Changes to parking requirements, lot combinations, and creation of a possible new “group housing” zoning district are among the draft recommendations that have been presented to Ann Arbor planning commissioners for the city’s R4c/R2A zoning districts. It’s a project that’s been years in the works. [.pdf of staff memo and proposed R4C/R2A draft recommendations]
An April 9, 2013 working session was a first chance for all commissioners to have a look at the recommendations, which will be formally presented at the commission’s April 16 regular meeting.
The commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC) has been working on draft recommendations since the summer of 2012. The committee’s work follows a report delivered in May 2012 by an R4C/R2A zoning district study advisory committee that had worked on the issue since December 2009. [.pdf of advisory committee report.
For more background on the issues leading up to this current study – which dates back several decades – see Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Weighs R4C/R2A Report" and "Effort to Overhaul R4C Zoning Continues"]
R4C zoning allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings. R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. Although both types of zoning are being addressed, R4C zoning is receiving the most attention. That type of zoning classification – which allowed for the controversial City Place development on South Fifth Avenue – has been characterized by city planners as “broken.” The advisory committee’s work had focused on preserving the character of existing neighborhoods, in part by preventing current structures from being demolished and replaced with larger buildings.
The current draft recommendations propose implementing changes in two phases. The first phase primarily includes changes that were recommended by the advisory committee, with some modifications made by the ORC. [.pdf of chart comparing existing code, advisory committee recommendations, and ORC recommendations]
For example, the ORC is recommending parking requirements that less stringent than either the existing requirement of 1.5 spaces per unit or the advisory committee recommendations (1.5 spaces per unit for 0-4 bedroom units, and 2 spaces per unit for 5-6 bedrooms). The ORC parking recommendation is for 1 space per unit for 0-4 bedrooms, and 1.5 spaces per unit for 5-6 bedrooms.
In addition, the ORC is recommending these changes for the first phase:
- Lot combinations need approval: Planning commission approval would be required for lot combinations in R4C districts, as part of a project’s site plan review. Review standards would be developed, as well as standards for design and massing, to ensure that new development is compatible with the neighborhood. [The advisory commission had recommended instituting a maximum lot size of 6,525 square feet, equal to an allowable density of three units. The ORC consensus was that this maximum lot size would be too restrictive.]
- Conflicting land use buffer for vehicle areas only: The only areas that would require screening would be those used for vehicles – such as areas used for parking. This recommendation essentially reverts to the requirements used prior to 2011, when the city instituted changes to its landscape ordinance. Those changes expanded the conflicting land use buffer requirement in R4C districts to apply to the screening of buildings, in addition to vehicular use areas. The change resulted in an increase in variance requests for redevelopment in R4C districts, given the small size of the lots. [The issue was not part of the advisory committee's recommendations.]
- Further study of R2A district: Further study is called for to determine if the R2A lot size should be reduced to 6,000 square feet, allowing opportunities for duplex conversions. This number is based on the lot size requirement that was in place prior to 1984, when the requirement was raised to 8,500 square feet. [The advisory committee did not recommend zoning changes in the R2A district.]
Based on discussions among staff and the ORC at previous meetings attended by The Chronicle, these first-phase recommendations are seen as somewhat easier to implement, because there is general consensus on them.
A second phase would focus on creating a “group housing” zoning district. The advisory committee had recommended preserving the character of existing R4C neighborhoods by creating overlay districts on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, with standards for massing, design and patterns of development. Instead of that approach, ORC has recommended designating a new zoning district, located south and west of the University of Michigan’s central campus – an area outlined in the city’s Central Area Plan. [.pdf of Central Area Plan]
The intent is to address issues that are somewhat unique to neighborhoods with a large amount of student housing. In general, the approach would allow for flexibility through the use of limits on floor-area ratio (FAR) – with premiums provided in exchange for community benefits such as pedestrian-friendly and architectural design standards. For example, parking would be based on FAR, independent of the number of units in a structure. The ORC also recommends studying a payment-in-lieu-of-parking approach, similar to the policy in place for the downtown area.
About a dozen members of the public and from the R4C/R2A advisory committee attended the April 9 work session, as did city councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5). There were two opportunities for public commentary. Several members of the advisory committee expressed concerns about the proposed group housing district, as well as with other aspects of the recommendations related to parking, lot size, lot combinations and other elements.
The planning commission intends to hold a public hearing on these recommendations at its April 16, 2013 meeting. If approved, the recommendations would be forwarded to the city council for consideration. If the recommendations meet with approval from the city council, the planning staff would then work with the city attorney’s office to develop specific ordinance revisions to implement the recommendations. Those ordinance changes would also be reviewed by the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee before being voted on again by the full planning commission and then the city council.
The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of publicly-funded entities like the city’s planning commission. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.