Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Brighton takes mixed-use to absurd extreme

7. January 2005 • Murph
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One of the loudest mantras that any urban planning student relies upon is that “mixing uses is good for urban areas”. Instead of strip malls and apartment complexes separated from each other by pedestrian hostile areas, put the apartments above the stores, increasing residents’ access to businesses and reducing traffic and parking demand. According to an Ann Arbor News article, though, the City of Brighton has taken this idea a little to far, and is forcing out a watch seller who was trying to have part of his business on the second floor.

When the Crosswinds project was approved, the city had the deed restrictions – which it says limit commercial use of the property to the first floor while earmarking the second floor for residential – incorporated into the site plan.

The master deed adopted by the city states, “Live-Work Townhome Units in the Condominium may be used for residential purposes.”

”’May’ is, of course, permissive,” said Sensoli’s attorney, Hershel Fink of Detroit, in his response to the suit. “Nothing requires that it be used for residential purposes.”

In its suit, the city said its ordinance prohibits commercial use in residential dwellings without its approval, defining commercial use as “the purchase, sale, barter, display or exchange of goods, wares, merchandise or personal services.”

The city’s suit initially included two other businesses that had used upstairs areas for commercial purposes in the lawsuit, but has settled with them.

This planning student thinks that Brighton is missing the point.

[City Planning and Community Development Director Kim] Castle said although disputes like Girard’s grabs the headlines, the live-work unit concept has worked. “It’s a niche market, and either your business works within that space, or it doesn’t,” she said. “I think it’s worked out great.”

Rather than providing flexibility in zoning and allowing the development to evolve, it seems the city is simply imposing a different, but equally restrictive, definition of the space, perhaps making a marginal improvement, but nothing that deserves to be lauded as outstanding.

On the other hand, lawyer Fink appears to be tackling this case in a totally counter-productive fashion, stating, “you still can’t make unreasonable restrictions on someone else’s use of their property.” While this is true, the restrictions in question are well within the tried and accepted bounds of the zoning power. Instead, Fink would be wise to focus on convincing the city that the flexibility of allowing the upper-story space to be used either for commercial or residential purposes would be beneficial for the city – Girard Solani’s decision to move out of Brighton based on this incident seems like an excellent case study in the failure of the current rules.



  1. Man, I walk away for a few weeks, and Arbor Update turns into some sort of slanted, wholly non-objective bunch of sensible urbanist propaganda. Sheesh. :-P
       —Brandon    Jan. 7 '05 - 12:11PM    #
  2. blink blink. So what is it when you’re around?
       —Murph    Jan. 7 '05 - 01:58PM    #