Troy Building Boom Started with an Innovative Plan
A December 2013 article in Crain’s Detroit highlighted the successful redevelopment taking place in the City of Troy – a building boom – and explored how form-based codes have shaped this new development. Before the new zoning standards, however, there had to be a plan. Indeed, the City of Troy was honored by both the Michigan Association of Planning and the Michigan chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for its Big Beaver Corridor Study, completed in 2007. It is this plan that created the vision for the boulevard and directed the development of the City’s form-based code.
Back in 2005, the City of Troy recognized that the suburban development patterns that defined the City had reached its peak in terms of commercial development along major corridors, and was headed towards becoming a place with limited development potential for the 21st Century. Specifically, Big Beaver Road, home to international businesses and the most upscale mall in the region, presented a classic example of post-World War II suburban development. Characterized by a high volume traffic highway and standardized single-use zoning of adjacent properties, it represented the planning philosophy of that era. It was time for a new approach to development. The City retained the services of Clearzoning, Inc. (then known as Birchler Arroyo Associates), a planning and transportation firm who partnered with the award-winning landscape architecture firm, Grissim Metz Andriese, designer Dave Peterhans, and market research firm, The Chesapeake Group.
The Planning Team determined that the City envisioned a bold new direction – to create a “world class boulevard” that would not only create a unique identity for the City, but would offer new opportunities for development that would serve existing and future businesses and residents. The process was thorough and broad-based, incorporating planning, landscape architecture, architecture, market research, and public input from residents, business owners, property owners, and design professionals.
Key Concepts of the Big Beaver Corridor Study include:
- Organize the six-mile corridor into distinct districts. The plan divides the boulevard into districts, each with a unique character.
- Develop gateways at key entry points. Signature architecture, landscaping, and streetscape treatments will create a sense of arrival.
- Enhance corridor landscaping. Street trees will serve as a visual axis along the corridor and will buffer sidewalks from travel lanes.
- Promote foot traffic and walkability. Increased residential uses, mixed-use development, and density will boost pedestrian activity.
- Provide a variety of transportation choices and reduce the dominance of the automobile.
- Transform the corridor into an outdoor museum. Civic art will be installed at gateways and in public squares. Iconic footbridges and sleek, elegant street furniture will also function as public art.
The Study included a detailed implementation program that identified action items and responsible parties. Since completion of this work, the City has revised its zoning code to require the elements envisioned in the plan, and new development activity is now lining the Big Beaver Corridor, filling areas where vacant property and empty, underutilized parking lots once stood.
The situation and challenges that faced the City of Troy and the Big Beaver corridor are similar to those faced by many suburban communities within Michigan and across the nation. The Big Beaver Corridor Study presents a visionary approach to addressing these challenges and embraces planning concepts that have the potential to create a special place and reignite the development potential of the corridor and the region. Many of the Study’s concepts could be modeled and adapted to other communities and corridors. Furthermore, it reinforces that long-range community planning can be transformative for both developed and undeveloped property.