got your back 100% on fostering a 24-hour district and stores staying open later–perhaps that was the secret to my success (at avoiding broken windows). But therein lies the philosophical and economic conundrum: how do you persuade a store to stay open when there are no customers around? Yes, I know all about chambers of commerce and midnight madness sales and street parties and all that–back before your time Threads and Salvador Deli and The Break and POP would coordinate events to cook up tons of evening crosstreet traffic with Pope Park as the epicenter. But the ongoing challenge of convincing a district chockfull of civically divested out-of-town shopkeeps to play along presents a tall order, but definitely an order worth attempting to fulfill. I think we are making headway with residential development in the district, and full occupancy of the existing above-store apartments has been the goal of the DDA since the very beginning.

    Nevertheless, until the third shift shopping crews show, no shopkeep is prevented from protecting their property: alarms, interior retractable security grates, security lighting and myriad other safety strategies are perfectly within ordinance.

    As well as jazz.

  23. “alarms, interior retractable security grates, security lighting and myriad other safety strategies”, are reactive measures and don’t prevent vandalism. They only work after someone has broken in.

    I’d rather a burgler didn’t break into my property rather than an alarm sounding after he’s broken in.

    The retractable gates and doors prevent windows from getting smashed. I don’t support that section of the ordinance, it’s unrealistic and suburban.

  24. Tom: The way I understnd it, the fictitious employee caused the imbalance in these accounts. No money was ever drawn, and it has been piling up in the general employee fund. Since both the general employee account and the police/fire account were being funded by a single source (the tax levy), paying in for more general employees caused a shortage in the police/fire fund. I don’t think they have any idea where the employee came from.

    According to the appropriations ordinance passed tonight, the July levy will be the last one needed to catch up the pension funds, and it will be 1.05 mills instead of the 7 it has been. The city controller said the tax rate will be the lowest it has been since 1999.

  25. “how do you persuade a store to stay open when there are no customers around?”

    You pick one night a week, say Friday night, and you try to get every store to stay open late on that night every week. To get people in, declare the night Bike Night. (The young guys with motorcycles obviously have more money than they know what to do with.) Some people will come on their motorcycles, some will come to see the motorcycles, some will come for the later store hours, and soon Friday will be known as the night to hang out in Hamtramck.

  26. “alarms, interior retractable security grates, security lighting and myriad other safety strategies are perfectly within ordinance.”

    How would the Polish Art Center protect itself in this manner, and how much would the insurance be on her irreplaceable front windows? Cookie-cutter solutions often don’t work for old buildings.

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