Garage ordinance passed, awaits council vote

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — After months of discussion and revision, the Planning Commission unanimously agreed on the language of the zoning ordinance concerning garage usage and appearance.

At the Aug.12 meeting the commission reviewed and discussed the ordinance given to them by city administration before voting 8-0 in support of it. Commissioner Tawfiq Hassan was not present at the meeting.

It next goes to the city council for its consideration. The next meeting of the council is Sept. 10.

“This is about as close as we’re gonna come to something that’s not overly burdonsome but that achieves the objective and is clear enough that it can be appropriately enforced,” Dearborn Assistant City Attorney Bill DeBiasi said.

DeBiasi sat in with the commission and explained recent changes to the ordinance, which he helped draft. He said there were only a couple of changes since it was brought before the commission on July 8, but that it still met the three objectives set out by the city: 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.

DeBiasi said he kept the ordinance relatively brief because some “common sense” would have to be used by future interpreters of it.

“I tried to keep this as streamlined as possible because on the other end of the chain someone, somewhere has to interpret it and enforce it,” DeBiasi said.

He also said that the ordinance “was that not an attempt to curtail anyone’s property rights, but more of an attempt to just create some workable parameters” for the city when investigating whether garages have been turned into living spaces or not.

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 and so that hobbies, parties and other things legally can occur inside of a garage.

The topic has come to the fore this year in response to sliding glass doors on garages on Orchard Street and on other properties on the east side of Dearborn.

Residents 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 language of the ordinance strictly prohibits converting the garage to a habitable space, using anything other than a traditional non-transperant 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 ordinance allows for solid 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 8 feet in width.

It also would allow the homeowner to lay flooring such as tile or carpet down in the garage.

As at previous discussions on the ordinance, community members brought their opinions before the commission.

Resident Muheeb Nabulsy, who lives on Orchard, said he did not agree that the sliding glass doors should not allowed as part of the new ordinance. Nabulsy has a sliding glass door on his garage.

“This garage door won’t hurt people or cause any danger or hazard or anything,” Nabulsy said. “If we are not hurting anything or anyone, why can’t we have these garage doors?”

Nabulsy added that he had obtained permits through the city to change his door and that he enjoys having it because it allows him to look out into the neighborhood when he uses the garage.

Commissioner Nasser Alrayashi said that while Nabulsy may not be using his garage for living quarters, there are other houses in the city that are and the commission has to respond by amending the ordinance for the overall good of the city and to reign in what a garage can and cannot be used for.

“There has to be a line in the sand to stop people from going overboard and that’s what this ordinance is all about,” Alrayashi said.

Commissioner Matthew Zalewski added that he felt that the wording of the ordinance made it very clear that the conversion issue was paramount, not the use of the garage for hobbies and get-togethers.

“We’re setting the standard for the entire community and I think we’ve worked painstakingly to get to that point,” Zalewski said. “We’re setting the boundaries for what we can tolerate.”

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. There it was tabled before being discussed and passed on Aug. 12.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at