Garage ordinance on verge of approval

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — For the third time since last summer, the city council has given the first reading to proposed ordinance changes defining what garages can be used for and what their doors may look like.

The council voted unanimously Feb. 11 to give the ordinance it’s first of two required readings to make it city law. It was also given a first reading Sep. 10 and Dec. 17 before being pulled from the next meeting’s agenda for more discussion by council members and Mayor John O’Reilly Jr.’s administration.

The council next meets at 7:30 p.m. March 4.

Council President Susan Dabaja said it has been a long process, with several hearings with the Planning Commission and study sessions held by the council, to arrive at the current language of the ordinance.

“The purpose of the amendment to this ordinance is to make sure that garage space is not being used as an unsafe living condition and to provide for off-street parking,” Dabaja said. “We as a council feel that this is the best language for that.”

Councilman David Bazzy said the city has worked hard to create an ordinance that was both fair and clear enough in its language to be easily followed.

“For the past eight months, at a minimum, we have been trying to come up with a working product that is usable for both this council and the residents of Dearborn,” Bazzy said. “This is what this council, the Planning Commission, the administration and Legal Department have come up with.”

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.

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 also is not to be leased out or used for commercial storage.

The topic of garage usage and the hanging of transparent doors came to the fore last year in response to sliding glass doors being placed on garages on Orchard Street and on other east Dearborn properties.

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 front door to the garage, where vehicles can enter or exit, must be of the traditional overhead variety.

The ordinance also 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.

The amending of the ordinance was before the city’s Planning Commission almost all of last year. It was discussed and tabled at the Feb. 11 and April 8 meetings before a special study session was held on May 28 with O’Reilly to consider the issue.

A revision of the ordinance was not ready for the following commission meeting June 10 so the item was tabled until July 8. There it was tabled before being discussed and finally passed Aug. 12.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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