Flint, MI—A presentation on Flint’s updated draft zoning code was met with a host of public support—and questions from some council members—before being passed for first reading at Flint City Council this week.

“I want to start by saying no zoning code is ever perfect,” said Moses Timlin, one of nine residents who spoke up to support the updated ordinance at the April 20 Flint City Council meeting. “But what good zoning codes do is they allow housing and buildings of all types, and they make the development process shorter, simpler, and transparent. And I believe the update to the zoning code will accomplish those things.”

While Flint’s master plan was adopted in 2013, the zoning ordinance that would allow it to be implemented has yet to be approved by the city council, though it was adopted by the Flint Planning Commission in 2017. The ordinance was then brought before council and partially passed in 2021, but later invalidated.

Another speaker at the meeting, resident Kristin Stevenson, noted that such a delay in adopting the draft zoning code was unacceptable, as she feels it represents more than just a legal framework for land use in Flint.

“It’s meant to help a city’s character as it changes or grows and to be updated as time goes on,” said Stevenson. “So this character—the character of this city today—is much different than that of 1974 when our current code was adopted. So we need a code that fits the character of Flint of the 21st century.”

Though the majority of public comments were positive, a few council members shared their reservations about the code.

“To those that said it’s not perfect: it’s not perfect,” said Ward 8 Councilman Dennis Pfieffer after public comment had finished. “There are some things that I think that are in there that don’t—you know, from a few years ago—that don’t make sense today. So I look forward to those conversations.”

Suzanne Wilcox of the city’s Planning and Development Department presented the draft zoning code to council during its legislative committee a few hours later. 

During her presentation, Wilcox did not focus on the specifics of the code, which she said would be ready to come before council on May 4, but instead on some of the misconceptions around it and the importance of getting it passed despite its perceived imperfections for Flint’s 2022 landscape.

“The zoning code is really kind of the last piece of the master plan that has not been implemented,” Wilcox said. “I heard tonight, some of the members from the public—residents, citizens who are very invested in this work—talk about the 1974 master plan. The master plan was actually adopted in 1963 and amended in 1974. So we’re really dealing with a plan that’s over 50 years old.”

Wilcox continued, saying one of the “big things” she and her team hoped to do was clear up “some misconceptions and misperceptions” regarding the draft zoning code.

“We get a lot of questions about blight, or about—like I heard Councilman Murphy earlier talked about brownfield combinations,” she said. “The zoning code does not address combining lots. That is not related to the zoning code at all.”

Wilcox also discussed Green Neighborhoods and Green Innovation Zones, areas of the master plan that she said have been regularly misconstrued.

“A lot of communication has been that people think that that means, like open space or that the city is looking to take people’s land, or that you can’t develop housing in Green Neighborhoods or Green Innovation (areas),” she said.

Wilcox went on to address two specific questions about green designations asked by Arthur Woodson, a Flint resident and community activist, in earlier public comment.

“There were two points that he made: One was about the green zone—that you cannot build a high school on the north side. And the second one was that you cannot bring redevelopment into the north side. And both of those are not true,” Wilcox said.

She added that “social equity and sustainability” is what guides the work of Flint’s Planning and Development Department.

“We try to look at everything we do through those lenses: to be equitable, to really address the disparities and inequities that exist in our community,” Wilcox said.

After the presentation, Ward 3 Councilman Quincy Murphy said that he didn’t necessarily believe the master plan and zoning code required to implement it would do what they’re supposed to, namely building equity across all wards in the city.

“The optic does not lie. When you look at over the years, even with the master plan being in existence as long as it’s been in existence, where are you looking at the development? Around the downtown area,” said Murphy. “I’m in the third ward. I don’t know if you guys been over in the third ward, but just ride down Saginaw Street and go to your right and look how devastating it is.”

Murphy went on to discuss the blight present in his ward and questioned the nature of “green zones” in the master plan, but ultimately said he would be supportive of the updated code. 

“I’m not convinced, but I’ll be supporting. I’ll be looking at this,” Murphy concluded.

The legislative committee voted 5-0 to adopt the draft zoning code resolution for a first reading. A copy of the Planning and Development Department’s April 20 presentation can be found here.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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