Second vote on new garage ordinance postponed

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The City Council had the chance to vote on the second and final reading of the amended ordinance regarding garage usage and appearance, but decided to postpone the vote for a future date.

The postponement was announced during the council meeting on Sept. 24.

Council President Thomas Tafelski said the council and the city administration would like more time to discuss the proposed ordinance and will re-visit the topic at a future council meeting or by scheduling a study session to review the matter.

The city council will meet twice in October, on the 8th and 29th.

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 can legally occur inside of a garage.

The language of the amended ordinance strictly prohibits converting the garage to a habitable space, using anything other than a traditional non-transparent overhead door for automobile entry, sleeping within the garage, having an open flame heater or cooking.

There is also 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.

Resident Lee Jacobson told the council that restrictions on garage usage would work against individuals wanting to work or start businesses out of their garage. He added that he felt what a homeowner does behind their closed garage door is not the city’s business.

“When you close your garage door, I think the city should be out of it as long as you aren’t causing a disturbance to your neighbors,” Jacobson said.

Councilman Robert Abraham responded by saying that if residents had kept their garage doors closed, the issue might never have been brought to the council.

“We didn’t invent this problem,” Abraham said. “We’re trying to find a solution to a problem that was brought before us.”

He added that the city has to address safety concerns that come up when garages are converted into living spaces. At the previous council meeting on Sept. 10 it was brought up that garage fires have been started because the area was turned into a living space without inspection or permits.

Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. agreed that safety is a big reason that the city wants to amend their ordinance, but added that the garage door itself is not what the city has its focus on.

“People have to provide so many off-street parking spaces on their property,” O’Reilly said. “That’s the heart of this. You can’t give up the space you’re required to have by law because you’re converting your garage.”

Residents and homeowners are required to have a two off-street parking spots on the property so that cars can be cleared from the street on public service day.

O’Reilly added that the city needs to address the parking issue because the cars congest traffic and make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to pass through neighborhoods.

The topic of garage usage and the hanging of transparent doors have really come to the fore this year in response to sliding glass doors being placed 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.

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

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 O’Reilly 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