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The original item was published from 3/29/2023 9:14:04 AM to 4/4/2023 8:46:10 AM.

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Posted on: March 29, 2023

[ARCHIVED] Council Connection: Chris Vitale on City Growth

Council Connection: Chris Vitale

St. Clair Shores is what civic planners refer to as an inner-ring suburb. Being the first circle of growth outside of a major city presents challenges and opportunities. Challenges include older infrastructure, commercial/retail spaces, and housing stock. The opportunities fall into the category of short commute times into the city and proximity to educational, entertainment, and dining venues. How do we deal with the former and leverage the latter?

In my years on council, our city policy has been to take on as many water, sewer, and street projects as staff, budgets, and grants will allow, often several during the short Michigan construction season. One measure of success is when you no longer hear about basement floods in a particular hot spot. As a member of city council’s Fire Department construction subcommittee, I’m proud to say we’ve begun planning long-needed improvements, such as decontamination showers at our North/South fire stations. At the same time, failure to make the most efficient use of what already exists sent the first draft for Central station “back-to-the- drawing-board.” 

Commercial/retail property is a tough challenge for several reasons. Much of what exists now came about during the era of small tailoring, vacuum cleaner, and television repair shops. While I’m happy to say we still have examples of each, at one time there were many similar businesses between each mile road. Franchise size requirements, Federal/State handicapped access, updated fire codes, and big-box and online convenience have forced many of these properties to adapt to alternative uses (call centers, warehousing, etc.) that may appear empty but don’t require traditional signage.

Being so far east, SCS isn’t a “pass-through” city. While that helps preserve a calm, walkable feel vs. cities with massive retail strips, the lower traffic count makes a business case that much tougher. But note that national-level businesses are quick to redevelop large parcels when they do come on the market. 

Also, notice how quickly new SCS homes have filled the spaces where old houses are removed. So quickly, in fact, that our city adopted requirements for “human space,” like porches and windows, rather than garages, as the primary feature seen from the street. While it hasn’t slowed development one bit (the best in-fill rate in Macomb), I also saw it as an opportunity to leverage the Shore’s strength in community events, social districts, attractive parks, and sporting fields. Social people like social events.

Just as this new housing ordinance is unique in Macomb County, so was our 2020 Charter Change (passed with almost 90% approval) that requires this (and future) city councils to hear residents speak before voting on agenda items. I have always believed that informed and involved citizens are the greatest part of our past/present/future success. The fact that you’ve read this far is just more proof of that!

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