As January comes to a close and we have had time to reflect on 2019’s contributions to community planning and design, a number of themes struck us as having long-term implications for the communities we serve. While this list is by no means comprehensive, we believe these topics will continue to shape our profession well into 2020.
In the spring of this year, the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) released a survey which found only 15 percent of local officials are “very confident” the 2020 U.S. Census will produce an accurate count in their own jurisdiction. Further, the survey found local officials’ confidence in the statewide accuracy of the pending census even lower, with just a 5 percent “very confident” rating.
An accurate count of residents is important to communities across the country for a variety of reasons, especially as these numbers are tied to funding. The census response can help increase or decrease the importance of a region and impact its potential growth over the course of the next decade. It is estimated that for every resident who is not counted, states can lose as much as $1,800 per person, per year. A correct census count will help ensure that communities have adequate funding for essential services, and have strong data upon which to base their decisions going forward. For communities looking to raise awareness of the census count, the US Census Bureau website offers a number of toolkits, infographics, and other resources to do so. Additionally, the Census Bureau will have five offices around the state focused on outreach.
Reuse and Redevelopment
2019 saw the initiation of several large-scale reuse/redevelopment projects of previously abandoned or underutilized spaces, including malls and big-box retail stores. The viability of malls and big-box retail, coupled with the rising cost of new construction, presents a reimaging of these underutilized spaces as a trend that is likely to continue into 2020 and beyond.
One such example is Summit Place Mall in Waterford Township. Closed since 2014, the property was recently sold to new owners who received $12.9 million in incentives for the 1.4 million square foot mall. The mall is expected to accommodate a mix of uses, including office, flex engineering, research and development, warehouse, distribution, and restaurant space. In West Michigan, nearly two years after construction began, Woodland Mall has undergone major upgrades through investments of modern tenants. With an investment of $100 million, Woodland Mall will have 19 new retailers and over 30,000 square feet of restaurant space. Another property to watch in 2020 is the Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights, which was purchased in December of 2019 and slated for adaptive reuse in the coming year. Municipalities seeking reuse and redevelopment in their community should consider an update to zoning ordinances to encourage a mix of uses in existing structures.
The Great Lakes water levels broke records this past July, with the highest water levels recorded since 1918 (although they have since receded to a degree). The impact of high water on the shores has resulted in beach erosion and disappearing waterfronts. Data released by the Army Corp of Engineers show that water levels are nearly 3 feet above the long-term monthly average, a trend that is likely to continue in 2020.
For communities hoping to plan for the future based on these high-water levels, it may not be so simple. Record low water levels were observed in Lakes Huron and Michigan as recently as 2013, indicating erratic water levels in the Great Lakes may be the new normal. Inland townships and cities are not immune from the changing weather patterns either. Michigan just had its wettest year on record, leaving many communities, even those removed from the Great Lakes, to deal with historic flooding and drainage issues. Master plans, and other strategic plans which seek to address long-range issues, should outline how the community will adapt to the changing environment. In turn, zoning ordinances should be updated with these changing goals and objectives, so that they may be put into action.
In November of 2018, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize the recreational use of marijuana when voters approved Ballot Proposal 1 (legalized the use and sale for adults 21 and older). Voters approved Proposal 1 by an 11% margin, with 50 of Michigan’s 83 counties voting in favor of legalization. As a part of Proposal 1, communities have the option to opt-out of recreational marijuana businesses within their jurisdictions.
During the past year, roughly 80% of communities around the state have opted out of the retail market, which is over 1,400 Michigan Townships, Villages, and Cities. Opting out (by resolution or ordinance) is not permanent however as several communities have opted out in order to allow time to draft ordinances regulating businesses in their area. Other communities have opted out to see how the regulations work for opt-in municipalities, before making a decision. Localities undecided as to whether permitting marijuana businesses is right for their community should consider that it is not just large cities such as Ann Arbor which have allowed these uses. Indeed, several small townships have passed ordinances that permit recreational businesses, this has largely been done in the hope of jumpstarting economic development in the area. As more municipalities consider to opt-in, drafting standards for these uses which promote harmonious development with adjacent uses, and the community will be important.
Further Reading: List of Michigan communities that have opted out
Equitable and Inclusive Growth
It’s no secret the City of Detroit has experienced some major transformation over the past decade with regard to housing and retail investment in its Midtown, Downtown, and Riverfront Districts. For newcomers looking to move into a dense, walkable neighborhood that offers access to retail, restaurants, and entertainment, this is great news. But for many of Detroit’s long-time residents, each new development concentrated in these areas raises the question of ”Who is this all for?” and rightfully so. In a city with a median family income of just $26,249, and a poverty rate 2.5x that of the state, luxury apartments and high-priced restaurants surely aren’t the first things that come to mind when one considers the city’s immediate investment needs. This kind of new investment is typically classified as “Gentrification” – which includes the displacement of long-time residents – in similar cities. In Detroit however, “gentrification” alone doesn’t tell the whole story. As new housing and offices move into Downtown, for example, few residents are displaced because not many lived in much of these highly vacant areas prior to development. This isn’t to suggest Detroit is void of displacement, rather aiding a problem that can have far worse consequences. That is, a lack of equitable investment throughout the City, which, rather than causing immediate loss, has resulted in an inability for many to join the City’s resurgence. Despite it’s widely publicized economic gains, Detroit still struggles with growing concentrations of poverty in areas of the city that do not receive equitable investment and attention. In addition to other factors, low educational attainment, and a lack of adequate access to regional employment opportunities, continues to stymie upward economic mobility for a large portion of Detroiters. While development incentives can be a great tool for rebuilding cities like Detroit, it is even more important to ensure that there are adequate resources devoted to education, transportation and mobility, stable and affordable housing, and safety for residents in the city’s struggling neighborhoods.
Further Reading: Metro Detroit’s Poverty Get’s Worse Despite the City’s Comeback
2019 saw many Michigan communities struggle to meet the demand for housing in their area. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority released a forecast this year that the state will have a deficit of more than 150,000 housing units by 2045. With housing units in short supply, single-family home prices have increased by more than 70% percent since 2012.
Solutions to meet the increased housing demand, however, are not a “one size fits all”. For instance, the forecast notes that in the city of Detroit, there may be an excess of units available on the market in the coming years. However, many will need rehabilitation work, making financing of the work crucial to ensuring housing needs are met. In suburban Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties, a deficit in housing on the market has created intense bidding wars and put many communities out of reach for first-time home buyers. In the north and west parts of Michigan, a lack of housing has created a situation in which services industry employees working in coastal cities and winter vacation destinations struggle to find housing units to rent, let alone purchase. This year Networks Northwest found that in 2020 there will be demand for almost 11,000 new rental units throughout the region. Rising construction costs have slowed the pace at which new units come onto the market, and those currently available are oftentimes reserved for short-term rentals during the tourist season. Some communities may be facing different types of housing issues, whiles others may not have identified any issues at all. Completing a target market housing analysis is a powerful tool for communities to identify and address housing shortcomings.
Arguably the biggest planning story nationally this year, was Minneapolis’ decision to eliminate single-family zoning districts. The process began in 2018 when the City adopted its 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which set out goals to permit up to three units per lot in residential areas, eliminate parking minimums, and allow denser housing projects along transit corridors. Following the adoption of the plan, city officials worked throughout 2019 to implement the zoning changes recommended in the Plan.
As of January 1st, 2020 duplexes are now permitted in previously zoned single-family districts. This is considered a major victory for housing advocates, as it is expected to increase the supply and variety of housing across the City. Spurred by the success in Minneapolis, housing advocates spent 2019 introducing legislation at the state level. Perhaps the highest-profile of the bills was SB 50 in California, which would require communities to permit apartments within a half-mile of rail Transit Stations, and a quarter-mile of high-frequency bus stops. This was followed by a bill proposed in Virginia that would permit duplexes and townhomes in all areas that currently permits single-family homes. For communities uninterested in taking such strong action, but are looking for ways to increase housing options for their residents, reviewing and updating their zoning ordinance to permit gentle density, would promote more of the missing middle housing options which fall between large single-family homes, and apartment buildings. Additionally, these types of updates may not necessarily conflict with a communities’ future growth plans.
Further Reading: Denser housing Bill proposed in Virginia