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Thread: Landscape buffer zone and a tough planning commission

  1. #1
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    Landscape buffer zone and a tough planning commission

    I have a project that is going through site plan review and the PC is determined to impose a 20' buffer zone in the "back" of the property. The property runs through a city block in a CBD and abuts a residential district in the back. Currently, there is a 3' setback for buildings and no landscape buffer requirements. The City has been "updating" the Master plan and states that they will not pass my project unless I put in a 20' buffer. The updated master plan will institute a 20' setback. I've submitted a plan for dense wall of 10' tall arborvitae along the back of the property- close to the sidewalk. I also would like to place an acoustic barrier/wall behind the arborvitae in order to attenuate the sound from the rear of the property (I plan to host small events in the back). The City and the PC believe that sound attenuation and sound barriers do not work... despite the fact that I've hired a highly qualified acoustic engineer and have submitted detailed technical specs. They also do not want me to put up the acoustic fence and would rather that I put in a 20' landscape buffer instead. All the research that I've read states that a 20' buffer will do little if anything compared to the acoustic barrier (30db). On top of this, I can't afford to lose 20' of useable space in the back of the property. Any recommendations? Any research papers, case studies, to help my case? Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I believe there are are legal arguments to be made. From what I read the planning commission might be applying a non-existant standard. A competent land use attorney should be consulted. If the issue is completely about noise reduction your acoustical engineer has the data. There could likely be much more going on than just noise.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    It sounds to me as if you are going to be creating a nusiance. I am not surprised they are doing everything they can to get your numbers not to work.

    What is this going to be an outdoor bar with a stage for a band? What are the surrounding land uses? Remember just because you may own the land you can't do just wwhat you want on it. This reminds me of a local incident where they built a 'luxury' subdivision next to a turkey farm and the new neighbors complained to the City about the smell and the noise.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    If there are no explicit or even generally applicable codes allowing them to institute such a buffer, I agree with mike that a good land use attorney could do wonders for your position.

    Is your proposed use a permitted use or conditional/special use? That could be the only part that could help the muni's position. Conditional/special use review codes are typically purposely vague on specificity to allow the muni sufficient wiggle room in interpretation and application.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by umich View post
    I have a project that is going through site plan review and the PC is determined to impose a 20' buffer zone in the "back" of the property. ... They also do not want me to put up the acoustic fence and would rather that I put in a 20' landscape buffer instead. All the research that I've read states that a 20' buffer will do little if anything compared to the acoustic barrier (30db). On top of this, I can't afford to lose 20' of useable space in the back of the property. Any recommendations? Any research papers, case studies, to help my case? Thanks!
    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    I believe there are are legal arguments to be made. From what I read the planning commission might be applying a non-existant standard. A competent land use attorney should be consulted. If the issue is completely about noise reduction your acoustical engineer has the data. There could likely be much more going on than just noise.
    Of course we don't have all the information so it is hard to say, but the acoustical engineer has the research you need and I also agree with others that the PC might be trying to place a conditional approval based on...well, ignorance maybe. No way does a tiny buffer attenuate more noise than a wall. BTW, 10ft tall arborvitae won't like a 3-ft space and will likely croak especially if on a south or west wall. The 'GI' in my nom d'e- means 'green infrastructure', just to be clear. A LU attorney will be easy high 3 figures, maybe 4 so you'll want to hope that it just takes a letter off their desk and a couple billable hours to open the PC's eyes.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    To Code or not to Code

    Are you asking for any variations from the Code? If so, maybe that's what the addtional landscape buffer request is all about. If not, then how can they ask for something that is not in the Code? If it ain't codified then it ain't there.

    We had a similar situation several years ago where we tried to apply design guidelines that were still under review by Council to project. They sued to prevent us from applying the still under-review guidelines and won - fairly easily. We (Planning Department and City) looked fairly silly (IMHO).

    I concur with the previous opinions regarding getting a good land use attorney on board - I know it'll cost some dough but you have to figure out how much the 20 feet is worth to you.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    I'd be careful calling it a landscape buffer "in the back" because if I read the text of your post correctly it sounds like you might have a double frontage lot. In that case the PC may very well be within the limits of their code to demand the 20 feet even though technically it may be your "rear". I know under my codes I could consider that a front yard and really screw you up. Without reviewing codes and plans I couldn't say more.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

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