University Bank Project Tabled Again

At its Sept. 8, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission voted to postpone approval of a University Bank proposal to increase the number of allowable employees from 50 to 59 at its headquarters on Washtenaw Avenue and to add 14 parking spaces to a new lot on the site. The headquarters is located in what’s known as the Hoover Mansion.

Although a consensus appeared to have been reached – among planning staff, neighbors and bank officials – the commission was reluctant to make a recommendation, because the final site plan had not yet been submitted. The consensus had been achieved only a week ago, last Thursday, Sept. 1. The vote to postpone, likely until the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 20, was unanimous.

The change requires amending the supplemental regulations of the site’s planned unit development (PUD) zoning district, which was originally approved in 1978.

The commission had rejected did not accept a similar proposal at its Oct. 19, 2010 meeting, tabling it and asking planning staff to work with bank officials to come up with an alternative proposal for locating new parking. At the time, planning staff had recommended denial of the request, stating that the project impacted natural features and didn’t offer an overall benefit to the city.

The current request was initially recommended for approval by staff, but that advice was changed to postponement when the final site plan was not submitted.

The bank has made several changes based on feedback, according to staff. For example, the new parking lot has been shifted an additional seven feet away from the east property line to reduce the disturbance of woodland in that area. The height of a three-foot-tall masonry screening wall around the parking lot will be increased to six feet, to screen the lot from homes to the east. New bicycle parking spaces are proposed for the southeast corner of the bank building, and a new five-foot-wide walkway connecting Washtenaw Avenue to the bank is proposed for the western part of the site.

During public participation time, president of University Bank, Stephen Ranzini, cautioned the commission against further delays. He told them that the bank had already needed to move some of its operations out of the Ann Arbor location, meaning a permanent loss of those jobs for the city of Ann Arbor.

When it’s voted on, the planning commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for final approval.

This brief was filed from the second-floor city council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where the planning commission meets. A more detailed report will follow: [link]