Council gives revised garage ordinance first reading

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – With the first of two required public readings complete, the City Council could be a few weeks from enacting an ordinance to define the acceptable uses of a garage.

Then again, the council was in the same situation after the Sept. 24 meeting, where it decided the ordinance needed more work and sent it back to the city’s legal department for adjustment.

At the Dec. 17 council meeting, the proposed ordinance came back before the council and received its first reading with amended language.

The second reading, which would but the ordinance into law, could come as early as the council’s next meeting on Jan. 14, when it will have two new members, including a new president.

“This has been a long process,” Council President Thomas Tafelski said. “It’s been before the Planning Commission and has been modified a few times before reaching the council.”

The current zoning ordinance allows a garage to be used only 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.

According to the proposed ordinance, any use of the garage that would impede the resident from being able to park at least two vehicles off the street would be prohibited.

That would allow residents to remove vehicles from city streets during emergencies and on Public Service Days.

The language of the amended ordinance also strictly prohibits converting the garage to a habitable space, 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 space is also not to be leased out or used for commercial storage either.

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.

The proposed ordinance would allow doors to be opaque, but not transparent.

According to the proposed ordinance, “A garage shall be enclosed by an opaque door; enclosure by a screen or transparent door wall is not permitted. The door will consist of such material that, when closed, the contents of the garage will not be visible from the public right of way.”

The ordinance would also 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.

The amending of the ordinance was 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