In many of our historic neighborhoods, you can glimpse carriage houses behind the main homes. These two-story glorified garages typically date to the late 1800s, ranging from simpler barn-like structures to ornate smaller twins of the main house, and often included servants’ quarters on the upper story. Today, these carriage houses are big enough to support an apartment, spacious home office, or workshop…That is, when they’ve survived.

A sadly typical example of the form--the "historic building" plaque may be the only structurally sound part of the building.

A sadly typical example of the form–the “historic building” plaque may be the only structurally sound part of the building.

To the chagrin of many in the historic preservation world, carriage houses are often allowed to decay, then demolished. If we look at the overall pattern and landscape of historic neighborhoods as something worth preserving, this is a loss, no matter how immaculately kept the main house may be. And to the property owner—especially one who bought the property with the carriage house already beyond reasonable repair—there are few incentives to invest in restoring them.

Enter the Accessory Dwelling Unit.

Perhaps the best tool cities have to support preservation of these structures is to make them economically productive assets for the homeowner by allowing—or even incentivizing—their reuse as small apartments. This is also an opportunity for older communities to start adding the “missing middle” of housing options back in to their mix.

Encouraging owners of historic homes to build ADUs in their carriage barns can be a more powerful preservation tool than any amount of enforcement—while supporting increased property values, population, and all the other benefits that ADUs offer to any neighborhood.

Some great examples of the form. I think. It can be hard to tell from the street--which is why ADUs are sometimes called "invisible density".

Some great examples of the carriage house ADU. At least I think they are–it can be hard to tell from the street whether these are lived in, which is why ADUs are sometimes called “invisible density”.

Coming from the other side, historic districts can be a great place for a community to take baby steps on ADUs. If a community has concerns about accessory dwelling units “fitting in” but isn’t ready to dive into writing a form-based code to address those concerns, an existing historic district already offers standards for making sure new units fit the local context. (Considering the historic activities these structures were originally used for, including living space, ADUs will often be a more context-appropriate option than a more passive use.)

So where should a community look to start?

First, ADUs need to be provided for in zoning. Under a conventional zoning ordinance, if there is no single zoning district that aligns well with the historic neighborhood in question, an overlay district may be the best way to match up new standards. Look to ordinance language like Grand Rapids’ for the type of provisions to include—within that sample, the critical enabling language is “Residential Density. The ADU shall not be counted toward maximum residential density requirements.”

(Under a form-based code, enabling carriage house ADUs can be done through a new building type entry: look to our Traverse City PlacePlan for an example, on pages 185-187 of the PDF.)

From there, consider exemptions from any policies that may make carriage house ADUs prohibitively expensive. For example, the cost to run dedicated water and sewer lines (plus tap fees!) will eat up a much larger slice of the total construction cost for a 500-square-foot ADU than for a new home. If ADUs are to be part of a historic preservation strategy, consider waiving tap fees, or allowing the ADU to tie into the existing laterals for the main house. (This will require working with your building official to identify proper backflow protections on the shared sewer lateral.) New-build requirements like a site plan—or even survey—might not make sense in the context of rehabilitating a century-old structure. Off-street parking requirements should be applied cautiously, if at all.

Finally, educating all involved on the rules and the intent will help get carriage houses off the endangered list: this should involve not just working with the historic district commission in developing standards, but proactive outreach to the owners of candidate carriage barns to put this opportunity on their radar. Realtors will also be important partners in helping prospective homeowners see their carriage barns as an opportunity, rather than a nuisance.

Hazel Park 5 around table.For the past two years, several of us at the League have had the privilege of participating on the CNU24 Local Planning Committee with a passionate group of urbanists.  As the one clear voice for cities and villages of Michigan, the League is in a unique position to reach out across the state to our members to bring awareness to CNU and illustrate the common vision and goals both organizations share in building great communities.

With the annual CNU Congress fast approaching,  there have been several events leading up to the conference, including the Legacy Charrettes.  We made sure that staff attended the multi day workshops at its various stages, so that we could help support and create some buzz for these projects.  The first one I attended was the Hazel Park project.  Along with two of my colleagues, we came in on the third day of the “reveal” which followed two intensive days of public input and work.  My colleague, Matt Bach, attended the first day of this workshop, so check out his recap.

The anticipation of the crowd of local leaders, residents, and business owners was palpable.  Moule & Polyzoides, a firm of architects and urbanists out of Pasadena, California, along with Planners, Bob Gibbs, Peter Swift, and John Zanette, led this enthusiastic group during the three day workshop.

Hazel Park crowd around tableThe first day they shared a big vision of creating a walkable and connected downtown for Hazel Park.  The goal was to make people a priority over cars; leverage the existing buildings and open space, and enhance the quality of life.  Street calming, landscaping, and adding several gateways into the city would all play a role. Two days later, this collective vision came into focus as a plan was presented to make a place to create a pedestrian oasis and revitalize their downtown. This would be accomplished by creating three distinct districts of the downtown:  the Culinary District would be their town center, the Civic Center, where city hall is located, and the Arts District, that would include the conservation of buildings.  Although these seem like lofty goals, they are realistic ones.  Simple modest changes can be a good place to start and can begin to have a huge impact.

Hazel Park plan on tableJeff Campbell, Assistant City Manager and Planning and Economic Development Director of Hazel Park expressed his view of the process. “It has been an amazing experience working with CNU as planning and economic development coordinator and I have been humbled and stunned by the citizen participation and how much they care about Hazel Park.”

Will Herbig, CNU Program Director said, “This is just not about Hazel Park – it’s about the conversations, ideas, and a model for southeast Michigan.  I couldn’t be happier.”

Join us, along with over 1500 participants from around the world, in Detroit, June 8-11. There will be a feast of learning opportunities and experiences for anyone interested in cities and you will also have the opportunity to see the finished design product of all four of the charrettes!

Downtown Pontiac has tremendous potential - planners said following three-days of intensive study by the Congress of the New Urbanism.

Downtown Pontiac has tremendous potential – planners said following three-days of intensive study by the Congress of the New Urbanism.

Three days of conceptualization and team effort culminated in Sunday’s meeting to conclude the Congress of New Urbanism Legacy Project charrette in Pontiac, Michigan.

Intended to reimagine Pontiac’s downtown space, over 50 participants and residents met April 17 to share and take ownership of three days’ worth of ideas, goals, and concrete planning initiatives that can make these objectives a reality.

Project team leader Galina Tachieva of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. showed a series of photos illustrating the downtown’s lively past, and explained that the city has still managed to retain the bones of a thriving urban space.

With the right vision, management, and policy changes, Tachieva explained that these remnants of prosperity encased by the Woodward loop could begin to heal themselves and recover the vibrancy of their past.

The Phoenix Center in downtown Pontiac was the focus of some of the discussion during the three days of the CNU Legacy Project charrettes in the city.

The Phoenix Center in downtown Pontiac was the focus of some of the discussion during the three days of the CNU Legacy Project charrettes in the city.

The team presented a wide range of short-term, mid-term, and long-term proposals to reshape Pontiac’s urban space. These included immediate fixes to lacking crosswalks and inadequate street parking, as well as future plans for a public marketplace, safe and expanded transit hubs, and eventual redevelopment of the Phoenix Center roof into a central space for leisure, exercise, and arts in the community.

Together these plans, just a brief overview of a comprehensive and wide-scope project, will help bring the kind of large-scale retail and restaurant development described by consultant Bob Gibbs, equating to $55.2 million in annual sales.

The residents who participated in Sunday’s wrap-up seemed enthusiastic about the many possibilities that this project raises for the future of Pontiac. Specifically, participants engaged in discussion regarding the placement of transit stops, development of multi-use housing, and location of a public marketplace.

The diverse team of consultants and planners that worked on the project reminded those attending the wrap-up that these plans, though comprehensive, were only a departure point. From here, the residents of Pontiac will take ownership of this project, and work together throughout the next decade towards growth and vibrancy. The project, called “Revitalizing downtown Pontiac through transit-oriented development,” was lead by DPZ & Partners and had local support from Archive DS and Gibbs Planning Group.

Posted by Matt Bach on behalf of Samantha Audia. Samantha joined the Michigan Municipal League team as an intern this winter, and will graduate from the University of Michigan in the spring with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. Previously, she has worked with several political non-profits in the Washington, D.C. area, and contributed to an array of publications. Samantha calls Garden City home but currently resides in Ann Arbor, and she looks forward to blogging for the League throughout the winter and spring.

Bob Gibbs discusses the economic development potential in Pontiac during the CNU Legacy Project Charrette Friday, April 15.

Bob Gibbs discusses the economic development potential in Pontiac during the CNU Legacy Project Charrette Friday, April 15.

The economic development potential for the city of Pontiac is tremendous. Just how great? How about a demand of up to 211,700 square feet of new retail and restaurant development producing up to $55.2 million in annual sales. That’s how great, said Pontiac native Bob Gibbs, urban planning and retail consultant director for Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham.

“By 2021, this economic demand could generate up to $58 million in gross sales,” Gibbs said. “And that’s a conservative estimate.”

This message presented by Gibbs and others in downtown Pontiac Friday night came during the first of three days of an intensive design and planning program called, a Congress Legacy “Charrette” Project. It’s being done in the city by the Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU). It’s one of four such charrettes happening this week in conjunction with the international CNU 24 conference coming to Detroit in June. The other three charrettes were in Hazel Park, April 12-14; and April 15-17 in two Detroit neighborhoods – Grandmont-Rosedale and Vernor Crossing.

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman and Planner Galina Tachieva speak at the CNU Legacy Project Charrette in Pontiac Friday, April 15.

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman and Planner Galina Tachieva speak at the CNU Legacy Project Charrette in Pontiac Friday, April 15.

The work done at the charrettes will be presented to planners, architects, urban designers and municipal leaders at the CNU 24 in Detroit June 8-11, 2016. For details on the conference go to CNU24.org.

But the keys to making this development happen in Pontiac won’t be easy. Gibbs explained capitalizing on this economic growth potential will require policy changes, improved marketing and a redesign of the traffic layout and parking configuration in the downtown area, Gibbs said.

Should these changes be made, Gibbs’ market analysis showed the city could support an additional 45,000 square feet of department store merchandise, 38,600 square feet of grocery store goods, nearly 36,000 square feet of special food and specialty food sales, 16,300 in gift store square footage, 14,200 square feet in pharmacy, 12,700 square feet in bars, breweries and pubs, 11,600 square feet in limited service eating places, 8,400 square feet in full-service restaurants and additional square footage in the areas of furniture and home furnishings, hardware stores, jewelry stores, lawn and garden supply stores, book and music stores, florists, beer, wine and liquor stores, and shoe stores.

Downtown Pontiac has tremendous economic development potential, officials said.

Downtown Pontiac has tremendous economic development potential, officials said.

Gibbs added the downtown could support 10 to 12 additional restaurants.

Essential to the project is turning the current one-way Woodward loop, nicknamed locally as “Wide Track,” that surrounds the downtown into a two way street. Not doing that would limit the city’s market potential to one to two additional restaurants – tops, Gibbs said, adding the Wide Track is not needed and does not help Pontiac.

“I grew up in Pontiac and I remember when it was in its hay day,” Gibbs said. “It’s exciting for me to come back here and do this study and see the growth potential it has. All in all the city has potential to support upward of 215,000 square feet in new restaurants and new retail if physical restraints were removed and modern retail practices were implemented. You are the county seat for the eighth wealthiest county in the United States. We think there’s market potential if you implement changes.”

More than 60 Pontiac supporters attended the CNU Legacy Project on Friday, April 15, 2016.

More than 60 Pontiac supporters attended the CNU Legacy Project throughout the day on Friday, April 15, 2016.

Many of the proposals suggested for Pontiac are consistent with the eight assets identified in a recent study that make for vibrant communities. Those assets include improving walkability and physical design, entrepreneurship, public transit and economic development. That study can be found here at SaveMiCity.org.

About 60 Pontiac area supporters attended the first day of work in Pontiac Friday in the project called, “Building Upon the Assets of Pontiac: Creating a Vision for a Vibrant and Transit-Ready Pontiac.” More people are expected to participate Saturday and Sunday. The final plan and public discussion will take place 4 p.m. Sunday at 17 S. Saginaw St. in downtown.

Project team leader Galina Tachieva, managing partner of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., explained the goals of the Pontiac Legacy Project are to:

  • Create a vision for a remarkable, vibrant downtown to serve as a template for other downtown spaces;
  • Restore a walkable urban fabric to one of America’s great industrial cities with high quality public spaces;
  • Identify options for the Phoenix Center and adjacent Lot 9;
  • Create a transit-ready southern edge of downtown with the potential to become a regional multi-modal transport hub and a catalyst for transit-oriented development.
Galina Tachieva discusses ways to improve Pontiac.

Galina Tachieva discusses ways to improve Pontiac.

“The common tendency is that all of you want a beautiful, safe, attractive, downtown,” Tachieva said. “You have a lot of examples of good frontage but you also have a lot of what we call missing teeth. The goal is to fill in the missing teeth and make it a pleasant, pedestrian-friendly walking experience.”

The project, called “Revitalizing downtown Pontiac through transit-oriented development,” was lead by DPZ & Partners and had local support from Archive DS and Gibbs Planning Group.

Pontiac resident Linda Hasson attending the event was pleased with what she saw Friday night.

“You seem to really care and I appreciate that,” Hasson told Tachieva and Gibbs. “We need a push. I’m excited.”

For more information about placemaking go to placemaking.mml.org and for details on the CNU24 in Detroit in June go to cnu24.org. (View additional photos of downtown Pontiac and the charrette meetings go to this album on flickr.)

Matt Bach is director of media relations at the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.

Downtown Pontiac.

Downtown Pontiac.