REVIEW TO DATE and NOTES
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, a strategy used by the dynamic technology industry was discussed. The title to the article was “Keep What Works- and Change Everything Else”. This is also a good way to describe one of the points we are attempting to make in this series of articles about the liquor component of the mixed use district in our Downtown.
In the Introduction section, we established that the City Commission is not following the Liquor Ordinance. The Liquor Ordinance Statement of Purpose reads as follows:
§ 430-2 Statement of purpose.
The purpose of this article is to allow the City to establish and administer a policy for the issuance and transfer of liquor licenses and permits, to provide for the enforcement of liquor laws, regulations and ordinances, and to limit the number of liquor licenses in the City of Royal Oak.
The history section of this series demonstrated that a mixed use district worked during the periods of time when a moratorium was in place and when the intent of the Liquor license ordinance that limits licenses was enforced by the City Commission.
Since then, Royal Oak's population, General Fund, police force, and City Attorney's Office has decreased, but Liquor service has expanded dramatically. It should be no surprise that the trouble experienced in the past is reappearing. This is frustrating to us because the prior problems were cured, only to reappear again due to a complete change in policy decisions made by the City Commission.
This next section about the Master Plan continues the discussion about the historic prospect and attempts to show how the community embraced the concepts in a formal process of creating a Master Plan that also contributed to the success and responsible growth of the Downtown. Since many of the components of the plan have worked, we need to keep using them. It is only when the successful parts of the plan are ignored do we end up with more problems. In this section, we establish that the City Commission is ignoring the Master Plan by continuing to expand a liquor intensive type of entertainment district, versus the mixed use downtown that is envisioned in the Master Plan.
Ignoring the Master Plan
The Master Plan and City Charter are the City’s two most important documents and are critical for the orderly development and operation of the City. These documents have been compared to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in our Federal government. It is important to understand the significance of the Master Plan in order to evaluate the serious negative consequences when the plan is routinely violated by the policy decisions of the City Commission. The following are excerpts from the plan that demonstrate the tremendous community effort in developing a plan that does not call for turning the Downtown into an entertainment district. It calls for a mixed use downtown with entertainment being only one of several components in the mix. (Sections taken from the Master Plan are in italics)
Why Plan for Royal Oak?
As the year 2000 approached, there was a strong need to evaluate the physical development of the city. The Master Plan in place at that time was adopted in 1968 and had not undergone any
major revision since its adoption. Despite a perception that the city was fully developed, significant changes had occurred in those thirty years:
What Process Has Been Followed?
The city’s response in 1999 to those changes was to undertake a systemic process which involved analysis of the community, citizen participation, and revision of the Master Plan. The revised Master Plan provided for the orderly development of the city, assisted the community in its effort to maintain and enhance a pleasant living environment, and sparked a vision toward the future.
It is interesting to note that there was never any desire to turn the Downtown into an entertainment district. The Master Plan always did, and still calls for a mixed use downtown.
In 2004, the Planning Commission reviewed the Master Plan to determine whether to commence procedures to amend the plan or to adopt an entirely new plan. At that time the Commission determined that conditions within the city had not changed significantly since the Master Plan’s adoption in 1999 to warrant amending the plan or adopting a new one, and that the goals and objectives of the current plan were still relevant and applicable to the physical development of the City of Royal Oak.
In 2009, the Planning Commission again took up a 5-year review of the Master Plan as now required under the Michigan Planning Enabling Act. This time the Commission concluded that although many of the policies and recommendations of the 1999 plan remained pertinent, several conditions and circumstances had changed since then. The Planning Commission determined that amendments should be made to the Master Plan but adopting an entirely new plan was not necessary. It was felt amendments to the plan were needed to address conditions that have changed since 1999 while still providing for the elements of original plan which are still relevant.The Planning Commission then embarked on a process to amend the Master Plan.
The revised and amended Master Plan has the following characteristics:
- It is a physical plan. Although social and economic conditions are considered, the plan will be a guide to the physical development of the community.
- It provides a long-range viewpoint. The Master Plan will depict land use and community development within a time frame of 20 years.
- It is comprehensive, covering the entire city and all the components that affect its physical makeup.
- It is the official statement of policy regarding such issues as land use, community character and transportation which impact the physical environment. As a policy guide, it must be sufficiently flexible to provide guidance for changing conditions and unanticipated events.
How is the Master Plan Different from Zoning?
The Master Plan is not a Zoning Ordinance. The Master Plan is the long-range policy guide for the physical arrangement and appearance of the city. The Zoning Ordinance more specifically regulates the manner in which individual properties are used. The Zoning Ordinance is only one of a number of tools used to implement the Master Plan. Formulating a Master Plan is the first step in providing a sound and legal basis for revising the Zoning Ordinance and other regulatory ordinances, investing in public capital improvements, and guiding private land use decisions.
The Master Plan provides general direction on the city’s future development pattern. The plan also provides policies and actions for community leaders to consider in the future. Some of the Master Plan’s recommendations will be implemented through amendments to the Zoning Ordinance text and map. However, the Master Plan itself does not change the Zoning Ordinance nor the zoning of any property.
How Has the Community Been Involved?
The master planning program conducted in 1999 relied on the involvement of and input from various stakeholder groups including neighborhood groups, citizens-at-large, non-residential property owners, business owners, outside planning consultants, city staff, City Commissioners, and Planning Commissioners. Public input was obtained through a series of workshop sessions conducted throughout the city. The public input process is described more fully in the section entitled “Visioning & Public Participation.”
Visioning & Public Participation
A series of town meetings were conducted as the first step in the public input phase of the City of Royal Oak’s Master Plan update effort. For planning purposes, the city was divided into seven planning subareas. A workshop was conducted for each subarea. The primary focus of each workshop was to gain an understanding of the issues pertinent to that subarea.
In conducting the town meetings, a technique called “visioning” was used. The visioning process provides a vehicle for people of diverse viewpoints to identify the common dreams and desired future for their community. Each workshop entailed identifying vision statements via a brainstorming process.
Topics somewhat altered for the downtown visioning workshop. After all statements were recorded, the small groups voted on which statements were “priority” visions statements. This step facilitated both the prioritization of issues, as well as built consensus amongst participants.
The facilitator recorded all statements and votes. Each small group then presented its “priority” vision statements to the large group, and again the large group voted on the statements producing “top priority” visions for that particular workshop.
Nearly 200 people attended the workshops.
The following identifies the priorities expressed at each of the visioning workshops (only the downtown is included here).
Subarea 6 (Downtown)
1. Promote mix of land uses downtown including high-density housing, office space, and a retail and service mix that meets day-to-day needs of residents.
2. Encourage preservation of historic structures and promote urban character.
3. Consider a cultural facility / center and enhance civic center area.
4. Parking should be consolidated into mixed-use, multiple-level structures.
5. Consider expansion of the Downtown Development Authority south of Lincoln Avenue.
3. Promote non-motorized transportation.
4. Consider city-wide public transportation system.
5. Bury railroad below grade and reclaim land for development.
6. Promote pedestrian walkways downtown.
Most important to note is that the result of this exhaustive process in 1999 was to embrace, plan for, and act to create a mixed use downtown, not an unbalanced entertainment district, heavily weighted with a strong concentration of drinking establishments. None of the priorities contain any support for expanding the entertainment component of the downtown because this component was already over represented in the mix. The periodic 5 year reviews did not change this fundamental concept.
City Commissioners who have voted for and advocate for additional liquor licenses cannot reconcile their position with Royal Oak's Master Plan
In the last 6 years, the actions of a majority of city commissions has resulted in developing Downtown Royal Oak into an entertainment (bar) district. This is clearly inconsistent with the vision of Royal Oak's Master Plan. They ignore all the work conducted by expert planning consultants, and the hundreds of residents, property owners, and business owners, who participated in the process. In other words, the City’s leaders seem to know more than everyone else, but do not explain the source of this knowledge.
Relying on no plan at all
Unfortunately when the City Commission ignores the Master Plan, they effectively are relying on no plan at all when approving more liquor licenses, and certainly no planning about how to pay for the army of police that will be required, as in the 1990`s.
These same elected officials may recognize this logical flaw, but they lack the courage to amend the Master Plan to reflect an entertainment district. They probably lack the initiative because advocating for an entertainment district will be rejected as it was in 1999. It will be rejected because the planning process will require the true costs to be discussed and it's a losing preposition to saddle the taxpaying public with paying for a huge tax increase to subsidize the additional public safety costs that are created by the additional bars. They are unable or unwilling to debate the merits of having an entertainment district in a public process similar to what was conducted when the Master Plan adopted.
Recently, the City Commission addressed 3 innocuous amendments to the Master Plan at their 05/07/12 meeting. Not surprisingly, the City Commission did not use this opportunity to eliminate the goal of a mixed use downtown and replace it with a new goal of an entertainment district. They've kept the mixed use goal for the Downtown in the Master Plan document. Instead, they continue to strive to expand one of Michigan’s largest bar districts on a piecemeal basis by their votes every time there is a new request from a liquor license applicant.
Other efforts to attract retail have been derailed
Creating a balance of retail/ service/ office/ residential and entertainment in the Downtown was a primary goal and objective of the City in the '90`s. The city commission desired to create a downtown district that contained businesses that service our residents and generated tax revenue without the extraordinary public safety costs incurred by a bar dominated district downtown. In addition to creating a Liquor license moratorium, amending the Liquor license ordinance, and amending the Master Plan, other ideas were utilized to help create an economically sustainable balance of uses.
City Commissioner Harrison presented the idea of a Downtown Manager, a fulltime position dedicated to promoting a balance in the downtown. A professional staff person would be the City's "point person" to actively recruit business types that were currently underrepresented in the downtown mix of businesses. For example, if the City lacked a greeting card retailer, then the Downtown Manager would actively recruit a business to fill that void. The proposal was approved the City Commission and funded by the General Fund. It operated under the direction of the City Manager and City Commission.
One year later the position became funded, controlled and directed by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the position was used instead as the de facto director of Royal Oak's Main Street program, and of all the sub-committees and volunteers that went along it. The goal of having a dedicated person responsible for recruiting retail and service type businesses had been lost.
Ironically, the Downtown Manager never really produced a material increase in retail or service type businesses. When the DDA cut ties with the County's Main Street program, the original responsibilities were never reinstated. The manager then morphed once again, into being the de-facto event coordinator of the entertainment themed special events in the Downtown.
Obviously, snuffing out and greatly thinning out retail and non-alcohol related uses is counter to the goals of the Master Plan. The Master Plan clearly calls for, and envisions a balance between retail businesses, service type businesses, professional office businesses, residential, and restaurants/bars. It does not envision an entertainment district.
Some at the Commission table claim that additional bars represents "growth". No one can argue that the additional licenses granted continue to "grow" the "entertainment district”, which is the type of district that requires the most taxpayer subsidies for public safety and cleanup. It`s growth in an area that that does not need growth to create the balance required in the Master Plan. We need growth in the other types of uses that are underrepresented in the downtown. The growth of the entertainment component has come at a great expense. Its growth has contributed to suppressing the retail and other desired uses in our downtown!
The landlords are holding out for top dollar
Over the last decade, many downtown property owners have resisted renting to retailers/service/office tenants. The property owner recognizes that he can collect a much higher rent from an alcohol serving restaurant, than any other type of business. A bar that specializes in distributing a high volume of alcohol can generate a much higher amount of revenue per square foot, than a retailer. Therefore, a bar/restaurant is in a much better position to pay a higher rent. We've witnessed these phenomena over and over again, where developers and speculators preferred to keep their buildings vacant, rather than sub-dividing the space for smaller tenants, or lowering the asking rental rate. Some have kept them vacant with the hope of filling them with bars/restaurants.
The most glaring example of this approach is the development between Fourth and Sixth Street on Main Street. The developer promised numerous “upscale" retail businesses such as: Banana Republic, Gap, or Crate & Barrel on the first level, and was originally granted one Class C license for the development. Instead, their development has presented the community with only one “upscale" retail establishment in Barnes & Noble, but bait and switched Royal Oak with 5 restaurants, four of them with liquor licenses including BlackFinn Irish Saloon, Tequila Blue 526, Mongolian Barbeque, Burgerz, and Noodle's restaurant. All of these restaurants serve alcohol with the exception of Noodle's. Blackfinn and Tequila Blue represent two of the largest alcohol distributing bars/restaurants in the County, and State. Mongolian Barbeque is a true restaurant with a food to alcohol ratio of around 90% food/10% alcohol. After they moved to their current location, their former location was "backfilled" with another liquor license, adding to Royal Oak's over quota issue (see next week’s issue).
Rest in peace Royal Oak retail
The City has done very little to follow its own community based vision for our Downtown as outlined in Royal Oak's Master Plan and Liquor Ordinance. There seems to be so much arrogance from the City Commission that they don't even bother to amend these important documents. They do not discuss or plan for the negative residual costs and burdens of abandoning the wisdom having a long range plan. Instead the use the pretext of a case by case decision making process that is more truly driven by political expediency.
Currently, the City has no meaningful or effective plans, or initiatives to preserve, or recruit any type of business other than more bars to Royal Oak. In the last several years the most frequent and repetitive item on the City Commission agenda is a liquor license issue.
The Master Plan in the Garbage Can
In the introduction and Part 1 of this series, we emphasized the Statement of Purpose of the Liquor Ordinance which clearly states that the objective of the Ordinance is to limit additional licenses in Royal Oak. In this section we presented the Master Plan which directs the development of a mixed use Downtown. These two facts have clearly been established. The City Commission is intentionally, or due to lack of knowledge, ignoring these two important City foundational documents. As the community digests and discusses this week's article, attention and consideration should be given to these two important topics. The Commission continues to ignore the intent of the Liquor Ordinance, and the goals of our Master Plan. The City Commission should follow the two most important city documents, or have the courage to engage in the public process to amend them.
Michael Andrzejak, firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Semchena, Jr., email@example.com
Next Week: Exceeding the liquor license quotas, increasing the size of bars, and expansion of alcohol service instead of food service.