By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — The Planning Commission is closer to approving an amendment to the zoning ordinance concerning garage appearance and usage but not quite there yet.
At the July 8 meeting commissioners reviewed and discussed the proposed changes to the ordinance given to them by the city administration and decided to table it until their next meeting on Aug. 12.
If the commission passes the amended ordinance in August it will then go before the city council for its consideration. The council meets on Aug. 13.
Dearborn Assistant City Attorney Bill DeBiasi sat in with the commission and explained recent changes to the ordinance. He said there were three objectives to the ordinance: making garage use consistent with the current zoning ordinance with regards to the parking of cars, making sure that public service day requirements can be met and promoting safety in the streets and neighborhoods.
“It’s the intent of the zoning ordinance to promote public health, safety and welfare by establishing standards for garages consistent with the goal of minimizing off-street parking congestion, neighborhood overcrowding, compliance with (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for unobstructed access to sidewalks, fire hazards and other conditions detrimental to public safety and the quality of life,” DeBiasi said.
The current zoning ordinance only allows the garage to be used for the parking of automobiles, but the city has been working to amend it to allow the storage of household items.
“We’re trying to address the issue of parking and update the ordinance in a way that doesn’t unfairly restrict people’s use of their garage,” Planning Commissioner Caryn Charter said.
The topic has come to the fore this year in response to sliding glass doors on garages on Orchard Street. Residents on Orchard have told the city that it is only because they like to use their garages as social meeting places for family and friends that the usual overhead doors were replaced, but some city officials have labeled it a sign that the garage could be being used as a living space.
To combat this, the proposed language of the amended ordinance strictly prohibits converting the garage to a habitable space, using anything other than a traditional overhead door for automobile entry, sleeping within the garage, having an open flame heater or cooking. There also is a prohibition against adding utilities to the garage beyond a sink sufficient for washing hands and tools and basic electrical service.
The garage is not to be leased out or used for commercial storage either.
The amended ordinance would allow for solid or hinged, sliding or French doors to be placed on garages for entry, but they must be either on the side or back of the structure and cannot exceed eight feet wide.
It also would allow the homeowner to lay flooring such as tile or carpet down in the garage, which was a sticking point in previous discussions.
As at previous commission meetings where this topic was discussed, there were audience members in attendance who wished to express there opinions for or against the ordinance.
Muheeb Nabulsy, who lives on Orchard, told the commission that he agreed with the proposed new rules regarding garages being used as a living space, but not the prohibition of sliding glass doors.
“We’re not causing any issue in the neighborhood,” Nabulsy said. “I can park six cars in my driveway and the street is empty.”
He also said that some of the homeowners who installed glass doors had applied for construction permits and were approved by the city.
“I’m not trying to give anybody a hard time,” Nabulsy said. “I’m trying to do everything legal. I am under the law, not on top of it.”
Lila Tobias told the commission that she was concerned about the ordinance because the excess cars blocking sidewalks force her to have to walk around them and into the street when she is walking her dog.
“I do not like having to go into the street and take my chance,” Tobias said. “I should be able to walk on the sidewalk like I’m supposed to. I feel that I have the right to walk on the sidewalk and I shouldn’t have to go in the street because people don’t want to use their garage to put a car in.”
After discussing the amended ordinance and hearing more public opinion for and against the proposed measures the commission voted to table the ordinance until next month.
Chairman Gary Errigo and Vice Chairwoman Nancy Siwik were not present at the meeting.
The amending of the ordinance has been before the commission almost all year, as it was discussed and tabled at the Feb. 11 and April 8 meetings. There was also a special study session held on May 28 with Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. to consider the issue. A revision of the ordinance was not ready for the following planning commission meeting on June 10 so the item was tabled until July 8.
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])