In Northwest Lower Michigan commercial developments vary greatly in size, service area, and activity: from corner stores to regional malls, from locally owned banks to international investment firms, from small-scale artisans to auto parts fabrication plants. Commerce is a vital part of the economy. Designing retail, office, industrial, and institutional buildings and sites to protect the region’s natural resources and complement local and regional character is as important as providing for a business’s unique needs.

For ease of use, the Commercial section of the Guidebook is divided into four subsections: Retail, Office, Institutional & Cultural, and Industrial. While not all institutional uses are commercial in nature, they share many similarities with the other categories in this section. Agriculture is a commercial activity that contributes greatly to the economy of our region but has its own section due to its unique site design issues and dependence on the characteristics of the land on which it is located.

Application of site design elements varies depending on a commercial establishment’s size, location, use, and service area. At opposite ends of the retail spectrum, for example, are small, pedestrianoriented neighborhood shops and large, vehicle-oriented regional complexes. In between are community centers which facilitate both pedestrian and vehicular access. This range of scales and service areas exists within each of the categories of the commercial section. In each category, smallerscale facilities will be more adaptable and easier to fit in with other uses, while the largest facilities present a more challenging set of issues. Though the range of businesses within the ten-county area defies a simple categorization, the following general guidelines will help effectively integrate any retail, office, institutional, cultural, or industrial enterprise into a community regardless of the enterprise’s size or location.


Lot with width-to-depth ratio 1:2


Role of Local Jurisdictions
Communities have a critical role in improving and protecting local character. The primary component in enhancing, not just maintaining, regional character is reviewing, revising, and adopting local master plans and zoning ordinances. Over time, implementation of high-quality design guidelines will make a difference. Land uses change over time, and local jurisdictions’ proactive efforts in establishing architectural and landscape design standards will facilitate the adaptability of buildings and sites for uses other than the ones for which they were originally designed. Communities do not have to accept corporate architectural and site standards if they have established architectural and landscape design standards within their zoning ordinances.

In terms of preserving local character and attractive communities, the particular use of a property is of less importance than the size and placement of buildings and other site elements. It is also less important than how they relate visually to each other, to the street, and to surrounding sites and buildings. Communities throughout the country are turning to a zoning technique called Form-Based Coding to control how their communities look and function, rather than focusing on separating different land uses.