The cardboard box sat on the counter of the Ann Arbor planning department’s sixth floor city hall offices, stuffed with copies of the Fuller Road Station site plan, which was submitted to the city Monday morning.
The submission of the site plan – 44 oversized pages of details about the project’s engineering, architecture and landscaping – marks the start of the formal approval process with the city, after months of debate and discussion. The $46 million project is proposed for city-owned property south of Fuller Road and north of the University of Michigan medical campus. The site plan is for the first phase of the project – a five-level parking structure and bus depot. Officials envision that a later phase will include a station for commuter and high-speed rail, though funding for that is still uncertain.
Jeff Kahan, the city planner who’ll be shepherding the project through the approval process, told The Chronicle that it will be on the planning commission’s agenda no earlier than Sept. 21.
Fuller Road Station: Background
Chronicle articles on Fuller Road Station date back to January 2009, when city staff presented an early sketch of the possible transit station at a meeting of Wall Street neighbors at Northside Grill. At the time, neighbors were concerned about the University of Michigan’s plans to build parking structures on Wall Street. City staff said that they’d floated the idea of a Fuller Road transit station to UM officials, who had expressed interest. But no commitments had been made.
The university ultimately signed on, and is shouldering 78% of the cost of construction – in return, getting access to 78% of the roughly 1,000 spaces. The project is still envisioned as the site of an eventual train station, but this first phase is just for the parking structure, which will also include an area for bus drop-off and pick-up, as well as an area for bike racks and lockers.
A narrative included in the project’s site plan notes that a workshop took place on Aug. 26-27, 2009, which included representatives from the city, UM, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT). At that meeting, six design options were evaluated and narrowed down to three. The site plan submitted on Monday is based on one of those three alternatives.
The project has caused some controversy community-wide, as it’s located on city-owned property that’s designated as parkland. The site has been used as a surface parking lot since 1993, leased to the university. But critics say that building a large parking structure on the site is a defacto sale, which violates a 2008 city charter amendment passed by voters. The amendment requires that the city seek voter approval for the sale of parkland.
Some members of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) have been particularly vocal, and at one point PAC was set to consider a resolution asking city council to halt the project. Mayor John Hieftje attended their May 2010 meeting and asked for unity on the project.
They regrouped, and at their meeting in June passed a resolution calling for council to make available a complete plan of Fuller Road Station – including any significant proposed agreements, such as what the university will pay the city for use of the structure – allowing sufficient time for a presentation at a televised PAC meeting before council votes on the project. The resolution also asked that staff and city council ensure the project results in a net revenue gain for the parks system. Currently, revenues from surface parking lots leased to UM on both sides of Fuller Road are designated to support parks and recreation.
On the Path to City Council
Kahan said that a pre-submittal meeting last week included members the Fuller Road Station design team – architects from Mitchell & Mouat of Ann Arbor, JJR, Washtenaw Engineering – as well as with Dave Dykman, the city’s project manager for Fuller Road Station, and Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning staff. That meeting, which is a standard part of the approval process, includes a review of the site plan checklist, to ensure that all the required information is ready.
The site plan provides a raft of technical information and sub-plans, including plans for soil erosion and sedimentation control, demolition, grading, utilities, stormwater management, fire access, landscaping and roadway modifications. (The landscaping plan includes a list of potential plantings, such as 3,190 wild strawberry – fragaria virginiana – plants.)
The site plan also includes architectural renderings of the project. In one, railroad tracks are shown in the foreground with the nose of an Amtrak train visible – a reflection of city officials’ hopes that the site will eventually include a train station.
On Tuesday morning [Aug. 3], city staff will hold a development review committee meeting with representatives from each city department that will be involved in the project, including staff from planning, engineering, utilities and the fire department. If they determine that the site plan information is complete, it will be forwarded to the various departments for a detailed review, Kahan said, and the Fuller Road Station team will be notified that the site plan has been accepted for formal review.
As with other projects, the planning staff – based on input from other departments – will determine when the project is ready for review by the city’s planning commission. But unlike projects from outside developers, the staff won’t likely make a recommendation for approval or denial, Kahan said. Instead, they’ll indicate whether the project has met city standards. If it hasn’t, they’ll indicate how it deviates from those standards.
For projects submitted on Aug. 2 like Fuller Road Station, the earliest they’ll be on the planning commission agenda is Sept. 21, Kahan said, though it could be scheduled for a later date. When it does come before the commission, a public hearing will take place on the project. [One other site plan was turned in on Aug. 2 – for Lake Trust Credit Union at the northwest corner of West Stadium and Liberty.]
The Sept. 21 date aligns with a tentative timeline that Eli Cooper – the city’s transportation program manager – laid out for park commissioners at the July 2010 PAC meeting. Though stressing that the scheduling could change, he gave these dates for the next steps in the approval process:
- Sept. 21, 2010: Public hearing at the city’s planning commission meeting.
- Oct. 17, 2010: Presentation to city council at their Sunday night caucus.
- Late October: UM regents review and approval.
- Nov. 4, 2010: Public hearing at city council.
The complete site plan is available for viewing at the city’s planning department, located on the sixth floor of city hall, 100 N. Fifth Ave.