Placemaking as Economic Development Tool

Clearzoning, Inc. recently assisted the City of Clawson, Michigan, with a Downtown Master Plan that included several placemaking strategies. The illustration above offers a concept for the transformation of a parking lot and adjacent buildings in an underutilized block adjacent to the main downtown intersection. The resulting plaza could be a welcoming place to gather informally or for community events.

How did we do it? We envisioned these improvements:

  • Renovate the buildings flanking the paved parking area
  • Transform the parking area with landscaping, street furniture, and pedestrian-oriented lighting.
  • Add landscape screening and low masonry wall to help fill in the “dead space” between the existing buildings (seen in the top photo).
  • Create a pedestrian connection that encourages shopping throughout downtown.

What is Placemaking?

Quite simply, it’s about making a “place” special and memorable. Why is it important? Because research shows that creating memorable places is a way to attract and retain a talented workforce as well as encourage investment. Michigan is at the forefront of this national movement through the efforts of the MIplace Partnership Initiative ( The Initiative is made up of a diverse range of stakeholders including state agencies, regional and local units of government, key associations and nonprofits, and private sector partners who have embraced placemaking and understand that vibrant, successful regions promote economic activity and will help build a better Michigan.

For truly active and engaging places, placemaking strategies should rooted in a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential. It should focus on creating interesting and useful places that attract people. Art, natural features, outdoor dining, and plazas all can offer opportunities for people to connect with each other and with a place.

This article is featured as our February 2015 news brief .



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Redevelopment Best Practices – 2015 MLGMA Session


Clearzoning's Jill Bahm shares redevelopment ready practices with Michigan city managers.

Clearzoning’s Jill Bahm shares redevelopment ready practices with Michigan city managers.

Clearzoning is pleased to have been invited to speak at the 2015 Winter Summit for the Michigan Local Government Management Association (MLGMA). This is a great organization dedicated to the professional development of local government administrators. To paraphrase Pete Auger, the president of MLGMA (and the City of Novi, Michigan’s manager), city managers are often the key “behind the scenes” individuals who keep local government moving.

At Clearzoning, we want to help Pete and other city managers keep local government moving – in a forward direction. Today’s city managers can use planning, zoning, and technology tools to encourage quality economic development, manage limited financial and human resources, ensure fair and transparent decision making, and provide excellent customer service.

Today at the Winter Institute, we shared lessons about how an updated Zoning Ordinance and development review procedures can help a city achieve these goals.  By implementing best practices for redevelopment to provide clear, easy-to understand, and current zoning standards along with streamlined, well documented site plan policies, city managers can help ensure a smooth and predictable experience for developers as well as city staff, officials, and residents.

Our session slideshow is available below along with a series of articles aimed at helping communities be “development ready.”

Pages from Redevelopment Best Practices - Jan 2015

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Website Design Services

Clearzoning, Inc. is now offering affordable website development services for local governments.

For years, Clearzoning, Inc. has been creating new websites and web pages for planning projects. During this time, our staff has observed that many small cities, townships, and villages may have a web presence, but many of their websites are not visually appealing and are not kept up-to-date. Clearzoning now uses its expertise in design and information services to take local government websites to a new level at an affordable price. The following describes our basic website development service:

  1. Develop main sub-headings for website menu bar in consultation with client (For example: Home, Boards & Commissions, Community Profile, Departments, News, & Maps | Data) 
  2. Provide draft to municipality for review. Make one set of revisions, if necessary
  3. Upload and launch new website. Municipality to provide domain information and password or a new domain will be created
  4. Train municipal staff on how to update website and keep calendar current 
  5. Submit website to major search engines
  6. Provide free emails for municipal officials and staff using the username@domain convention.

In addition to the above, CZ will maintain the website on a hosting site and provide phone assistance to local officials regarding keeping the site up to date.

Additionally, our monthly maintenance agreement can include a monthly blog post for the News tab written by CZ staff.  Our staff will interview the one or two local officials or staff by phone once per month to determine latest news and then write a short news update (approximately 400 words) so the website is always is current with the latest information. This can be adjusted to be more or less frequent, depending upon the community’s needs.  Because we understand municipal government, we know the right questions to ask and we understand customer service.

We also have professional photographers on staff. Our basic service includes a portrait session to take photographs of up to 10 staff or officials (within a 60 mile radius of our offices).  CZ staff can also photograph the municipality to show the rest of the world the unique qualities of the local community.

Please contact Rod Arroyo at Clearzoning, Inc. for a quote.

Web Site Services for City, Village, Township

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Expert Traffic Engineering Services Based in Michigan

Traffic Engineering Consulting

The staff of Clearzoning, Inc. provides expert traffic engineering services ranging from traffic-focused site plan review and traffic impact studies to traffic crash analysis and road safety improvements.

Development Review
When a new site or development plan is submitted to a community, Clearzoning  reviewsthe plan to evaluate:

- Parking circulation
– Driveway access and spacing
– Need for driveway improvements
– Sight obstructions
– Number of parking spaces
– ADA parking requirements
– Pedestrian circulation
– Truck and emergency vehicle access
– Transit implications.

The community will be provided with a well-written review letter that can assist the applicant, staff, planning commissioners, and others. CZ staff will work to establish a fee schedule so that the cost of this service is passed on or shared with each applicant. This can be a no-cost service to the municipality.

Traffic Crash and Safety Studies

The University of Michigan reports that a crash occurs on Michigan roadways about once every 2 minutes, on average.  Some crashes are largely attributable to single obvious causes, such as drunk driving or “texting” on a cell phone.  However, many crashes are affected by a combination of factors that might include:

  • Unusual roadway design
  • Traffic control feature(s) different than the driver expected
  • Poor visibility due to darkness and/or weather
  • An unforgiving roadside

The likelihood of crashes and/or severe injuries occurring can generally be reduced by improving the roadway, roadside, and/or traffic controls (i.e., pavement markings, signs, signals). Learn more about how communities can direct their limited safety improvement funds by creating a more cost-effective local safety program based on a comprehensive traffic crash study. March 2013 – Traffic Crash Studies

Traffic Impact Studies

The existing or anticipated impacts of new development can be planned for by conducting a traffic impact study. A traffic impact study forecasts changes in trip generation and assigns new trips to the road network. It can also anticipate traffic flow changes from other new developments or road improvements that are planned in the study area. The results of the analysis assist stakeholders with a better understanding of traffic improvements that may be necessary to mitigate the impact of new development.

Contact our staff to learn more about traffic engineering consulting services.

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New Zoning Format Can Help Cities and Other Municipalities Enhance Customer Service and Promote Economic Development

New Zoning Format Can Help Cities and Other Municipalities Enhance Customer Service and Promote Economic Development
Zoning codes have come under fire over the last 25 years for many reasons ranging from the resulting development patterns they create (mandating sprawl) to the confusing language (legalese) used in these documents.   This can lead to a host of negative impacts for a municipality.  Some impact day-to-day operations and others last for generations to come.

Zoning codes can be enhanced by better graphics, formatting, and hyperlinking.  Municipalities are looking for better zoning formats, online zoning codes, fillable zoning forms, and interactive zoning maps.

Zoning Ordinance Graphics

The use of graphics is one of the first places to start.  Regulations that are depicted graphically are generally easier to understand and more effective.  This is particularly true for business owners and citizens that are not familiar with common zoning and development terms.  It can also assist staff and Planning Commission members developing a better understanding of what the zoning text is intended to accomplish.

The formatting of most zoning codes has not changed since the time they were first adopted.  The outline structure is often confusing, and users are forced to jump from section to section just to find basic information.  For example, the lists of permitted and special land uses are often found within the district pages.  The building setback, height, and other bulk and density requirements are often found in a separate schedule of regulations.  This basic information can be accessed at a glance by combining it on a single or two-page spread.

Changes in technology also make it possible to get answers to basic questions much faster.   People do it every day when they search the internet and click on hyperlinks.  This same approach works well for zoning codes.  The two-page district spread below includes words and terms in blue text.  In the actual zoning code, these terms are hyperlinked to another section or another web site.  One click can take a user right to the parking requirements or setback regulations.  This makes the code user-friendly and it is also word searchable.
This 2-page spread has both use and development regulations

For more information on improving zoning ordinances through better formatting, graphics, and other enhancements, contact Clearzoning, Inc. at To view a sample Clearzoning code, visit or

Update:  Clearzoning has just wrapped up new zoning code formats for Fairmont, WV and Novi, MI.  Work has begun on updating zoning code formatting and graphics in Steamboat Springs, CO and Ira, MI.

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Food Trucks – New Planning Presentations in October

Clearzoning President Rod Arroyo will be speaking twice in October on the topic of planning challenges and opportunities related to mobile food vending.  On October 3, he will address the North Carolina Planning Conference in Raleigh.  The following Thursday, October 9, Rod will be speaking at the Grand Hotel as part of the Michigan Chapter of APA’s annual conference.

For more information, Rod Arroyo and Jill Bahm authored a Zoning Practice issue on this topic for the American Planning Association (September 2013 – Vol. 30, No.9).  A summary of the presentation is provided via the links below:

Food Truck Handout from Clearzoning

Powerpoint Presentation – Food Trucks –  Clearzoning

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Clearzoning, Inc. Welcomes New Staff Members

Clearzoning, Inc. is pleased to announce the addition of two new staff members to the Clearzoning Team.

Margaret (Mardy) Stirling joins the firm as a Senior Planner, with extensive experience at the local government level. Mardy is the former Deputy Director of Planning for the City of Royal Oak (Oakland County, Michigan) and the former Planning Director for Hartland Township in Livingston County, Michigan.  She has a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree from Michigan State University.

Joseph (Joe) Tangari joins Clearzoning as an Associate Planner.  Joe previously worked as a planner for the City of Hazel Park (Oakland County, Michigan) and as a research associate for Wayne State University, where he conducted a baseline assessment of the impact of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Redevelopment Ready Communities Program. He has a Master of Urban Planning degree from Wayne State University.

We welcome Mardy and Joe to our team!



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