Comments on: Effort to Overhaul R4C Zoning Continues it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: John Q. John Q. Sat, 12 Jan 2013 04:24:22 +0000 “The persistent pursuit of increased density with reduced parking says more about where they wish to “nudge” us than they are willing to explicitly state.”

Or the planners recognize that those parking spots you insist on seeing provided generate little or no economic value to the city. Parking spots don’t pay taxes. Excessive parking detracts in some many ways from building the kind of city that residents say they want. There are many failed communities that followed the approach that you suggest the city take. Why should Ann Arbor go the same way?

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Fri, 11 Jan 2013 10:56:15 +0000 Regarding the Washtenaw corridor, it is accurate to say that planning efforts envision a densely populated corridor in order to relieve traffic problems and improve walkability. See Reimagine Washtenaw’s site: [link]

By: Jack Eaton Jack Eaton Thu, 10 Jan 2013 19:09:32 +0000 Re (18) I agree that none of these planners make a direct link from an increase in density to the relief of congestion. It is implied in much of this density debate, including in your statement that “you have to have certain amounts of density to support alternatives to cars.” The persistent pursuit of increased density with reduced parking says more about where they wish to “nudge” us than they are willing to explicitly state.

I agree with your statement “There are no realistic solutions for relieving congestion from cars.” On the other hand, there are many things that can exacerbate the congestion problem that already exists in places such as the Washtenaw corridor and worsen the parking problems that already exist in the near downtown neighborhoods.

Addition population and businesses will only increase the traffic congestion problems on Washtenaw. Failure to require adequate parking in the R4C districts will cause further problems with street parking and misuse of neighboring driveways.

The alternative to mindless economic expansion is not stagnation. A community can achieve a level of economic activity that is in equilibrium. I believe that we will find a stable low growth economy to be much more sustainable than the boom and bust economies that we have witnessed in the recent past.

By: John Q. John Q. Thu, 10 Jan 2013 18:07:50 +0000 “Our planners believe that the way they should address the considerable congestion on the Washtenaw corridor is to increase density — adding residents, office space and retail outlets — thereby creating an area where cars are less necessary.”

I don’t know of any planners that advocate for increased density to reduce congestion. New York City has incredible amounts of density and intense congestion. But that increased density has allowed it support a tremendous amount of commercial and residential development in a limited area by developing transportation systems that support multiple transportation options (on foot, bicycle, bus, car, subway, etc.) Suburban style development, on the other hand, only supports one kind of transportation choice – by car. When congestion due to car traffic maxes out, growth and economic activity stall because there’s no alternative systems in place to accommodate more activity. I’m not equating for NYC levels of density in Ann Arbor. But you have to have certain amounts of density to support alternatives to cars.

There are no realistic solutions for relieving congestion from cars. If you widen roads or add more parking, you’ll only temporarily succeed in postponing the next wave of congestion that comes from induced demand. The only long-term “solution” to congestion is economic decline as seen in Detroit where roads widen to accommodate 7 to 9 lanes of traffic now sit largely unused.

By: Jack Eaton Jack Eaton Thu, 10 Jan 2013 15:48:45 +0000 Re (13) Andy, you appear to have misunderstood the point I was making about the Washtenaw Avenue Whole Foods store. I meant to convey the idea that providing inadequate parking does nothing to “nudge” folks out of their cars into alternative transportation modes. Instead, providing inadequate parking frustrates customers and limits the amount of business the store can do.

The experience you recount in comment (13) actually reinforces my opinion that our planners’ efforts to social engineer through zoning is ineffective. Our planners believe that the way they should address the considerable congestion on the Washtenaw corridor is to increase density — adding residents, office space and retail outlets — thereby creating an area where cars are less necessary.

Increasing population density and commercial activity in the Washtenaw corridor will not reduce congestion, will not nudge drivers out of their vehicles and will not create the desired “walkable” community. Likewise, reducing the required parking in neighborhoods that are near downtown will not result in a magical transformation of our means of transportation. These experiments in planning will have long term adverse consequences.

By: Tom Whitaker Tom Whitaker Tue, 08 Jan 2013 17:31:32 +0000 One of the most persistent myths regarding the neighborhoods bordering downtown and the UM campus is that these neighborhoods need to be more densely populated than they are. Truth is, these neighborhoods are already quite densely populated–certainly more than the downtown-zoned districts of D1 and D2. That’s because most of houses have been divided up into apartments, or if not divided, each bedroom is rented to one or two people. There are also many smaller apartment buildings interspersed among the houses. Even historically, widows and families in these neighborhoods provided rooms for worker and student boarders.

The myth of needing more density in the neighborhoods around downtown has been proliferated primarily by developers of projects like Near North, City Place and the defeated Moravian that wanted to build large downtown-sized projects on property that is less expensive than the property that’s actually zoned for that purpose. If we continue to allow huge developments to sprawl into the residential neighborhoods, where is the incentive to build “up” in the downtown proper?

Another myth is that these neighborhoods, at least those within about a mile of campus, need to add more affordable housing. This runs counter to a comprehensive study of affordable housing published by the County in 2007, which stated unequivocally that no new affordable units should be built in what the report called the “college tract,’ where they would be consumed by students that generally have more options and safety nets than the average adult or family with a very low income. There are already many affordable options in these neighborhoods including ICC houses, Avalon houses. Once one is further than a few blocks from campus, the rents drop dramatically for all.

The R4C study committee’s recommendations about down-zoning certain areas basically follow the recommendations made in the Central Area Plan–a document that is now over 20 years old, but major elements of which have never been adopted by the City even though the intention was to eliminate the 1960′s-era, urban-renewal-based zoning. Every study, forum, or community conversation in the past 20 years that has touched on these near-downtown neighborhoods has reinforced the basic principles of that plan: that the quality of life, the historical character, and the general nature of these neighborhoods needs to be preserved. Even the DDA plan speaks to how important these neighborhoods are in providing an attractive place to live for customers of downtown businesses.

As a property owner and resident of the R4C district, I don’t see parking as the primary threat. Landlords throwing down gravel and allowing tenants to park in the backyards may actually have been something that helped keep these grand old houses viable for decades. It’s when tenants are allowed to park on front lawns, or jumping the curb to create their own driveways that it detracts from the neighborhood aesthetics. Better enforcement of existing codes is needed.

I’m much more concerned with the current ability of developers to assemble several properties in a row, tear down the individual houses, and build something huge and ugly (like City Place) simply because the City has never codified the recommendations of the Central Area Plan, that would ban this practice. I’m more concerned that the City has allowed developers to build 5 and 6 bedroom apartments that, unlike the old 5 and 6+ bedroom homes, will only ever serve as student housing or as some other group home function. Current City code only allows for 6 unrelated persons to share a housekeeping unit (which is possible in a three or four bedroom dwelling unit), but it does not give permission to build 5 and 6 bedroom units. I hope the revisions do not add provisions that allow expressly allow for 5 and 6 bedrooms in the code for the first time. Instead, anything larger than 4 bedrooms should be prohibited without a variance.

By: John Q. John Q. Tue, 08 Jan 2013 03:51:18 +0000 I don’t have a strong opinion about “densifying” the neighborhoods around downtown. But it’s silly to have an R4C zoning district and attach zoning standards to it that mimic the requirements for single-family homes. What’s the point? Follow through with the recommendation from the Study Committee Report and eliminate the R4C zoning from those neighborhoods.

“Recommendation: Select areas should be rezoned from R4C to R2A and additional study be given to other areas that could warrant rezoning based on current conditions. Large R4C parcels outside of the Central Area should be rezoned to a more appropriate zoning

Leslie – My comments weren’t specifically directed to downtown. They apply equally well to adjoining neighborhoods covered by the R4C properties or any development in the city. The idea that those concepts only apply downtown is short-sighted and highlights why the single-minded focus on demanding more parking to accommodate more cars works against the points I raised. A city that places parking above all else is never going to be a place that Ann Arbor residents say they want the city to aspire to be.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Tue, 08 Jan 2013 00:36:49 +0000 Andy, I agree that downtown is a neighborhood. But R4C zoning does not affect downtown. To my knowledge, there are no R4C parcels there.

This particular article is about a Planning Commission discussion of the R4C/R2A citizen advisory committee. If we want to discuss downtown (which has a whole separate set of issues relating to parking), it should be in a different context.

The question about whether our current zoning system (Euclidean, which I understand to refer to a particular municipality, not to the Greek sage) is the right thing for urban planning is interesting, but it is after all our law. We should have that philosophical discussion in a separate forum.

I think that what John Q. is implying is that he is among those who would like to densify the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Again, that is a question and discussion for a different forum (a redo of the entire Master Plan of the city). It should not be done by degrees and not by stealth (small changes and spot zoning).

By: Andy Andy Mon, 07 Jan 2013 21:22:07 +0000 Also, re: #1 — citing the Whole Foods on Washtenaw actually undermines your argument. Providing additional parking at that site would only worsen the gridlock in the half-mile radius around the Huron Parkway/Washtenaw intersection. Last time I made the mistake of attempting to fill a prescription at the nearby Walgreens during evening rush hour, I made a mental note to remember to park across the street next time. The problem was less a lack of parking than the fact that it took several minutes sitting in a queue just to get from the parking lot back on to the road.

By: Andy Andy Mon, 07 Jan 2013 21:08:05 +0000 RE: #9 “The R4C issue is not about downtown residents. It is about neighborhoods.”

VA, your remark here (and Ms. Morris’ in #11) reveals an assumption that “downtown” is not itself a neighborhood, or that downtown exists independently of its adjacent neighborhoods. I think a lot of our disagreements over zoning, land use, parking, development, etc in this town partly stem from the degree to which we accept this assumption. (For the record, my personal views on this topic are closer to John Q’s but he seems to be arguing his case pretty well so I’ll leave it at that.)

Many of us (a minority, apparently) don’t necessarily buy into Euclidean zoning in the first place, which is what the whole R– vs. downtown distinction is based on. But I guess that’s a separate conversation.