Comments on: No Consensus on Residential Zoning Changes it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Joel Batterman Joel Batterman Sun, 03 Jul 2011 23:36:59 +0000 Thanks for everyone’s comments. Believe me, I do appreciate the existing near-downtown built environment, and I wish the more recently developed neighborhood where I grew up was more like it. I’d just like to try to find ways to make those places accessible to more people, and I’d like to think there are ways to do that without completely altering their character.

Building up transit corridors may be our best bet, as Andy suggests. I think the Planning Commission may have started work on a zoning overlay for that purpose.

And Vivienne, I’ll gladly back you up any time you want to argue for accessory dwelling units!

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Sat, 02 Jul 2011 13:48:31 +0000 I think that what Joel was aiming at was the demand for rentals for lower-income people (and especially, perhaps, younger ones who are not students) that are decent and affordable.

According to the figures provided by Washtenaw County Community Development [link], a single person earning about $35,000 a year (classified as low income; about $17.50 per hour) should pay no more than $885 a month (this is 30% of their total income). Yet that is on the low end of rents in local apartments according to a quick scan of rentals online.

What I heard at the long public hearing on the Moravian was frustration at high rents and low quality of rentals. These young people were hoping for better. But new construction will not provide low-cost, decent rentals that are not configured to student rentals (the multiple bedrooms rented separately). The best hope for affordable housing is to use the existing houses well, as Tom describes. (I would come out here for accessory dwelling units, but I got beat up badly last time I did that.)

By: David Cahill David Cahill Sat, 02 Jul 2011 12:31:28 +0000 Tom is right. There is no “pent-up demand.” There is, however, a clever push for extremely profitable housing by the developers and their allies on Council.

By: Tom Whitaker Tom Whitaker Sat, 02 Jul 2011 03:42:31 +0000 We’ve been hearing about this mythical “pent-up demand” for years. If there was pent-up demand, Ashley Terrace would not have foreclosed, and multiple APPROVED projects like Glen Ann Place, The Gallery, Kingsley Lane, City Apartments, and Broadway Village would all have been financed and built and been fully occupied by now. Together they could have housed several thousand people.

But alas, the truth once again gets in the way of a good story: The latest census showed a decrease in population in Ann Arbor, and it wasn’t because there weren’t enough brand new apartments available at minimal rents, located next door to night clubs.

By: Andy Andy Fri, 01 Jul 2011 22:01:10 +0000 Joel is correct that building more densely, all other things being equal, will result in lower costs and better access for those of us who could never hope to be able to afford to live near downtown.

Given the extreme level of opposition I’m seeing to any new development in the areas immediately adjacent to downtown, I think we could satisfy the pent-up demand if we focused dense construction along major corridors like Plymouth, South Main, & (especially) Washtenaw while working with AATA to enhance bus service to those areas. It would also help if we examined any limits on liquor licensing in those areas, since the biggest reasons younger residents want to live near downtown is a) to be able to minimize car dependency and b) convenient access to nightlife.

I live off Washtenaw by Arborland. We have lots of available space, very few entrenched homeowners to oppose, and virtually no “historic character” to worry about preserving. If we had better round-the-clock transit service to downtown/central campus, better bike infrastructure, better night life options, and some traffic calming to make the area safer for pedestrians, we could easily accommodate the pent-up demand for the type of experience younger renters/buyers are seeking downtown. Our developers and planners should recognize this potentially lucrative opportunity to retrofit this part of town accordingly.

By: David Cahill David Cahill Fri, 01 Jul 2011 18:27:21 +0000 Looks like the neighborhoodies out-organized and out-argued the developers. Good!

Tony should recognize that he lost, and move on.

By: Tom Whitaker Tom Whitaker Fri, 01 Jul 2011 17:17:52 +0000 What is “really so wrong” is a few urban planners and bull-headed officials trying to override the will of the residents, property owners and citizens of this city.

It wasn’t too long ago that the cutting edge of urban planning theory included suburbs full of fresh air and open space, expressways to work or the mall, and huge parking lots. These theories are still in practice today, ingrained in the zoning and government subsidies for new development across the country.

More recently, the New Urbanists came along as land became more scarce (and prices continued to increase) and many suburbs began to reach the edge of drive-ability. New Urbanist developers saw a market in creating new subdivisions that resembled Mayberry, where they could put more people in less acreage by mixing large houses with apartment buildings and maybe toss in a corner store if zoning allowed. Then the bubble burst for all of these rural “house farms”–new urbanist or otherwise.

I like to call myself an Old Urbanist. These near-downtown neighborhoods are already very dense by average urban standards and they inherently contain everything the New Urbanists tried to imitate: traditional-style houses with small yards and front porches close to the sidewalk-lined streets; large shady trees; walking proximity to shopping, entertainment, restaurants, libraries, bus stops, and workplaces. Many of these houses have been divided into multiple smaller units, providing a variety of “dense” living arrangements for singles, couples and families. There are also many mid-century apartment buildings (some not so attractive) that provide another living option.

My neighborhood contains undergraduate students sharing entire houses, grad students in one-bedroom apartments, as well as families, professionals and retirees living in their own homes or apartments. Some residents also own rental properties here that are nicely maintained and watched over. Incomes range from those living in subsidized housing or student co-ops, to professors, doctors and attorneys. Show me that mix in ANY new buildings in this city, or anywhere for that matter.

When you complete your degree and go to work out in the “real world,” I hope you will quickly come to appreciate the existing built world and the people that have invested in it, live in it and enjoy it. The near-downtown neighborhoods may not fit perfectly into urban planning text book theories of what is the most sustainable way for humans to live, but they come pretty damn close. But what is really ironic about this whole discussion is that there is absolutely no reason to be targeting these neighborhoods for “higher density.” There is no growing market for new housing!

Again, as a community, we decided to increase residential in the core of downtown, not the neighborhoods. Many large, downtown high-rise projects are approved to be built, but not built because there is no market and no financing. Why would we want to further water down the market for downtown residential living by pushing it into the neighborhoods? There are foreclosed rental properties all over the area.

If it is your mission to provide alternatives to suburbs, we have it right here. People drawn to suburban living might be convinced to move to a traditional-style, near-downtown neighborhood, but I doubt you’ll find any of them willing to trade their 2000sf house on a half-acre for a 1200sf condo at twice the price.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Fri, 01 Jul 2011 16:30:10 +0000 With regard to (6), I agree that this is a complex subject, worthy of a full study that takes in a number of factors and market forces.

If high-rises withdraw more affluent student renters from the divided former family homes in the Central Area, the possibility exists that these will experience a rental payment drop that will make them less valuable as an income property. At one time the value of the income property was so high that individual would-be homeowners were out-competed for this housing. Perhaps this would be reversed, which of course would mean withdrawal of lower-rent property from the market. (I think of this as a positive, frankly, for such emerging neighborhoods as the Old Fourth Ward and Germantown areas.) I am curious – I heard anecdotally that many of these student rentals were bought on speculation by those hoping to “flip” them – wonder what happened with all that during the housing bust?

Existing multifamily apartments would not share in this aspect. They might indeed become more affordable.

In the recent past, developers of new projects like the Moravian seemed to hold out the promise that what was being offered was new AND affordable housing (in the same package). This is illusory, as it does not recognize the cost of new for-profit construction.

As for expanding density in the near-downtown, that simply makes it less accessible to families (and “inclusive” should surely include middle-income families and workers) and breaks up neighborhoods. Again, the Central Area Plan (a consensus, community-based master plan) calls for this area to retain neighborhood integrity.

By: Joel Batterman Joel Batterman Fri, 01 Jul 2011 16:10:58 +0000 I’m no economist, and I fully recognize that most developers don’t build affordable housing.

At the same time, it seems pretty clear to me that if we restrict the supply of housing, its cost will tend to increase.

I grew up here, and I’d like this city to be a more inclusive place. Historically, Ann Arbor was a place where many people could live. Heck, we even had some factories! Oddly, even as we’ve taken pains to preserve our historic downtown’s structures, it’s continued to lose a great deal of its original substance, so that much of it now resembles an upscale lifestyle mall in an antique shell.

In a region of hundreds of thousands of people, spread out in subdivisions extending all the way south to Saline, I don’t expect that downtown Ann Arbor will ever regain its preeminence as an urban center, or be the most affordable place to live (unless you factor in the price of gas). But it does seem like more housing in the central city would tend to reduce rents and permit more people to live here. Just ask the landlords: [link]

I’ve been privileged to spend much of my life here in Ann Arbor, and my interest in greater density in and near downtown is motivated by my desire for a more inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous city that makes that possible for more people. Is that really so wrong?

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Fri, 01 Jul 2011 15:10:42 +0000 I have been informed that no minutes were taken of that last meeting. Is that correct?