Royal Oak Flip-Flop 

Instead of proceeding with a master plan that had some citizens up in arms, Royal Oak officials did an about-face and won grassroots support.

A residents’ movement is taking credit for a final master plan that no longer classifies residential areas surrounding downtown as "transitional zones."

That designation, which was included in a draft version of the master plan, raised concern among residents who feared that opening the door to more mixed-use development in their mostly single-family neighborhoods would tear at the social fabric of their communities.

They called for a master plan that would limit the expansion of multifamily developments.

Transitional zones provoked such an uproar last year that residents collected approximately 1,800 petition signatures to oppose the wording and there was even talk of recalling Mayor Dennis Cowan.

Although developers were in favor of the provision, city officials eventually sided with the homeowners.

"Development has just run amok," says Royal Oak resident Kathy Klein. "Royal Oak is an example of where we were able to hold our ground and say, ‘Whoa! …We just want to make sure this makes sense.’"

Local real estate agent Chris Lee, a planning commissioner, who was outvoted when the commission approved the plan Aug. 24, expressed disappointment in the finished master plan and the city officials who helped it through. Lee says the new plan represents the triumph of a vocal minority that fears change. Given that the neighborhoods surrounding downtown already contain some mixed-use development, Lee says, restrictions in the new master plan merely limit the growth of those areas by, among other things, forbidding the expansion of existing multifamily units.

Nevertheless, some residents who were angered last year say they are supporting Cowan and commissioners Ilene Lanfear and Thomas Kuhn in their Nov. 2 bids for re-election.

"Closer to the election, we will definitely get the word out in our neighborhoods." says Debbie Campbell, who lives a block northeast of downtown and opposed transitional zones. "We hope they get re-elected."

Klein says once residents made a lot of noise about the transitional zones, Cowan walked through several neighborhoods to get a better feel for residents’ views and the classification was nixed. The finished plan, which includes a section on preserving the character of neighborhoods, is expected to be available this week at Royal Oak’s public library and city hall.

For his part, Cowan says the master plan strikes a balance between commercial and neighborhood interests. He points out that the plan promotes mixed use development in an area south of downtown that is now zoned industrial.

"I think we have a very good product that overall has been very well-received," he says.

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