According to city council sources, a resolution calling for a moratorium on development in downtown Ann Arbor will be placed on the Feb. 19, 2013 meeting agenda. As of Feb. 14, the item had not yet been added.
If the moratorium were enacted – a pause that might last up to a year – it would delay a controversial proposed residential project at 413 E. Huron. During the proposed moratorium, the planning commission would be directed to review the zoning designations for the D1 (downtown core) and D2 (interface), and make recommendations to the city council for possible zoning changes. During the moratorium, projects for D1 and D2 areas that do not already have a planning commission recommendation of approval could not be considered by the city council. The D1 and D2 zoning is relatively young, having been enacted on Nov. 16, 2009 – as the result of the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) process.
Results of the planning commission’s review of D1 and D2 zoning, according to the Feb. 19 draft resolution, would be due to the city council by the end of August 2013. The maximum length of the moratorium would be a year from the date of enactment. If the council were to change the zoning designation, and if that decision survived any legal challenge, that could ultimately stop the 413 E. Huron project from ever being built.
That project calls for a 14-story, 271,855-square-foot apartment building with 533 bedrooms, marketed primarily to university students. The parcel is zoned D1 – the highest allowable density in the city. The northern edge of the site is adjacent to the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, including historic single-family homes along North Division.
During extended commentary at the project’s public hearing before the planning commission – on Feb. 5, 2013 and Jan. 15, 2013 – several speakers called for changing the zoning of the parcel from D1 to D2. And more than one speaker addressed the idea that changing the zoning of the parcel now – when the developer is in the process of submitting the project to the city for approval – might give the developer a basis for a legal claim against the city.
In support of their contention that the city would, even at this stage in the process, be on solid legal ground in changing the zoning, speakers cited section 10.7 of the book “Michigan Zoning, Planning and Land Use”: “A Michigan landowner does not acquire a vested right to a particular land use until it has made substantial physical improvements to the land, pursuant to a validly issued building permit. This does not include demolition of existing structures on the site. Money spent preparing to construct will not suffice to create a vested right in the current zoning classification. The substantial improvements also must be made under authority of a building permit in order for the owner to acquire a vested interest in the current zoning.”
The resolution evidently is an attempt to ensure that possible future action by the council to rezone property in the downtown would not target just the 413 E. Huron project. Instead, the idea would be that any changes would stem from a more general evaluation of the city’s downtown zoning.
The 413 E. Huron project failed to get a recommendation of approval from the planning commission – because the 5-3 vote tally on Feb. 5 left it one vote short of the required six-vote majority. [One commissioner, Eric Mahler, was absent.] That 5-3 vote factors crucially in the moratorium that the council will reportedly be asked to consider on Feb. 19. The moratorium would stipulate that the city council won’t consider any future site plans for approval, except those already recommended for approval by the planning commission. So 413 E. Huron would not be eligible for consideration by the city council if the moratorium were enacted.
Another downtown project still needing action by the city council in order to proceed is a residential development at 624 Church St. The moratorium would not apply to the 624 Church St. project – because it received a recommendation of approval from the planning commission on Jan. 15, 2013. That 83,807-square-foot, $17 million project is located next to Pizza House, on the west side of Church between South University and Willard. The building would include 75 apartments with a total of about 175 bedrooms, ranging in size from 490 to 1,100 square feet.
The Ann Arbor city council considered a similar kind of moratorium, a bit more than three years ago, in connection with the City Place apartment project on South Fifth Avenue, which has since been completed. On that occasion, a moratorium was proposed on new development in districts zoned with the classification of R4C (multi-family residential) or R2A (two-family residential).
The intent of that moratorium was to block the construction of the City Place project. But on Aug. 6, 2009, the council voted down the proposed moratorium. The proposal had come from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who ultimately did not support the final resolution – because it was amended so heavily in the course of council deliberations. It was amended specifically to allow the City Place project to proceed. The only councilmembers who supported the amended moratorium resolution were Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden and Christopher Taylor.
Glossing over several details of the City Place timeline, the council instead opted to appoint a historic district study committee for a two-block area that included the City Place site, and attached a moratorium on the demolition of structures in the study area. The council eventually received a recommendation from the study committee to establish a historic district, but chose not to establish one. Subsequently, the two-building, 144-bedroom City Place project was built.
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