Open House Reveals Differing Perspectives

At the meeting, it became clear that we were approaching the question over the development of the subject property from different angles. On the one hand, as planners we understood that the vacant property would be developed eventually. On the other hand, residents attending the meeting wondered why the City needed to do anything with the property, assuming it was public land. So it was across that span that our public open house needed to bridge to get meaningful responses to the question: how should this 21-acre parcel be developed? Clearzoning, Inc. facilitated the open house on behalf of the City of Novi, who was recently presented with a proposal from a property owner to amend a consent judgment on an undeveloped parcel that currently allows up to 170,000 sq ft of commercial development.  Our challenge was to ask for public input on the permitted development, current demographics, and recently completed market assessment – without dredging up bad feelings about past litigation involving the property. The parcel in question is part of an overall planned unit development that was approved by the City of Novi in 1991. The project was originally conceived as a mixed use development that included detached and attached single family residential along with commercial uses to serve the new neighborhoods. The concept was heavily influenced by the New Urbanism movement of the late 1980’s-early 1990’s and was unlike anything developed in southeast Michigan. If the property had been built as planned, with residential dwellings all within walking distance of a central commercial core that contained a mix of retail and restaurants, it would likely have...

April Newsletter – Websites and Social Media

Economic development, government transparency, efficient delivery of services, and excellent customer service are key objectives for many governments. Websites and social media play an important role in achieving those objectives. While many small cities, townships, and villages have a web presence, many of their websites are not visually appealing and are not kept up-to-date.  Photographs, illustrations, full-color maps, and clear and connected formatting make websites attractive and user-friendly. Effective use of websites and social media presents information in a way that is understood by residents, business owners, officials, and the development community. According to the Pew Research Center’s study of “Internet User Demographics,”  as of January 2014, 87% of American adults use the internet.  The US Census confirms that in 2014, not only are most adults on the internet, but also an estimated 78.1% of people in U.S. households had a high-speed Internet connection.  Additional research by the Pew Research Center finds that overall, internet users believe that both the average American and the average student today are better informed thanks to the internet (December 2014). Their findings include: 76% of online adults say access to the internet has made both average Americans and students better informed, while just 8% saying it has made them less well-informed. But our internet usage goes beyond the pc and laptop computer. More and more people are using smartphones to access information  on the internet. A new study released April 1, 2015 from the Pew Research Center finds that 64% of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35% in the spring of 2011. The study notes that smartphone ownership is...

Google is Penalizing Websites That Are Not Mobile Friendly

Google recently announced that it will prioritize results from Google searches in order of those that are “mobile friendly.”  Why is this important?  Many citizens and business owners “Google” their local government’s website rather than memorize the website address (URL). What can local governments do to respond?  Check your site using Google’s free tool. If your site is not mobile friendly, contact your current webmaster to determine what is necessary to improve the site to resolve these issues. Alternatively, consider a new, more user-friendly website that works just a well on a desktop as a mobile device. Clearzoning, Inc. is now providing website design and development services. We have taken concepts we developed with our Clearzoning product and applied them to website design to assist local governments with offering a user-friendly and informative website experience.  Please visit www.NewGovernmentWebsite.com for more information on website design services.  Additionally, our April 2015 newsletter explores website and social media issues that are important to local governments, including townships, cities, and villages.  ...

The Planning Commissioner’s Guide to Zoning Ordinance Amendments

The Winter 2015 issue of Michigan Planner features the article “The Planning Commissioner’s Guide to Zoning Ordinance Amendments,” written by Clearzoning’s Rod Arroyo and Joe Tangari. The article provides insight into best practices that municipal governments can use improve the process of keep a local zoning code up-to-date and relevant in terms of reflecting local character and trends. One of the tools mentioned is the use of a zoning ordinance health assessment. This practice involves conducting a review of a community’s existing zoning code to 1) compare its effectiveness in implementing master plan goals, 2) identify compliance with recent changes in state or federal legislation, 3) review the code in light of recent zoning board of appeals cases, 4) identify changes to reflect the evolution of planning and zoning best practices, and much more. Click on the graphic in the upper right to download a pdf copy of the full article. To learn more about the Clearzoning format – which transforms local zoning codes into user-friendly, digital documents – visit our Clearzoning service page....

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 (miplace.org). 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...