Déjà-vu All Over Again in Rochester?

It was over 30 years ago when I started attending Rochester City Council meetings to try to figure out why the city’s zoning ordinance didn’t hold up in court. Single family properties were being “spot zoned” on main roads.

I remember City Council Member Sam Howlett telling me that they didn’t want to rezone these properties,but when they didn’t, they were sued and lost.  That just didn’t seem right to me, so I started reading anything I could find on zoning, including court cases.

Aha!  I found the answer!  A community needed a Master Plan to support its zoning ordinance.  I went back to City Hall and asked if I could see the city’s Master Plan.  After a few blank looks, a 15-year-old document was produced.  It was a joint planning study by the City of Rochester and Avon Township (now Rochester Hills). I knew that Avon Township had produced a Master Plan since the old study had been generated, but obviously Rochester was running on empty.

The City of Rochester had no Master Plan and was using the zoning process in place of a planning process. That method just doesn’t work.  The courts need to see a current Master Plan that supports the city’s zoning ordinance.  The process is:  plan first and then zone according to the plan.

Fast forward over 30 years – as Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà-vu all over again.”

Rochester has not kept its Master Plan updated.  According to the city’s website, the last large scale planning process took place in 1999 with a plan being adopted by the Planning Commission in 2000.  Master Plans need to be updated or reaffirmed every five years to remain current.  The last Master Plan activity that took place was an amendment in 2005 for the DDA district.

So, here’s what’s going on. The Waltonwood assisted living owners on North Main want to add a nursing home to their facility on the adjoining property.  This property is now zoned Multiple with the exception of a home on North Lane which would need to be rezoned.  This is the type of 24/7 operation that is permitted on five acres as a Special Land Use in a district zoned Multiple.

The Rochester-Avon Historical Society, an independent non-profit organization, brought forth the following issue:  the front part of one of the multiple buildings is a historical home.  The Planning Commission encouraged negotiations with the developer which resulted in the project being redesigned and pushed back on the roughly 2.5 acre site.  Then, to accommodate parking, property owned by the Congregational Church which was zoned residential on the east side of Pine Street was added to the project.

With the new design, the house is somewhat being saved as an integral part of the facility with parking being pushed behind a block of homes on Glendale (the Congregational Church property). The five acre requirement is being ignored, with the total site being only about three acres.  No one in authority seems to be concerned or worried about the homes on Glendale.

To put it mildly, I am disappointed that the City Council and Planning Commission have not maintained our Master Plan.  To add insult to injury, they have also failed to include the residents directly affected by this in their discussions with the developer. Let’s hope that the Planning Commission considers the impact on the neighboring residents that would be caused by three shifts of workers and emergency vehicles coming and going at all hours of the day and night.  If not, it will be “déjà-vu all over again” in Rochester.

Rochester officials, please give us an updated Master Plan before you rezone anything!

Sue Ann Douglas

Oakland County Commissioner