Garage ordinance talks continue

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — True to their word, the mayor and his administration and the city council are continuing to discuss the language that will be used in the amended ordinance regarding garage usage and appearance that has been in the works for several months.

At the Sept. 24 council meeting, Council President Thomas Tafelski said the council and the city administration would like more time to discuss the proposed ordinance and those talks continued at the monthly mayor’s briefing session at city hall on Oct. 1.

“One of the reasons we’re having so many struggles with this is because our diversity in housing is broader than any other community in metropolitan Detroit,” Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said. “The size of lots varies so rapidly that it’s difficult to come up with one standard for such a diverse housing stock. That standard has to meet a lot of variables.”

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.

Residents and homeowners are required to have two off-street parking spots on the property so that cars can be cleared from the street on Public Service Days.

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.

At the briefing session, O’Reilly told the council members present that the Legal Department is happy with the off-street parking requirements and restrictions to garage modifications in the language but is continuing to research one specific section of the ordinance: rules regarding the garage doors.

The topic of garage usage and the hanging of transparent doors have 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.

Council members have expressed concern that transparent doors are distracting to neighbors and that they can prohibit residents from using the garage as a place for storing vehicles.

Councilman Robert Abraham said he was not as concerned with the door as he was with the usage of the garage itself.

“The main purpose for having an accessory structure is for off-street parking,” Abraham said. “If someone does something to their garage and it changes their property so that they can no longer meet the parking requirements, I’m against it.”

The amended ordinance would 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.

Councilman David Bazzy said he wants an ordinance to enhance safety and to tell residents clearly what is and isn’t allowable.

“The two things that matter to me as a councilman are safety, both for the neighbors and the homeowner himself, and that I hope we don’t just focus on the aesthetics of the door,” Bazzy said. “We have to create an ordinance we can enforce and one where we are protecting the residents.”

O’Reilly recommended more dialogue with the council and legal department and said that because these talks will not be concluded in time for the next council meeting on October 8, the language may not be available for the council until their October 29 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 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 boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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