RESPONSE to Louis Aguilar’s article, “New Zoning in Midtown would emphasize walkability,”published in The Detroit News on February 15, 2016

The full article can be found here:


February 16, 2016, Midtown Detroit, MI—Midtown Detroit, Inc. (MDI) would like to correct some of the information as it was presented in this article, as well as clarify its role in these potential zoning changes targeted for parts of Midtown.

It should first be stated that the City of Detroit Planning Commission and Planning & Development Department developed this plan for updating zoning classifications, which if approved, will be piloted in parts of Midtown. The new zoning categories were developed by a City of Detroit Revitalization Fellow looking at best practices used in similarly designated districts across the country. The City of Detroit mailed out information re: this process to every household and building within the targeted district and publicized the two public hearings that were held to gather feedback on the proposed changes. The hearings were well attended and the feedback from them was incorporated into the new ordinance.

The proposed changes would impact a majority of the land within this area that is currently zoned R5 (Medium Density Residential) changing it to SD1 (Special Development District: Small Scale/Mixed-Use) and most of the land currently zoned B4 (General Business) changing it to SD2 (Special Development District: Commercial/Residential). The change from R5 to SD1 will allow more uses than currently permitted in the R5 zone. The change from B4 to SD2 provides for a greater mix of uses than currently permitted in the B4 zone, but will also restrict some commercial uses currently permitted in B4.

The first desired outcome of this zoning change is to support a desired mix of uses within one zoning code, while encouraging transit‐oriented design (TOD) regulations, including less restrictive setback and parking requirements. Specifically:

1)       The area generally delineated by Woodward Avenue, Hancock, Third Avenue and Peterboro, is zoned B4 General Business and R5 Medium Density Residential which triggers off-street parking requirements that cannot be met with available site sizes in many instances. See map of the proposed zoning changes HERE.

2)       Mixed-use development is not permitted by right in the described area.

3)       Some uses and entertainment style businesses desired in Midtown are considered conditional or regulated uses under the current code.This extends the timeframe and complexity of receiving an approval for a building permit. Many new uses will still require conditional approval if over 3,000 sq. ft.

4)       Strip-mall style commercial development project (a single story retail plaza with parking placed between the building and the street) is currently permitted under the B4 code.This style of development would not be permitted under the proposed SD1 or SD2 code. 

Ultimately, the basic goals of this rezoning proposal are to increase density, allow for mixed-use developments and light industrial manufacturing which are job creators, while encouraging shared parking strategies. MDI believes that these changes would be a good fit for a portion of the district that has the best opportunity to become a more walkable neighborhood. By no means is this a disguise to kick out “domestic abuse shelters, pool halls, substance abuse centers, tattoo parlors and soup kitchens,” as implied in Mr. Aguilar’s article. It should also be emphasized that MDI is not trying to remove any of the existing social service agencies here within the district as suggested by some via social media. Nor is this new ordinance just about banning strip malls from being built in the future—the new proposed zoning will allow a lot of good uses not currently allowed under the existing ordinance. It is important to note that in the event that a use is not permitted under the new zoning classification, it is still able to continue operating legally, as the use is “grandfathered in”. To further clarify:


  • Shelters for victims of domestic abuse were always allowed and will remain allowed in a SD1 district.
  • Pool halls were already conditional and will remain conditional in both SD1 and SD2 districts.
  • Substance abuse service facilities were already conditional and will remain conditional in a SD2 district.
  • Tattoo parlors were already conditional and will remain that way in a SD2 district.
  • There is no existing City use category for a “soup kitchen”; however a soup kitchen is a program that falls under a neighborhood nonprofit center allowed in both SD1 and SD2 districts.
  • Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing was formerly conditional and will remain conditional in both districts.


There are a slew of other uses that would be conditional in either of the districts, including:  brew pubs , microbreweries and distilleries over 3,000 sq. ft.; hotels and bed and breakfasts; theaters over 150 seats; secondhand stores; hostels and kennels, to name a few. In addition, low impact manufacturing will now be allowed under the new proposed ordinance, including uses like coffee roasting, glass blowing, canvas and drapery manufacturing, apparel and jewelry manufacturing, confection manufacturing, and lithography.

Property owners have the right to appeal the proposed zoning ordinance and can take their concerns to the City of Detroit Board of Zoning. For more information, the proposed zoning ordinance can be read in full HERE.

Over the past five years, Midtown Detroit, Inc. has seen an incredible amount of investment and activity taking shape in the Midtown core. As part of this renaissance, MDI’s role has been critical in aligning many of these efforts.  We believe the new zoning ordinance will further shape Midtown into a more dense and walkable district. You can read more about the various ways that MDI is assisting the ongoing efforts in this Midtown HERE.