Board realizes Form-Based Code needs work

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Photo: Maisy Nielsen 
The Planning Commission during the Feb. 24 meeting recommended two special-use-permits for commercial marijuana provision centers in Meridian Township, moving it front of the board.

After the initial presentation on Form-Based Code (FBC) to the Board of Trustees at the Feb. 18 meeting, the Planning Commission decided to pursue the project’s proposal in a more direct way. 

During the commission’s Feb. 24 meeting, members were forced to confront how they felt about using the code in the township after receiving ‘lukewarm’ reactions from the Board, Planning Commissioner Ken Lane said. 

According to, the definition of FBC is to “restore time-tested forms of  urbanization . . . (to) give unity, efficiency, social vitality and walkability,” to communities, towns and cities.  

A form-based code is a “new zoning concept,” Lane said about his interpretation of FBC. “It’s trying to go back to having development like old downtown.” 

The plan, characterized by having buildings move closer to the street, creates a distinct ‘old-town’ style, similar to early developed 19th and 20th century European cities.

Commissioner David Premoe: “Form based code is just a different way of approaching life rather than standard ordinances. (The) bottom line (is) it has more to do with dictating the aesthetics rather than the use.” 

Discussion on defining Form-Based Code

Commissioner Bill McConnell and several other commissioners voiced the need to define a specific goal the commission wishes to achieve by using this ordinance in Meridian Township.

McConnell said the code’s goal in the township would work toward “shifting the character of the area, from what is now a very single occupancy . . . to something that accommodates other ways of getting between those uses.” 

Background on the township’s Form-Based Code

Lane said several years ago, a plan was introduced in partnership with CATA, which would include a bus route. The consultant team that presented the idea, introduced the form-based code idea to the Planning Commission “and it took off there.” 

Centralization is another component of the form-based code plan that appeals to the commissioners.

Parking would be provided on the side or in the rear of buildings, resulting in more space for sidewalks, allowing visitors to park in one spot and would be able to visit several businesses without driving around to another. 

“(The idea is for) someone visiting an area . . . would park once and then they walk,” Lane said. 

Although the plan has not yet gained traction in the country, Lane believes the new zoning ordinance would provide a unique feel to the community. The use of FBC is very different from the zoning approach the township uses today, he said. 

Commissioner Amber Clark said the future of developments is based on the growing need to urbanize suburban communities after the township’s residents voted to approve a millage to increase t transportation and other services provided to residents.

“They (the commission) anticipate urbanization to skyrocket for most communities,” Clark said about society’s push to reform small towns’ structure to provide for the disadvantaged population. “It (the ordinance provides opportunities for inclusivity and diversity, (by solving the problem of) how do we put them in spaces closer to the services that they need, like health services and schools.” 

Where the code would be ‘tested’

The commission’s ideal ‘testing’ area for this plan would take place along Grand River Avenue, from Park Lake Road to the township’s border with East Lansing at Hagadorn Road. Lane said, only the buildings located directly on Grand River would be affected by the new code.

The uniformity and standardization of the code would bring to the township’s targeted area a distinct look by creating a feeling of comfort and nostalgia for those visiting and living in the area. 

“The goal would be, when you go down the Grand River corridor … that you would have a look,” Premoe said. “The buildings would be aligned, that they would be accessible, they would be closer to the road so that they were more pedestrian-friendly.”

Initial board reactions

Photo: Grace Durfey 
Meridian Township Planning Commission members share their thoughts on form-based code. The commission largely favors the idea and the conversation turned to how they should move forward to gain board approval.

The commission members present at the FBC presentation found the board’s “lukewarm” reaction to the presentation was expected due to the lack of specific goal and important details in the presentation. 

Courtesy of the Meridian Township Board Packet Feb. 18, 2020 
The email sent to the Board by Principal Planner Peter Menser on Feb. 13, detailing the commission’s proposal. Chair Commissioner Ken Lane and several other commissioner were present at the Feb. 18 Board meeting to present the proposal to the Board. 

Premoe suggested the commission have another workshop to establish exactly what the members would like to see happen should the board approve the plan to enforce FBC in the proposed area. 

Lane, who gave the presentation, felt that by providing the Board with more details, the proposal would provide a clear understanding of the commission’s objectives.

The Planning Commission has decided to have another planning session before its next meeting, March 16, to enact the commission’s objective for the implementation of the code in the township. 

Lane expects to have a detailed proposal ready to present before the Board by the April 21 meeting. 

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