A Mixed-Use Vision for Ann Arbor

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A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 14 2013 3:50 PM

A Mixed-Use Vision for Ann Arbor

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Here's something cool. Some University of Michigan students are putting together a campaign for local office as the Mixed Use Party with a plan to revolutionize the town's zoning code. The idea is to replace the current "Euclidean" code (under which some areas are residential, some are commercial, blah blah blah) with a very simple "form-based" code. They would create essentially two kinds of zoning areas for the town: "Mixed Use" for downtown and a few dense corridors and "Restricted Mixed Use" for the rest (a small swath of land is set aside for heavy industrial uses).

Here's the plan for Mixed Use areas:

1. Structures must be set back three feet from properties zoned Restricted Mixed Use. On corner lots, structures must not block a driver’s view of a road intersection.
2. The maximum height for a structure is either thirty-five feet, or one-half the distance between the structure and the closest property zoned Restricted Mixed Use. The greater value is the maximum height.
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And then in the larger Restricted Mixed Use Area:

1. Structures must be set back three feet from properties zoned Restricted Mixed Use. On corner lots, structures must not block a driver’s view of a road intersection.
2. The maximum height for all structures is thirty-five feet.

Of course I'm a radical who's no fan of maximum height rules anywhere, but these kind of codes are a big improvement on the idea that town planners need to micromanage where people can and can't put an office or a store. Regulatory separation of uses is fine to the extent that you don't want people operating potentially dangerous factories (see West, Texas) next to people's houses. But beyond broad safety and pollution concerns, towns should let people vote with their feet and their wallets and see what kind of neighborhoods emerge. Ultimately, the more flexible approach will create more economically vibrant landscapes than trying to do top-down planning.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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