Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 5, 2010) Part 1: In a six-to-four vote on Monday night, the Ann Arbor city council did not give The Moravian development the required 8-vote super-majority it needed for approval. A petition signed by greater than 20% of adjoining property owners meant that the project needed eight instead of the six votes it actually received to win the council’s endorsement.
The five-story, 62-unit building proposed for the section of East Madison Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues near downtown Ann Arbor had come before the council with the recommendation of the city’s planning staff and a 7-1 vote recommendation from the city’s planning commission.
The public hearing on The Moravian included remarks from around 90 people on both sides of the issue. The Moravian alone – counting the public hearing, plus the deliberations by the council – took up over four hours of the meeting, which lasted well past 1 a.m.
Besides The Moravian, the council’s business included an item that would have reconsidered its recent decision to replace the entire Ann Arbor housing commission board. The motion for reconsideration was voted down, with no support, not even from its two sponsors – Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Kunselman cited the late hour as part of the reason for his lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter.
The council also tabled a proposed city ordinance that would ban cell phone use while driving. The council had postponed the measure to a specific date a few times previously. The tabling means that the ordinance can be brought back for consideration by the council, but by council rule it will die unless it is brought back within six months.
Also receiving brief discussion was a possible council rule on email that the council is now forced to consider publicly at its next meeting under terms of a recent lawsuit settlement.
In Part 1 of this report, we focus exclusively on The Moravian.
Based on city council’s deliberations at the first reading of the project, at its March 1, 2010 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was a sure vote against the project, with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) also showing indications of a negative inclination. While also hinting a negative leaning, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) laid out parts of the city’s central area plan that highlight the difficulty in finding suitable locations to increase density.
On Monday, when the second reading of the proposal was before the council, the lack of support from those four councilmembers was enough to doom the project, which needed an 8-vote super-majority to win approval. [Hohnke was absent from Monday's meeting – thus he could not throw a vote in support of the project. But his Ward 5 colleague, Mike Anglin, read a statement from Hohnke against the project.] Mayor John Hieftje added a no vote, leaving the council with a simple six-vote majority, which left the project short by two votes.
The requirement of a super-majority had been triggered by submission of a protest petition under the city’s planned unit development (PUD) ordinance. [Chronicle coverage: "The Moravian Goes Before City Council"]
On the protest petition, Chapter 55 Article XI, Section 5:107 (5) of the city code specifies that:
(5) A protest against any proposed amendment to this chapter may be presented in writing to the City Clerk at or before the public hearing thereon. Such protest shall be duly signed by the owners of at least 20% of the area of land included in the proposed change, or the owners of at least 20% of the area of land included within an area extending outward 100 feet from any point on the boundary of the land included in the proposed change, excluding any other publicly owned land. Following the filing of a valid protest petition, adoption of an amendment to this chapter shall require at least 8 affirmative votes of the Council at the second reading on the ordinance.
The Moravian Public Hearing: General Climate
During the public hearing, some made allusions to “name-calling” by others. Possibly fitting that description could be the labeling of Moravian supporter Anya Dale as “Ms. Planning,” or the description of the neighborhood itself by numerous speakers as “blighted,” or a description of opponents of the project as “sulkers.”
The word NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] was also dropped once or twice. Likely not fitting the description of “name calling” was a speaker who introduced himself saying, “I’m the mushroom!” The general atmosphere could fairly be described as imbued with a little awkward tension, with the council chambers filled with over a hundred people, many on both sides of the issue.
Still, the interactions between supporters and opponents seemed more good-natured and lighthearted than vicious. Before the meeting started, Beverly Strassmann was distributing pink 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper printed with “No Moravian PUD” throughout council chambers, but paused when she came to Joe Ferrario, saying she didn’t know who he was. Ferrario, who spoke in favor of the project – eased through the moment by quipping, “Is that a Butler or a Duke sign?” [The NCAA basketball finals were played that evening. Duke won.] Ferrario told The Chronicle that his son-in-law had attended Butler, and that there was a connection to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski through his wife – so he was okay either way.
Of course, most speakers at the public hearing were not that ambivalent about the outcome of The Moravian vote. The sampling below is not exhaustive of the speakers or of the sentiments they expressed. They’re not presented in chronological order – they’re grouped somewhat thematically.
The Moravian Public Hearing: Where to Put Development
The opening tip went to the Moravian supporters opponents, with Tom Luczak working from a 1/25 scale model of the block – bounded on the north and south by Packard and Madison streets, and Fourth and Fifth avenues on the east and west – concluding that the model showed the proposed building was vastly out of scale. He characterized The Moravian as a good project in the wrong spot. An example of a good project in the right spot, said Luczak, was Zaragon Place 2. Luczak speculated that the house immediately adjacent to The Moravian would be so persistently in shadows that it would turn into a mushroom farm.
Later, the owner of the house, Walt Spiller, began his speaking turn by announcing, “I’m the mushroom.” Spiller emphasized in his remarks that the city’s zoning represents a contract between the citizens and the city. [Spiller is a retired postal worker who used to deliver mail in the neighborhood, where he still lives.]
Jim Mogensen noted that developers were always “pushing the envelope” of what was possible, which was somewhat understandable given that there are limited areas left to develop. However, he wondered if the council would approve a similar project in the middle of Ann Arbor Hills – a relatively wealthy subdivision on the east side of Ann Arbor.
The theme of limited land on which to develop urban density was one picked up by Scott Munzel – in service of an argument for The Moravian. Munzel, who stressed he was speaking as a private citizen – he’s appeared before the city council in the past representing other developments – pointed to the reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), reduction in sprawl, and the strengthening of the city core as specific benefits of the project. Once you take away the historic districts, the floodplain, the university’s property, parkland, and other properties unlikely to ever be developed, said Munzel, there was little land left. The idea that urban density should be limited to the area inside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority boundary, said Munzel, allowed people to say they were for density, knowing it won’t happen.
Lou Glorie, a declared candidate for city council in Ward 5, echoed the sentiment that the project was inappropriate for its location. She said that anything could be pointed to as “blight” and that neighborhoods are the heart of a city. She suggested that the council should review how it was that staff and the planning commission had approved it.
Also objecting to the project as being in the wrong place was Deanne Relyea.
Deirdra Stockmann said she supported the project because it offered density in and near the downtown area where Ann Arbor needed a diversity of housing options. She said that on that evening there were voices and perspectives not heard enough in the forum of the city council chambers.
Responding to the idea from another speaker that there is “no magic line” that says things start and stop at a particular place, Claudius Vincenz stated that “it’s called ‘zoning.’” The Moravian did not, he said, add to the neighborhood, but rather took over the neighborhood.
Vivienne Armentrout suggested that the discussion surrounding The Moravian had shown that “the mask has slipped” and that the real objective is to expand downtown.
Emphasizing that the area where The Moravian is proposed is not in downtown, Richard Jacobson said that the city’s future land use plan calls for residential use in the area. [This is an allusion to the live/work units that are offered as part of the project.]
Describing herself as a resident of the “gritty urban edge” of the Old West Side neighborhood, Margaret Wong said that a project needed to be appropriate to a particular location. She wondered why in this instance the city was thinking about coloring outside the lines. The claimed benefits, she said, were not site specific.
The architect’s model used by Luczak, which had been commissioned by opponents of the project, came under criticism from Anya Dale, who suggested that it illustrated something taught in Planning 101 courses: How to lie with maps. “You crop out what would make it relevant,” she said. She allowed that it was a very good job of cropping, but that it was cropping nonetheless. She emphasized that the city’s professional planning staff understands that density is not just about numbers but also about design.
Jean Pierre Nogues, responding to Anya Dale’s criticism that the buildings surrounding The Moravian had been cropped out of the model, noted that there was, in fact, a university building in the model, but it was hidden behind the “behemoth” of The Moravian. He observed that The Moravian did not offer many of the 1-2 bedroom units that young professionals would likely rent, but rather consisted predominantly of 3-4 bedroom units.
Nogues suggested that people would not move to New York City because they can’t find housing in Ann Arbor. Also picking up on the idea that The Moravian offered 3-4 bedroom units, Shirley Zempel contended that the project was being misrepresented as suitable for young professionals.
The Moravian Public Hearing: Who Wants to Live Where?
A number of people spoke, citing the perspective of young professionals who were looking for suitable, reasonably priced housing near the downtown area. Among them were Michele Heisler, an associate professor at the University of Michigan medical school, who introduced herself as a physician and a researcher who had secured three National Institute of Health grants and employed around 20 people at $40,000 to $70,000 a year. She expressed concern that housing options for her employees were limited near downtown – they don’t want to live in poorly-maintained rentals with other students and can’t afford the more expensive downtown lofts. She said the neighborhood where The Moravian is proposed struck her as blighted, saying, “I’m going to be honest about how it’s perceived.”
Tony Lupo who moved to Ann Arbor from New York and works for Salon Vox as the marketing director, reported that the Liberty Street salon employs 21 people, yet there is no viable housing for them to live in near downtown. Roger Hewitt, a member of the Downtown Development Authority board as well as a downtown business owner (Red Hawk, Revive and Replenish), reported that one of his employees lives close to the proposed Moravian project and is enthusiastic about it.
Chad Wiebesick said he would be one of the first people to move in. Part owner of the Necto Night Club, Scot Greig, lamented the lack of adequate housing for his employees – they all drive in, he said. None live in Ann Arbor.
Laurie Blakeney characterized herself as an “old townie” who moved here in 1971. She’d seen the downtown lose movie theaters and mid-sized department stores – now it consisted of restaurants, galleries and coffee shops, she said. She wanted to bring back the kind of downtown that used to exist that could support urban life, not just be a weekend destination. She said the downtown should be the kind of place that Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods could locate.
Megan Jenkins said she’d moved to Ann Arbor seven years ago, had fallen in love with it, and supported the project. Linda Foit, who’s a Ph.D student in biology at UM, described how she was only able to live near downtown because she was willing to live with three roommates in a “shitty place” – one that is old, not well-maintained, not well-insulated, with single-pane windows. She supported The Moravian, she said, because if it had been built three years ago when she came to Ann Arbor, she wouldn’t have to live in a place like that.
Downtown resident Nick Hoffman recounted how difficult it had been to find the place he lives in now – he’d put his name on wait lists and was renting elsewhere month-to-month to be as flexible as possible. He got the place because he was the first person to look at it – within 24 hours seven others came to look at the place. It had not even been advertised, he said, so strong was the word-of-mouth demand.
Norm Cox allowed that there was no such thing as a perfect development, but that the pros outweighed the cons. As a downtown business owner who employs young professionals, he said, he felt it was a nice balance of context and scale.
Saying it was the first time he’d spoken at a forum like this, Matt Turner supported the project. He allowed that it is difficult when things change, but said there was a lot of pent-up demand for housing for young professionals. More than a NIMBY issue, he said, was the sound of people leaving this town.
A software developer for entrepreneurial companies, Nick Stanley spoke in favor of the project. He said he currently lives in an historic house subdivided into apartments and that he and his wife will likely move after his wife finishes her masters degree. He allowed that the existing housing is cheap, but is not the same as affordable housing in a PUD – he’d happily occupy one of those units with his wife and cat, he said.
Ashley Terrace resident and 1998 UM grad Jennifer Raft said she enjoyed living there. She started by renting and has now purchased her unit, because someone else wanted to buy it. She suggested that 50-80 years from now, Ashley Terrace might seem small.
Kim Kachadoorian told the council that they had now close to 200 signatures on petitions against the project. She contended that there would be a net loss of affordable housing. What would keep people in Ann Arbor, she said, was not housing, but jobs.
After hearing several speakers support the project on the grounds that it offered housing suitable for young professionals, Piotr Michalowski said he wanted to “bring us back to reality.” He described The Moravian as a “student apartment complex.”
Citing his lack of success listing a two-bedroom apartment on Craigslist, Sean Ferris questioned whether The Moravian was really set up for young professionals.
Recent UM graduate Idy Usoro reported that she lived off Plymouth Road on the east side because she wanted a more professional housing option, but she would really like to live downtown. She said that some of her peers had chosen to live in Plymouth because housing is more affordable there, and there’s “kind of a downtown” there, too.
Valerie Brugeman described herself as “blessed” to find a job in Ann Arbor upon graduation and had lived for a time in a house converted to rental. She’d have appreciated a nicer option, she said. She said the council should listen to young professionals.
Christina Sherry said she lives on the far western edge of Ann Arbor, near the “Welcome to Ann Arbor” sign, because she could not find a place to live downtown, though she had looked. One problem, she said, was that housing in downtown Ann Arbor was about the same price as housing in downtown Chicago.
Michael Papadopoulos introduced himself as a resident of Ashley Mews – “Yes, that’s a PUD!” he said. Out of 70 students in his masters program at the UM Ross School of Business, he said, he was the only student who plans to stay in Ann Arbor. He suggested that one reason Ann Arbor “fell flat on its face” with respect to retention was the fact that there was a lack of housing accessible to young professionals.
On the question of affordable housing units offered by The Moravian, Michael Zeidler observed that if less than 20% of the units were affordable, that meant that the other 80% were unaffordable – so it’d be wealthy young professionals who took those units. He concluded, “It seems kind of murky to me.”
Al McWilliams spoke about the difficulty of finding a place to live in downtown Ann Arbor if you make $35,000 to $50,000 a year. If they had not tried to find a place accessible to someone in that salary range, then he told the council they should ask someone who’s tried to do that.
Seventy-year-old Victor Munoz reported that when his mother- and father-in-law visited Ann Arbor 25 years ago, the thing they remarked on was that Ann Arbor was filled with young people and that we needed to keep young people in Ann Arbor. “You have to approve it,” he said about The Moravian. “We need it. We need three or four more like it.” What’s young? he asked. His answer of someone under 70 drew a laugh.
The Moravian Public Hearing: Historic Area or Blighted Neighborhood?
Currently under study by the city is the possibility of establishing an historic district close to the neighborhood where The Moravian is proposed. The area of study mandated by city council as part of the study committee’s charge includes the area roughly bounded by William Street on the north, Packard Street on the south, Fifth Avenue on the east, and Fourth Avenue on the west.
The committee’s preliminary report recommends establishing an historic district that is essentially the same as the study area, but also includes the south side of Packard between Fourth and Fifth avenues. Parcel by parcel, the committee also inventoried and assessed the relative merits of the buildings south of Packard along Fourth and Fifth avenues, which includes the parcel where The Moravian was proposed.
In weighing the relative merits of buildings within an historic district, a structure is designated as “contributing” or “non-contributing” to the district depending on whether the structure is part of what justifies the designation of the area as a historic district.
The committee’s decision to expand the area of study was a conscious and deliberate one, and weighed the possibility of expanding the area recommended as an historic district – so that it would include the parcels where The Moravian was proposed to be built. [Some Chronicle coverage of the historic district study committee's work through 2009: "Fifth Ave. Project to Meet Historic Standards"]
Ultimately, however, the committee chose not to risk the rejection of a district on the grounds that they’d recommended a district substantially larger than area they’d been asked to study. From earlier Chronicle coverage:
Committee member Rebecca Lopez Kriss indicated that she’d talked to a number of councilmembers about the possibility of expanding the district. What she’d heard, she said, was for the most part “wishy-washy political speak.” But councilmember Sandi Smith and mayor John Hieftje had said, according to Lopez Kriss, that they would not support an expanded district.
So the committee’s preliminary report – which is currently under review – recommends an area for an historic district that does not include The Moravian.
It’s in that context that some speakers at the public hearing mentioned the idea of an historic district.
Also alluding to the more than 200 signatures on petitions against the project was Beverly Strassmann, who is president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association. She suggested that the developer had deluded young professionals into thinking that the project offered them viable housing alternatives, when the actual mix was mostly 3-4 bedroom units. Strassmann objected to the characterization of the neighborhood as blighted, and cited the fact that the historic district study committee had found that seven of the eight houses slated for demolition would have been contributing to an historic district for that area. [The committee's preliminary report – available for download from the city's website – does not recommend an historic district for that area.]
With the phrase “young professional” deployed by others with great frequency, Bob Snyder – who is president of the South University Neighborhood Association, and who can fairly be described as a senior member of the community – drew a laugh from the audience when he began with the quip, “I was once a young professional.” Snyder said the area should be part of the historic district proposed farther north, just south of William Street.
Owner of a property adjacent to the proposed project, Mustafa Ali described it as too big for that location. He said that property owners were interested in having their properties included in the proposed historic district. Responding to the implication of some speakers that the rental properties in the area were not safe and were blighted, he noted that the properties were regularly inspected and met safety codes.
In his remarks, Jeff Meyers suggested that we “stop pretending” that the neighborhood was worth preserving, characterizing it as a “blighted block that could become a vibrant hub.”
Reacting in part to the description of the neighborhood as blighted, Graham Miles said that property owners had put a lot of money into them, and tried to keep them up.
Mariah Cherem reported that she used to live in the neighborhood near The Moravian, which she characterized as surrounded by student rentals in which the tenants and landlords took little pride. She cited an improvement in public safety as a benefit to the project. Esha Krishnaswamy introduced herself as a UM law student, who had survived a house fire in which 50% of her body was burned. She pointed to the fact The Moravian would be safe – equipped with sprinklers.
Twelve-year Ann Arbor resident Joshua Brugeman said the project would add value to the block and would create a nice “bookend.” Citing Jane Jacobs’ work on urban planning, he suggested that more eyes on the street would mean greater safety.
Patrick Macoska spoke about how there can be a coexistence between houses in older neighborhoods and newer construction. He said that “blight” was a strong word – “shabby” might be better, he said, like a corduroy jacket worn around the edges.
Ted Kennedy said he supported the process that allowed change to happen. But he said he did like punk, rundown houses, and that the only way he was able to live near downtown was to share.
Citing the many reasons to approve the project and the few reasons not to approve the project, Bruce Worden said he supported it. A student slum, he said, is not a neighborhood. If you vote based on popular support, he said, he hoped they were keeping score.
Wiltrud Simbuerger compared riding her bike through the neighborhood of The Moravian to get to the Washtenaw Dairy to riding through a wasteland. The Moravian would mean more options for people who don’t want to purchase their own homes and who don’t want to live in a run-down rental.
Jason Costello supported the project on the grounds that it would redevelop a blighted neighborhood and increase the economic value of the community.
Bob Giles, owner of a rental property in the neighborhood, said that until that night he had not realized it was a “blighted” neighborhood. He reported that he had a current tenant who had no interest in continuing to live there if The Moravian were built. He wondered why anyone would want to build a beautiful building in a “blighted” neighborhood.
Graduating UM senior Jacob Smith told the council that he had started his own business in the field of new energy and that he planned to stay in Ann Arbor. He said that living in a place like The Moravian, which is proposed to use alternative energy, would be a great addition to his personal narrative.
Doug Galante spoke briefly, offering his support of the project.
Saying that the project was green and affordable and seemed to make sense, Jeremy Daly, a UM student, said he supported the project.
Introducing herself as a member of the board of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Fourth/Fifth Avenue historic district study committee, Rebecca Lopez Kriss urged the council to vote yes. As a young professional and graduate student, she said, she did not want to live in a dilapidated old house or in a “white box” out by Briarwood Mall. She questioned the criticism that The Moravian would be out of character with the neighborhood, pointing to the Perry School, the university building and the light industrial uses across the street. She described The Moravian as functioning as a buffer between those uses and the neighborhood to the north. She encouraged people to read Jonathan Levine’s book, “Zoned Out,” which discusses zoning as a tool of exclusion.
Co-founder of Motawi Tileworks, Karim Motawi told the council that he lived in Ann Arbor for 10 years and would have liked to have had an option to live somewhere like The Moravian. He asked for a show of hands from those who supported the project – several hands were raised in response.
Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, announced he was there to support The Moravian. He told the council that he’d supported every park and greenbelt millage that had been put before him, and that the other side of that was a need to support housing options like The Moravian. Not just people on his team need those options, he said, but the teams of his customers did as well.
The president and CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank, Peter Schork, said he supported the project because of its financial viability. He drew a distinction between affordable housing like The Moravian offered and reasonably priced housing like the houses it would replace. He noted that he did not agree that they were “blighted,” saying he had been in the houses and that he’d in fact financed them. He wouldn’t have financed them if they were blighted, he said, then quipped, “maybe, I would have.”
Kyle Mazurek is vice president of government affairs for the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. He spoke in favor of the project on behalf of the chamber, citing as benefits the higher density, the provision of workforce housing, the removal of blight, improvement of floodwater storage, and increased tax revenue. Mazurek said he also supported the project on a personal level.
The owner of the Renaissance clothing store, Roger Pothus, lamented the fact that there seemed to be no vision for Ann Arbor, but rather each project was approved or disapproved on a per-parcel basis. He described the neighborhood as a few old rooming houses that were inefficient as to space utilization. He described how Nordstrom had looked at Ann Arbor’s downtown a few years ago as a possible location but had eventually abandoned Ann Arbor as too conflicted about development and eventually settled for Novi. Pothus also suggested that the fire that killed a student on South State Street a few days prior would not have happened in a building like The Moravian, which was to be built with a sprinkler system.
Stewart Beal said he runs a company with 130 construction professionals. What about the blue collar workers? he asked. He saw construction of The Moravian as an opportunity to put some of them to work.
Appealing to statistical projections from SEMCOG, Joe Ferrario noted that the population of Ann Arbor was not projected to grow very much in the next few decades – perhaps by about as many people as had filtered in and out of the room that night. He contrasted that with the projection that employment was going to grow by 18,000 jobs. That meant, he said, that the council would be debating the Madison Street Parking Structure – unless they approved projects like The Moravian. Nothing detracts from a neighborhood more, he said, than potholes and other neglected infrastructure due to a lack of adequate tax revenue.
Ken Fischer, president of the University Musical Society and board member of Ann Arbor SPARK, said he was speaking as a private citizen, but with the perspective of those two organizations. He said he supported the project and that it was consistent with various kinds of attraction projects to make Ann Arbor friendly to the demographic of young professionals.
Introducing himself as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, Tim Galea said that the city should encourage density for the benefit of culture and business environment.
The Moravian Public Hearing: Various Technical Standards
Susan Morrison, an attorney who spoke on behalf of Beverly Strassmann and Claudius Vincenz at the public hearing, also submitted a letter that included multiple points about whether the PUD ordinance standards were met by the project. Among them was the fact that the historic district study committee had designated buildings as contributing to a potential historic district – buildings that would be demolished in order to build The Moravian. [Note that the area currently proposed as an historic district in the committee's preliminary report does not include The Moravian's parcels.]
An attorney with Dickinson Wright, Peter Webster, stated that The Moravian did meet the PUD ordinance requirement and that affordable housing is not being taken away. The neighborhood, he said, included more than just the one block of single-family houses.
Marianne Zorza took issue with the way that other PUDs – The Gallery, Kingsley Lane and Glen Ann Place – had been compared to The Moravian as a way to argue for the project based on consistency of applying the ordinance.
An architect on the project, Scott Bonney, noted that they had “buried as much parking as possible.” The minimal setback of the building to Madison Street, which some speakers criticized, was something the city’s planning commission had requested, he said.
Among several points made by Brad Mikus was a note in the planning commission minutes of Jan. 6, 2010 that in a major storm event there would be 1-2 feet of water standing in the parking structure under the building. “That sounds like a problem,” he suggested. Vince Caruso expressed concern about the project’s proximity to the Allen Creek floodway. Describing a vote for the project as a “big mistake,” Barbara Copi said it would be premature, given that the FEMA maps showing the floodplain were not yet finalized.
The site engineer for the project, Midwestern Consulting’s, Scott Betzoldt, addressed two different studies: a traffic study and a stormwater study. On the stormwater study, he said that the FEMA maps were not yet published, but they knew what they would be based on the data underlying the maps. The project would increase the stormwater detention beyond the required levels from 17,500 cubic feet to 38,000 cubic feet of storage, he said. He noted the traffic study he performed was not required of the project, but that it had been undertaken voluntarily. It had been reviewed and approved by the city’s traffic engineer, he said.
A sound engineer, Kenric Van Wyk, who’d been retained by neighbors of the project, noted that there was no acoustical screening specified for various elements of the project, and that the project would need to meet the standards of the city’s noise ordinance. A transportation engineer with Professional Engineering Associates, Michael Labadie critiqued the traffic study undertaken by the developer, noting that it had not been undertaken during the school year.
John Jackson criticized the 5-story streetwall of the building, saying that even in the core downtown areas, the streetwall is supposed to step back after four stories. Rita Mitchell addressed various technical problems with conformity with the PUD ordinance, including open space.
Resident and former planning commissioner Ethel Potts weighed in against The Moravian, saying that the council could not legally approve it – an adequate public benefit had not been achieved, she said. The demolition of affordable housing to build the project, she said, had to be considered against the benefit of affordable housing units offered by the project. Kathy Boris questioned how the demolition of eight two-story homes was consistent with the PUD ordinance requirement that the project provide a community benefit.
Anne Eisen said that some of the people opposed to The Moravian, and who’d opposed it for two years, had been inaccurately described as supporting the project.
The Moravian Public Hearing: City Sulkers
Appealing to the notion of “sustainability,” Joan Lowenstein noted that we often talk about sustainable cars, buses, and buildings, but asked, What about a sustainable population? She rejected the idea that neighborhoods are the building blocks of sustainability and suggested instead that the building blocks are people. The city allocates money to Ann Arbor SPARK to try to bring business to the area, she said, but there’s no place for people to live.
Lowenstein then suggested that people in Ann Arbor like to sulk. For example, they like to sulk about the fact that there’s no local newspaper anymore. They like to sulk about the fact that the whole city might flood. She concluded by encouraging the council to say no to the sulkers and yes to The Moravian.
Following Lowenstein to the podium, Charles Loucks allowed that he opposed the project but that he was not a sulker. He was against it, he said, because he said it set a bad precedent for process. Peter Nagourney also rejected the idea that it was a matter of whether people sulked or not. Instead, he said, it was the fact that the project violated the city’s central area plan, the standards of the PUD ordinance, as well as the floodplain regulations.
Former planning commissioner James D’Amour encouraged the council not to think of the staff recommendation for approval as a “holy writ.” He said he disagreed with the idea that Joan Lowenstein had expressed that neighborhoods weren’t the building blocks of the community. He also said he wanted an apology from the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce because they were not representing him on this issue.
The Moravian Public Hearing: How Do We Decide What We Want?
The principle that Ray Detter cited, which he encouraged the council to follow, was essentially this one: “A proposal that is opposed by a clear majority of the residents in a neighborhood should not be forced upon those people, unless there is no other way to accomplish something that would be good for the community as a whole.” That came in a email from mayor John Hieftje sent the previous Sunday morning to multiple recipients in response to the suggestion that he would be wise in an election year to vote against the project. Detter emphasized that density should be kept in downtown, not near downtown.
A declared candidate for the city council in Ward 5, John Floyd offered the perspective of a homeowner, saying it was difficult to judge how people felt about their own homes for someone who has never owned a home they loved. He allowed that youth has not just energy, but also inexperience.
Floyd suggested that the real discussion the community needed to have was about what we wanted to do with the historic neighborhoods. He described the discussion about The Moravian as a proxy for that larger discussion, and that it was the wrong time to have it.
The Moravian Public Hearing: The Developers
Speaking for The Moravian’s development team, Newcombe Clark noted that many of the project’s features that had been criticized – rooftop patios, for example – had been added because they had been asked to add them. He traced the process back two years of getting input about what people wanted to see. He emphasized that the project was financially viable. He asked the council for “the courage of leadership” and not to act in fear of a “minority of voters who show up in August [for the Democratic primary].”
The project’s developer, Jeff Helminski, observed that there was an unprecedented level of support for a private development in the room, which he found both inspiring and humbling. Helminski said they had looked at every PUD proposal approved by the city to gauge the city’s past administration of its PUD ordinance. He said his team believed it was clear that The Moravian met the standard. As far as the contract with the community that zoning reflected, Helminski asked the council to consider the contract with everyone for a consistent application of the law and the standards.
The Moravian: Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off council deliberations by asking if the noise engineer was still in the room to answer some questions. He was not.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) then read aloud from a statement that Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had asked be read in his absence. The statement contended that when a project tears the social compact reflected in the zoning, then the public benefits offered by the project needed to be “bold enough to mend that tear.” The statement also compared the idea of allowing density at the location of The Moravian to pricking holes in the membrane to allow “density leakage” outside of the downtown. Hohnke was against the project.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) – the council’s representative to the planning commission, which had recommended the project on a 7-1 vote – cited the planning commission’s vote, plus the city planning staff’s recommendation. On planning commission, he had voted for the project. [See Chronicle coverage: "Moravian Moves Forward, Despite Protests"]
Derezinski also asked for commentary from city planning staff – Wendy Rampson and Alexis DiLeo – on the letter from Peter Webster that outlined a comparison of The Moravian to some past PUD developments the city council had approved – Glen Ann Place, The Gallery, and Kingsley Lane. Rampson explained that each PUD proposal is evaluated on its own merit.
The benefits of the project that Rampson ticked through included the live/work units as innovative land use, the variety in design, the efficiency of land use and alternative energy, additional stormwater holding capacity, below-grade parking, and the expansion of affordable housing.
Responding to a comment made during the public hearing, DiLeo noted that the supplemental regulations did address the maximum number of bedrooms and the unit mix.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know if it was true that there’d be 1-2 feet of standing water in the parking structure in the event of a 100-year storm. Rampson confirmed this was true – the idea was to design the building so that the water goes into the parking structure, not the living units. In response to questions from Higgins, Rampson also confirmed that the stormwater detention tanks would include swirl concentrators to help filter it, so that the quality and quantity of the stormwater was addressed. The water from the detention tanks would be outlet to the storm sewer system at a restricted rate, Rampson explained.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked developer Jeff Helminski about the issue of noise and acoustical screening. Helmisnki confirmed that the project would need to meet the standards of the city’s noise ordinance, whether there was screening or not. Teall asked about the contention that neighbors had been misled by Helminski originally telling them that it would be a two-story building. Helminski said he had never presented the project as a two-story building.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked about the underlying zoning of The Moravian – existing zoning that would need to be changed. He wanted to know why a previous project – Avery House, which had been proposed by the Black Elks on the north side of town – had not come up in comparing previous PUD projects. [Avery House was rejected by the city council.] Rampson clarified that Avery House had not been a PUD, but rather a planned project.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) confirmed with Rampson that the The Moravian did not fall inside of the historic district study committee’s recommended area, based on their preliminary report.
Smith noted that the geothermal system was “optional” – she wanted to know what would make the geothermal system actually be implemented? Helminski explained that the ability to implement geothermal couldn’t be confirmed until a full depth well – around 300 feet – was drilled and the thermal conductivity of the soils was confirmed for a full well. They’d drilled test bores to this point. In the event it was not possible to implement a geothermal system, Helminski said, they would possibly use photovoltaic, wind, or purchase green energy from an alternate source.
Asked what level of LEED the project intended to achieve, Helminski said that they would achieve basic certification, and possibly achieve the Silver LEED designation.
Smith asked about some of the accommodations that had been made to the project design in response to feedback from neighbors. Helminski cited the shape of the building, the minimization of the frontage on Fifth Avenue, the change of the basic design from its initial modern theme, and pulling the building as far south as possible.
Anglin asked what would happen if there were a mishap with the geothermal system – would that be even more serious, given its location in a floodplain? Helminski said that of the two options for media used in geothermal systems – glycol and water – the planned option was for water. So any leakage from the system would mean that it was simply water.
Asked by Anglin about the status of the project’s brownfield application, Helminski said that there’d been a couple of meetings scheduled but canceled due to budget work that the city was doing. He’d talked to Matt Naud, Helmiski said. [Naud is the city's environmental coordinator.]
Briere then suggested that “we should be talking about how we’re going to vote.” She then recounted how she’d met with the developers about their project four or five times over the course of two-and-a-half years. She said that Hohnke was right, in his written statement, to remind everyone of the social compact implicit in the city’s zoning, and said she’d be voting no.
She noted that the The Moravian was larger than Perry School or the UM building in the neighborhood and that the mix of units was predominantly 3-4 bedroom units, not 1-2 bedrooms.
Briere noted that while the developer had studied and reviewed previous proposals that had been approved, he should have also studied those that had been rejected – Avery House, 42 North, and City Place.
Derezinski said he’d vote yes, because he would defer to the city’s planning staff recommendation and their expertise. He cited the 7-1 vote by the planning commission in favor of the project. He allowed that the city council’s vote was the final one. Until the R4C zoning district is revised, he said, the city had the PUD as an available option. The Moravian, he concluded, did meet the criteria for a PUD.
Teall said she’d support the project and echoed Derezinski’s sentiments. Responding to Jim Mogensen’s comments during the public hearing, about the possibility of such a project in Ann Arbor Hills, Teall said that the council would not approve that kind of project – because it was not near downtown or walkable. Teall also cited the improved safety that The Moravian represented, calling it “a leap ahead.” She stated that Ann Arbor is a city, not a small town, and The Moravian would not turn it into a big city.
Smith also echoed Derezinski’s comments. She highlighted the underground parking as a bonus. She contended that much of the “open space” pointed to on the rest of the block was actually used as backyard parking. She recalled how a place at Madison and Fifth had been her first apartment and characterized it as a “transitional neighborhood.” She also cited the additional affordable housing units as a benefit, saying that even with their addition, the city had a ways to go to get to 100 units. [This is a reference to the 100 units of affordable housing lost when the old YMCA at Fifth and William was demolished. Chronicle coverage: "The 100 Units of Affordable Housing."]
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that this was “not a perfect project.” He also allowed that it was a project about which reasonable people could differ in their conclusions. Taylor saw the decision as centering around how you see the neighborhood. In this, Taylor echoed the same framing he’d used to talk about his vote over a year ago during deliberations on another project in roughly the same neighborhood, City Place. [From the council's Jan. 5, 2009 meeting]:
How one views it, [Taylor] said, depends on whether you’re looking north or looking south. He suggested that residents are looking exclusively to the south, which discounts factually what the neighborhood is. To the north there’s an 8-story parking structure, a surface lot, a library, which are part and parcel of the neighborhood. He described the area as some species of interface that needed to be considered as such. He concluded by saying that the dedicated apartment buildings in the neighborhood itself and those structures to the north are all a part of the “gestalt of the space.”
On Monday, talking about The Moravian – located down the street from where City Place had been proposed, a bit farther from downtown Ann Arbor – Taylor said that whether the project was out of scale or appropriate depended on what area you considered. If you see the relevant area as that bounded by Madison Street and Fourth and Fifth avenues, he said, you could conclude that The Moravian was out of scale. If you see the relevant area as the corridor of Madison from the Fingerle lumberyard and Main Street, then one could conclude that it was appropriate in scale. Although he supported the project, Taylor cautioned that it should not have any implications for tear-downs in R4C neighborhoods – this was a unique case that also involved M-1 zoning.
Anglin allowed that the city did need additional 1-2 bedroom apartments, but that this project did not offer that. However, he acknowledged that the passion of the people who spoke in favor of the project that evening was “a clear message for us.”
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) echoed the sentiments of Taylor and Smith, saying he’d support the project. He rejected the term “buffer” for The Moravian, saying that to him, it was an excellent “interface.” He said that what The Moravian offered was more diversity of housing. In his day job [as executive director of MichBio], Rapundalo said, he sees the challenges of bringing highly-skilled 25- to 35-year-olds to the area. What they want, he said, is not just 1-2 bedroom units, but rather a diversity of options.
Mayor John Hieftje said he did not believe that the project met the PUD standards. In his review of the material, he said, he did not agree with the findings in the staff report. The 12 affordable units offered by the project, he said, were too little to offer in return for the rezoning. He did not think that the area would remain the way it was and would eventually change. He rejected the idea that if the council did not approve this project that it meant they didn’t believe in density.
Outcome: The council vote was 6-4 in favor of the Moravian, which left it two votes short of the 8-vote super-majority the project needed for approval. Voting for the project were: Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Voting against the project were: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), mayor John Hieftje. Carsten Hohnke was absent.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor
Absent: Carsten Hohnke
Next council meeting: April 19, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]