Documents filed on Monday with the city of Ann Arbor’s planning staff show details of an affordable housing project at 1500 Pauline that includes tearing down the existing apartment buildings and rebuilding a combination of apartments, townhomes and a community center.
The project is being proposed by the Ann Arbor nonprofit Avalon Housing, though the property is still owned by the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. Avalon took over operations of several WAHC properties, including 1500 Pauline, in 2009.
Also filing with the city on Monday was the Michigan Alpha Chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, which is seeking a special exception use to transform the Memorial Christian Church building at the corner of Tappan and Hill into a fraternity house.
Avalon Housing: 1500 Pauline
In 2009, the nonprofit Avalon Housing took over operations for properties owned by the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp., including 1500 Pauline. The original intent was to rehab the four apartment buildings on the property, which is located on the north side of Pauline, between Seventh and West Stadium, next to Fritz Park. There are 47 apartments there, rented to federally subsidized low-income residents.
Financing for the originally planned rehab hinged on getting state tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). But a MSHDA official toured the facility earlier this year and determined that several issues – including structural problems caused by deferred maintenance, drainage problems, poor barrier-free access and outdated layouts – made it unlikely that tax credits would be granted. The feeling was that it wasn’t worth additional investment, said Jennifer L. Hall, housing manager for the city of Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County office of community development, which has been working with Avalon on the project.
MSHDA indicated that they’d be more likely to provide tax credits to a newly constructed project. So Avalon now plans to tear down the existing buildings and redevelop the site into 32 units, including three-bedroom townhomes and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The plan also calls for a community center on the site.
David Esau of Ann Arbor-based Cornerstone Design is the project’s architect. Cornerstone has worked on other projects with Avalon, including a renovation of Arbordale Apartments, a 39-unit complex that’s near the 1500 Pauline site.
Financing for the project is still being worked out, said Michael Appel, Avalon’s executive associate director, in a phone interview with The Chronicle on Monday. If the project gains approval from the city’s planning commission and city council, they hope to apply for a March 2011 round of state tax credits, he said, with the goal of starting construction in 2012. [Projects submitted on Monday will be reviewed by city staff over the next few weeks and would likely be scheduled for a vote by the city's planning commission at its Jan. 20, 2011 meeting.]
Hall said that Avalon also could apply for funding from the Washtenaw Urban County, which receives staff support from Hall and others in the office of community development. The Urban County is a consortium of 11 local governments, including Ann Arbor, that receives and allocates funding through a variety of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships. Those two programs provide funding for projects to benefit low- and moderate-income residents, focused on housing, human services and other community development efforts.
The Urban County has already committed funds to other Avalon projects, including the Near North housing project to be built on North Main between Kingsley and Summit. The Urban County has also been involved in the struggling Gateway Apartments, a low-income complex that – like 1500 Pauline – is owned by WAHC and now managed by Avalon.
Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity
The building at 730 Tappan – at the intersection of Tappan and Hill, across the street from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business – is home to the Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The church is planning to sell the property to the Michigan Alpha Chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. On Monday, the fraternity filed for a special exception use with the city – if granted, it would allow the building to be converted into a residence for the fraternity. The chapter is currently located nearby at 704 Hill St., on the southeast corner of Hill and State.
The application to the city for a special exception use states that no significant changes are planned for the building’s exterior. The site includes 19 parking spaces – the plan calls for adding 11 bike spaces in the basement of the building as well as 11 bike spaces outside. The interior of the three-level building would be remodeled into a residence with a maximum of 44 beds. (The chapter has over 100 members, but more than half live off-site.) The property is currently zoned R2B, a zoning category that allows for fraternities. The neighborhood includes many fraternities, sororities and student rental properties.
Jerry Mangona, president of the chapter’s alumni association, told The Chronicle they’ve been trying to find an appropriate site for the past five years – the current location was never intended to be permanent, he said.
The church site is ideal for two reasons, Mangona said. First is its location – next to the business school and a sorority (Delta Delta Delta, at 718 Tappan), and near Michigan Stadium. There’s also ample parking, he said, which is not the case at their current house. Secondly, the church structure itself is impressive, he said, both in terms of its history and architecture. The historic church was originally built on State Street – where the UM law quad is now located – and was moved to its current location in 1923. The renovation would include common areas, such as a formal dining room and possibly a lecture room. The chapter would be unique on campus, Mangona said – their goal is to be designated a residential learning community, dedicated to leadership development and continuing education for members and alumni.
Mangona declined to provide information regarding the purchase price or cost of renovations, saying only that renovations could reach the 7-figure range. Reached on Tuesday, Dr. Rev. Irwin Green, the church’s pastor, said he preferred not to comment on the sale at this time.
According to its summer 2010 newsletter, the church was negotiating a sale of the property for $1.4 million. Mangona confirmed that this was the church’s asking price at the time, but indicated it was not the final price. He said the closing of the deal will depend in part on whether they are granted a special exception use by the city, and on whether their architect determines that the interior renovations they’d like to make are feasible.
The church’s December 2010 newsletter indicates that plans for an upcoming move to a leased facility in Pittsfield Township – as well as a name change – are underway:
The work of gathering appropriate information for an appearance at the Pittsfield Township Board to request a property use permit, for the leased facility as a church, should be completed soon. We should be ready to announce our plans on storage and how the logics of storing some of our “stuff” will happen in the very near future. A celebration of who we have been and who we hope to be is being planned for January. We will take the leap toward a new name for the church. That will be a time for us to begin gathering our ancestors – the saints who over a span of 119 years have been part of building up and deepening this small faith community on Hill St and Tappan. We want to carry them with us as we wait and plan for our new church and to pray for their help.
And yet, a true community contains the living and the dead. God’s community of the faithful isn’t limited to only those we can see and share geography. The living have gifts to give too — looking back lacks the dimension and relevant context that leaning forward can bring. Both the living and the dead have something to say about the kind of church we want to be known as and for. Breathe deeply and rest assured that is as it should be too. God is with us on this extraordinary journey toward a new home.