BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
Boyne City planning officials are working to make zoning regulations easier to use and understand.
Three major areas in potential need of clarification, discovered during a recent review of the Boyne City Zoning Ordinance, are parking, accessory buildings and structures, and window signage.
“I’m not suggesting these are amendments,” said Boyne City Assistant Planning Director Patrick Kilkenny, “strictly discussion.”
Kilkenny presented his findings from each category to planning commission members, who then discussed the matter.
The first topic considered was that of parking.
“This has been reviewed at the planning commission level in the past and, due to the fact that current ordinance requirements are based on max or peak usage, as opposed to conventional day-to-day, oftentimes parking requirements are seemingly overbuilt for day-to-day usage and could potentially benefit from an overall reduction and maybe some simplifications as well,” Kilkenny said.
He said simplification of requirements could also be helpful.
“Another question that comes up when you’re discussing parking, specifically in the Central Business District or other commercial districts, is how to regulate changes in use for existing businesses,” he said. “This happens regularly and often doesn’t require review at the planning commission level.”
An example, Kilkenny said, was an existing office being converted into a restaurant. While no zoning approval is necessary for the change in use, the number of patrons may increase, additional parking spaces may be needed, and hours of operation could change.
“Currently, there are no tools in place to regulate parking with a change in use in the Central Business District,” Kilkenny said. “However, new development is held to ordinance standards when proposing a specific use.”
According to Kilkenny, during the planning commission’s last look at parking requirements, the consensus found the requirements to be excessive and that a reduction in restrictions could benefit the city.
Planning commissioners discussed whether potential changes are needed and whether a couple months of heavy traffic—primarily in the summer—is worth changing regulations over.
Kilkenny was asked about parking for handicapped individuals.
He said those types of parking spaces are provided for.
The planning commission also discussed its plan, in past years, to reduce the required amount of parking across the city but noted the Boyne City Commission chose not to adopt the recommendation.
The general consensus was to have city planners revisit the 20 percent parking reduction plan and bring it back to the planning commission for discussion at a future meeting.
According to the city’s Accessory Buildings and Structures ordinance language, “An accessory building shall not exceed 20 feet in height and may not occupy more than the ground floor area of the principal building. This requirement is interpreted the same in all residential districts and may not be appropriate for the Rural Estate District.”
Kilkenny said the regulation may not be appropriate for all districts.
“As an example, if you have a seven-acre parcel with a 1,500-square-foot single-story home, you’d be limited to 1,500 square feet in accessory buildings, which is less than one percent of your total lot area,” he said. “The ordinance doesn’t differentiate between the traditional residential rural estates with regard to allowable sizes of accessory buildings.”
Kilkenny said it may be advantageous for the planning commission to consider making changes to allowable sizes of accessory buildings in the Rural Estate District.
Commissioners agreed that tying the size of an allowable accessory building to the square footage of the house seemed unfair to those who had larger parcels of property but wished to build a pole barn for personal storage.
Commissioners discussed possibly changing the requirement to be based off a percentage of the square footage of the entire lot.
Kilkenny was directed to draft some language on the matter to bring back to the planning commission for consideration.
Boyne City’s regulations on window signs in businesses state, in part, that a business may display interior signs in addition to their allowed open sign, that occupies no more than 50 percent of the total window area of each floor level of the business in both the commercial and industrial districts.
The window signage issue has been something the planning commission expressed interest in discussing in past meetings.
Kilkenny, in a memo to the planning commission, offered three interpretations for the definition of a window sign:
1 – It could be assumed that anything affixed to a window covering 50 percent or less of the glass window area would be considered allowable.
2 – It could also be assumed that, if a business has four windows on the first floor, two of which face Water Street and the other two face an alley, 100 percent of the two windows facing Water Street could be covered as long as the two windows on the alley side remained uncovered.
3 – Does something need to be affixed to the window to be considered signage? For instance, does hanging a T-shirt from the window frame inside a retail store constitute signage?
Commissioners considered the window sign regulations of other local Northern Michigan towns during their discussion.
According to the commission, in Petoskey, anything that is advertising and closer to the inside of the glass than two feet is considered signage. Petoskey also said temporary sale signage is allowed.
Petoskey allows 20 percent of the window area to be covered with signage.
In Charlevoix, businesses are allowed to cover 25 percent of the window the advertisement or sign is on. So, the example of covering all of the front windows while keeping the back windows completely open would not be allowed.
Commissioners asked how much the regulations are actually enforced, since some businesses downtown may already be violating the ordinance—depending on how the language is interpreted.
Commissioners discussed how more stringent language might negatively effect businesses which rely on window advertising.
Ultimately, the planning commission decided there was no real consensus on whether the issue of window signage was a big enough issue to make any changes to the ordinance.
Commissioners decided to review the matter in a year to determine whether there is an issue.
No changes will be made to the city’s window sign regulations at this time.