2016-10-13 / Front Page

What Is a Boardinghouse? City Crafts Housing Language With Care

By Sam Morgen

Changes to proposed St. Ignace housing ordinance amendments more clearly distinguish the difference between a boardinghouse and a non-family apartment. The St. Ignace Planning Commission reviewed the ordinance amendments Wednesday, October 5, to finalize the language before presenting them to the St. Ignace City Council for consideration, which it will do soon.

“A boardinghouse is a distinctly different thing than an apartment,” Commissioner Rick Perry said.

Commissioners wrote two definitions for boardinghouses and non-family apartments to make a distinction between apartments above and behind downtown stores and motels converted into boardinghouses. The goal of the ordinances is to allow housing above downtown stores, as long as the housing units meet the requirements of the ordinances, but to disallow boardinghouses in the downtown area. St. Ignace officials and community members have said they do not want to see downtown motels or other commercial buildings converted for the sole purpose of housing seasonal workers, for the protection of workers, city residents, and the vibrancy of the downtown district. The ordinance amendments aim to regulate this while still allowing options for housing such workers elsewhere in town.

According to the newly proposed language, the main distinction between a boardinghouse and a non-family apartment is non-family apartments require a kitchen for every eight individuals while boardinghouses require at least one kitchen to exist for the entire building.

Under the new definitions of boardinghouses and non-family apartments, motels converted into permanent rental units would be considered boardinghouses and apartments above downtown stores would be considered non-family apartments.

Both boardinghouses and non-family apartments must provide 300 gross square feet of living space per person. The requirement is for total floor area inside the building, including interior stairwells and bathrooms. Areas of a building used for commercial use, like a store on the first floor of the building, do not count toward the gross square footage.

Both boardinghouses and non-family apartments are required to provide one bathroom per four individuals.

According to the new definitions of boardinghouses and non-family apartments, a residential house converted into a rental property that has one kitchen and more than eight people living inside would be considered a boardinghouse.

The planning commission will add a definition of family to the zoning ordinance. The definition for family is, “One or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, occupying a dwelling unit as a single housekeeping unit or a collective number of individuals living together in a dwelling unit, whose relationship is of a permanent and distinct domestic character.”

St. Ignace City Attorney Tom Evashevski submitted that definition to the commission, which adopted this definition in place of a previous family definition they had written themselves.

In St. Ignace, R1 districts only allow single-family residency of a building. R2 allows two family dwellings, such as duplexes, but some multi-family housing has sprouted up in duplexes throughout St. Ignace.

The new ordinances would open R2 districts to some multi-family housing.

Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart said citizens of St. Ignace desired the R2 districts of the city to become more open to multifamily housing, when the master plan was updated in 2001.

“We’re getting closer and closer to what St. Ignace wants,” Dr. Dayrell- Hart said, “and what the citizens of St. Ignace want to protect.”

Mr. Evashevski said residential housing in R2 neighborhoods could exist in the R2 district without violating a St. Ignace ordinance because the city had not defined family within its zoning ordinance. Now that the city is defining family, the R2 portion of the zoning ordinance may have to be further rewritten to allow some kind of employee housing in R2 districts.

“If we start making these distinctions between family and non-family use, we might have to start amending these ordinances,” he said.

Mr. Evashevski cautioned he needs to review the full ordinances more thoroughly before coming up with a definitive opinion on how it would affect the city’s zoning ordinances as a whole.

Boardinghouses will only be allowed in the Tourist Business District (TBD), and R2 and R3 districts. non-family apartments will be allowed only in the TBD, downtown, and R2 districts.

Boardinghouses will not be allowed to exist within 900 feet of existing boardinghouses in R2 districts. Nor will boardinghouses be allowed to exist on contiguous lots of each other in R2 districts. The planning commission reduced the space requirement from half a mile after receiving input from Eric Wedesky of Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning and Dean Reid of the county planning commission.

The TBD is the area along State Street, from Reagon Street to the northern border of the city, as well as some parts of Ferry Lane. St. Ignace’s R2 districts mostly exist east of State Street, behind downtown, and north of the I-75 Business Loop as it enters St. Ignace from the south.

non-family apartments will be allowed in the TBD, downtown, R2, and R3. In R2 districts, non-family apartments will not be able to exist within 300 feet of each other, the same limitations placed on bed-and-breakfasts. Existing apartments will be allowed to remain in their current use as long as landlords can show a city official a certificate of occupancy from the time of the rental unit’s opening.

The TBD, downtown, and R3 districts will have no restrictions on the amount of space required between non-family apartments or boardinghouses, although boardinghouses will not be allowed downtown.

R3 districts typically allow multifamily housing. R3 districts in St. Ignace have been spot zoned in various locations around the city throughout the city’s past, and do not exist as contiguous zones.

The commission did not change amendments relating to a city-wide rental registry, nor did it discuss cleanliness requirements for non-family apartments. These amendments will be submitted to the city council with the rest of the zoning ordinance amendments.

Commissioners plan to present the complete ordinances to the St. Ignace City Council at its next meeting Monday, October 17, as long as another public hearing is not required. St. Ignace Mayor Connie Litzner, who sits on the planning commission, said she would ask Mr. Evashevski about the public hearing, and get Mr. Evashevski’s legal opinion on the new amendments.

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