The City of Southfield, Mich. has created three Overlay Development Districts (ODDs), the first in the city, to provide more flexibility to developers and shorten the development process.
The ODDs are located in the Southfield City Centre in the Evergreen Rd./Lodge Freeway area; in the Southfield Downtown Development Authority District in the southeast corner of the city and in the Telegraph Road corridor, between Eight Mile Road and I-696.
An Overlay Development District modifies the traditional form of zoning and permits variety in design, site configuration, setbacks, layout, use, and encourages efficiency in use of land and natural resources, while ensuring compatibility with surrounding land uses. This is arrived at through development agreements that are negotiated between City and a developer to arrive at a jointly-approved plan, shortening the development process and eliminating steps in a traditional development process such as Zoning Board of Appeals waivers.
“These Overlay Development Districts provide both developers and the City with greater flexibility to design and build projects that make sense for all stakeholders,” said Southfield City Planner Terry Croad, AICP. “It lets us protect the interests of our citizens and property owners while ensuring that creative residential, office and retail projects can move forward in a spirit of win-win partnership between the city and developers.”
The three Southfield ODDs cover the city’s highest-density environments, which traditionally present zoning and permitting challenges to developers interested in adaptive reuse projects.
“This immediately makes Southfield more attractive to developers and investors who are interested in a centralized location with great opportunities for creative reuse in a stable and established city,” said Southfield DDA Executive Director Al Aceves. “We know that there’s interest in the development community in what opportunities this new set of tools creates for investment in Southfield.”
In return for the flexibility provided by the ODD process, developers are required to commit to specified public benefits for the surrounding community.
“An ODD development agreement can include binding requirements for things like creative building design, pedestrian amenities, public art, landscaping and tree protection, respect for neighborhood character, environmental stewardship, traffic efficiency and other community benefits,” explained Southfield City Council Member Jeremy Moss. “That’s what’s so exciting about this – in addition to creating new homes, businesses and jobs, the ODD process also gives developers more reasons to work with the city to ensure that their projects fit within their communities and provide benefits to all concerned.”
The first developer to use the ODD process says it made his project possible.
“We were able to design a plan that promotes density and fits within the Southfield City Centre’s pedestrian-friendly vision without the handicap of traditional zoning restrictions,” said Hassan Jawad, president of Southfield-based Tower Real Estate Ventures. His City Centre II project will be a mixed-used development consisting of retail, office and potentially residential spaces on Evergreen Road north of the Lodge Freeway. “The city’s Planning Department did their homework, and the process was streamlined and easy. Thanks to the ODD process, we were able to replace what would have been empty parking lots under traditional zoning requirements with pedestrian-friendly pathways and amenities such as benches, trash receptacles and public artwork.”
Jawad said that the City Centre II development is drawing strong interest from potential tenants interested in serving the local resident and business employee population in a welcoming pedestrian-friendly environment.
“The City looks forward to working with many other developers as we did with this first ODD project to create sustainable and appropriate development within Southfield’s high-density districts,” said Croad. “These developments will create jobs, tax revenues and diversify the way people in Southfield live, work and play for decades to come.”