The strip mall may become an endangered species in big parts of Detroit’s Midtown, as boosters of the hot neighborhood push for a future that would frown on parking lots and aim for a continuous “street wall” of buildings.
To achieve that goal, they want a new kind of city zoning to apply to a large swath of Midtown. It would virtually ban future single-story shops with a parking lot — the basic strip mall.
If it works there, other Detroit neighborhoods may get this new zoning, which was created in 2014. It’s another sign that some in the Motor City want to drive less and walk more.
“Strip malls are totally against urban forms of creating density and it doesn’t promote walkability,” said Susan Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc. That’s the nonprofit shaping much of the development in the booming area north of downtown, where restaurants, trendy shops and condos have taken root in the past few years.
Midtown Inc. has been lobbying for this new zoning for more than a year now and so far, it’s faced little resistance. The City Council could decide on the new zoning as soon as this month.
“What we want is continuous street wall,” Mosey said. That essentially means streets where the buildings touch each other, with shops or offices on the street levels and possibly housing units above.
The new zoning is selective in other ways, too. Besides essentially banning the strip mall — lots of extra red tape would be required to build new ones — it also excludes many other things like domestic abuse shelters, pool halls, substance abuse centers, tattoo parlors and soup kitchens. Even such things as drive-thru windows for banks or fast food restaurants would have to go through extra bureaucratic hoops to get built.
In most of Midtown, future housing would come in the form of multistory apartments and condominiums. And there would be far fewer parking lots.
“We would have a lot more parking decks” if the new zoning is adopted, Mosey said.
She emphasizes the new zoning doesn’t apply to all of Midtown, and that things such as domestic abuse shelters and soup kitchens could be built in other sections of the neighborhood.
But the new zoning does cover a big part of the area — basically from Woodward to the east and the Lodge Freeway to the west, Hancock to the north and Charlotte to the south. Not every street and not every building will be covered in the zoning change.
The new zoning could change the look of many streets, especially in the Cass Corridor. Bill’s Recreation is an old-school pool hall on Third Avenue near Martin Luther King Boulevard. It’s the part of Midtown where many people still hang out on the street, especially around the Neighborhood Street Organization and the Detroit Rescue Mission, which both serve the indigent.
Neither the pool hall nor the nonprofits would have to move — the new zoning would apply only to future development.
Still, pool hall owner Tony Bean says the zoning probably means “we may or may not be part of the future.”
Bean started hanging out in the pool hall more than 40 years ago as a teenager. He bought the business from the original owner.
“Big change is always happening now,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re part of the change or not.”
The new zoning has been applied to small parts of the city, including parts of Woodbridge and Corktown. But this is the first time it could be applied to a much larger area.
Dara O’Bryne, deputy director of Land Use and Policy for Detroit Future City, helped craft the new zoning when she worked in city’s planning department, where she was a Detroit Revitalization Fellow.
She said it was designed to encourage a complementary mix of small-scale uses, including residential, local business and office, that are compatible in a neighborhood setting.
O’Bryne said the zoning could be applied to many city neighborhoods that want more density and a mixed-use walkable district.