Suburban Sprawl to Overlay to Form-Based Code: Challenges Faced in Retrofitting Automobile-Dependent Commercial Corridor Land Uses in a College Town

Authors: Matthew Liesch*, Central Michigan University, Jacob Kain, City of Mount Pleasant, MI
Topics: Landscape, Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: mixed-use, planning, cultural landscapes, campus, transportation, architecture
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Retrofitting auto-dependent sprawl is an ongoing challenge in many American communities. One example is within the college town of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, through the community’s attempts to guide development along Mission Street, its federally-designated business route. As the City and campus grew, policy and development decisions led to buildings and landscapes adjacent to the highway arranged in piecemeal fashion. The quantity and spacing of curb cuts, setbacks, single-use buildings, and lack of connectivity to adjoining land uses each mean that motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists alike face challenges. Although previous master plans noted problems with the form, spacing, and number of entryways, change has been slow. State and local policy, and the tendency for preexisting land uses to become normative over decades, each play a role. The Mission Redevelopment Overlay Zone had incentivized, but not required, design that is more commonly sought after in the planning community. By redoing the City’s zoning code for the first time since 1971, the City in 2018 enacted a form-based code. This guides future development in a way that took the views of community stakeholders and merged those with contemporary redevelopment design principles. The result is a vision for Mission Street that evolves into greater emphasis on mixed-use buildings, increased density next to a college campus, and better multimodal transportation. This presentation outlines how legal frameworks shape the evolution of Mission Street. In so doing, this presentation offers issues that scholars need to consider when examining the landscape backstories of mid-20th Century commercial corridors.

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