By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The City Council unanimously passed four ordinances Sept. 24 to amend current ordinances for residential standards and possession of minors relating to e-cigarettes.
The residential design standards and companion ordinance addressed side and rear setbacks, and the method for calculating roof height.
Council President Susan Dabaja said the council members had been working on the residential standards for almost two years and that it was a big task.
She thanked “those residents and members of associations who sat through study sessions and provided some critical feedback, and the residents who waited for this ordinance to pass before they could complete the purchase of city property intended for residential construction.
“These amendments are intended to address and regulate some of the most common negative design elements that create issues with neighborhood character such as those big box homes with flat roofs and tall walls. Some of the areas we have made changes to include eliminating the compatibility review and replacing with specific guidelines applicable to all new developments.
“This may not be the final word on this topic, but I think at this point this is as perfect as I think we could all get it considering all the compromises and all the competition interests that have come forward on this issue so we are trying to come up with the best working model and based on experience, if we need to adjust or modify then that will come before us again and again we welcome comments on that,” she said.
“As we said all along this is an ordinance that I don’t think any single individual up here likes in its entirety, which probably means that somewhere along the way it’s going to be, actually a good ordinance because it isn’t a singular ordinance,” Councilman David Bazzy said. “Maybe it’s a little lesson for everyone else in legislature that you can’t get your own way, what you have to get is what’s right for the community and the best you can do to move forward.”
Councilman Michael Sareini said it’s hard as far as when government interferes with property rights and how they can affect other people in the neighborhood.
“There is delicate balance,” he said. “One thing I think is extremely important that prior to this ordinance homeowners associations were not being notified of buildings or major construction as identified by our building codes and our building people.
“So, that led to work stoppages and tremendous disruption of neighborhoods, so that’s where I stood on this. I looked at it from the beginning that notice is something that definitely has to happen.”
He said much of what the city and city council did in regard to residential standards was unique to Dearborn.
“How we measure roof heights, which created tremendous problems for people building homes or remodeling that had to have roof pitches that cause water runoff and other problems,” Sareini stated.
“So, I think this ordinance, when you look at in its entirety, it is a very, very good ordinance for where we need to be, where we balance the interest of our homeowners who are building, our associations in the neighborhoods, but also for the building as well.
“The building codes are very important. We need to respect those and make sure we allow them to be done in accordance with the law.”
Councilman Robert Abraham believes the council covered a lot of ground with the ordinance saying bringing zoning ordinances up to today’s standards is not always easy as neighborhoods continue to evolve.
“As the word ‘balance’ was thrown out — finding the right balance between the traditions and the heritage in the neighborhoods and the more modern perspective on things is a very difficult job and how to weigh them is difficult,” he said. “Writing the ordinance, I think, was even more difficult, trying to interpret it. For the administration, good luck. You know what we wanted to do. We’ll see how it plays out.”
He also cited a lesson from his daughter when speaking about the perfection aspect of the changes.
“I put this in the category that my daughter taught me,” he said. “It’s progress not perfection and I think we all can sit up here and agree that we made significant and substantial progress with our design standards and ordinances
“We covered territory from the foundations, attachments, roofs, windows, garages, driveways, roof overhangs, cantilevers, lot combinations, setbacks, dimensional characteristics — we’ve updated all of them and hopefully we did find the right balance.”
Councilwoman Erin Byrnes said the council plans to continue working with the city team on how the changes are implemented while encouraging the public to continue to provide feedback.
“We hope this is a good step moving forward in a way that I think allows Dearborn residents to honor some of the historical characters in our neighborhoods while also looking to the future,” she said. “Hopefully it’s a good in-between for everyone and we landed in a good spot.”
A resident asked what would happen to the people who already turned in plans and have to make corrections.
“The ordinance that will apply will be based on the date of application,” Dabaja said. “Before this passes, what we have now, the current ordinance will apply to those applications that were received prior to this new ordnance taking effect. Anything after that will be subject to this new ordinance.”
During the same council meeting, ordinances for e-cigarettes and tobacco products relating to minors were passed to comply with new Michigan Public Act 18 signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer June 4. The law went into effect Sept. 2 prohibiting the sale, possession and use of e-cigarettes and other non-traditional nicotine products to minors.
“Under the state law the penalty for selling or furnishing tobacco products vapor products or alternative nicotine products to minors remains a misdemeanor, but the fine increases to $100 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense,” Dabaja said.
She added that on Jan. 29 the council adopted an amendment to the city code which prohibited the possession of e-cigarettes by minors and the ordinance also prohibited the selling, giving or furnishing of e-cigarettes and their components to minors.
“In addition, at the time of its adoption the state had no laws or regulations addressing e-cigarettes while the federal government prohibited their possession by minors,” Dabaja said.
A companion piece to the e-cigarette ordinance was one that changed the penalty for minors in possession of tobacco, vapor products or alternative nicotine products from a civil infraction to a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50.
“While an offender cannot be sent to jail for violating the state law, the court has authority to place minors in possession on probation with escalating penalties,” Dajana said.
A first offense is a possible 16 hours of community service or participation in a health promotion and risk reduction assessment program with 32 hours of community service for a second offense and 48 hours community service for a third offense.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])