The Costco Doctrine

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

It is hard to believe that it has been almost a decade since the City of Auburn Hills adopted its Architectural Design Policy.   In Michigan, municipalities are not permitted to mandate specific architectural styles or materials; however they can strongly suggest preferences through master plans and policies.  So, that’s what we did.

Few people know that the “tipping point” for this change was the Costco store on Brown Road.  In February 2000, the company proposed to erect a metal pole barn-looking building on the site.   The building design was typical for them and not bad.  It represented their thrifty theme … ‘come to our warehouse where you can buy bulk items at low prices.’   Needless to say, the City Council was not impressed.  In an unusual move, they tabled the project and formed an Ad-Hoc Committee to review alternative architectural styles.   Eventually, all parties agreed with the building façade that you see today.

After the Costco review, staff began to ask companies to upgrade their buildings by using more durable and attractive materials like brick and stone, in lieu of cheaper materials such as simulated stucco panels called EIFS or Dryvit.   This change inevitably cost developers more money and some resisted (even though they were constructing similar higher quality buildings in other locations across the country).  We informed the Planning Commission and City Council of the battle that was happening behind the scenes.  We asked them to formulate a policy stating what they wanted new construction to look like.   As a result, Auburn Hills adopted its Architectural Design Policy on September 19, 2002.  We internally call it the “Costco Doctrine” since that project changed how we look at business.

It is interesting to drive around town and survey the difference in appearance between many of the non-residential buildings built before and after the Costco project.   It is a legacy of quality that we take great pride in.