At their April 16, 2013 meeting, Ann Arbor planning commissioners recommended that the city council approve a set of changes to the city’s R4C/R2A residential zoning districts. The commission also recommended that the city council direct the planning staff and commissioners to develop ordinance language that would implement these recommendations.
Any specific ordinance changes would require separate review by the planning commission and approval by the council. That process is likely to take several months, at least. [.pdf of staff report and R4C/R2A recommendations]
The R4C/R2A recommendations were made by the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC), informed by an advisory committee that had made a separate report last year. Planning commissioners had been briefed on the recommendations at their April 9, 2013 working session. [See Chronicle coverage: "R4C Draft Readied for Planning Commission."]
Eight people spoke during a public hearing on the recommendations, including several who’d been involved in the R4C/R2A advisory committee. They raised a variety of concerns primarily related to lot combinations, parking requirements, and a proposed “group housing” district.
Related to lot combinations, several speakers urged commissioners to institute a maximum lot size of 6,525 square feet, equal to an allowable density of three units. This had been a recommendation of the advisory committee, in an effort to prevent projects like the large City Place apartment buildings on South Fifth Avenue.
In contrast, the planning commission’s recommendations call for more flexibility in combining lots, but don’t yet provide a lot of detail about how that approach would work. In general, lot combinations would require planning commission approval as part of a project’s site plan review. Review standards will still need to be developed, as well as standards for design and massing, to ensure that new development is compatible with the neighborhood.
The proposed group housing district was another point of concern for speakers during the public hearing. ORC 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 idea is to address issues that are somewhat unique to neighborhoods with a large amount of student housing.
In general, the approach is intended to allow for flexibility by putting 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 recommendations call for details of this new district to be fleshed out in a second phase, after other ordinance changes are made that are seen as more straightforward.
Commissioners discussed the terminology for this proposed district, with some preferring the term “flexible housing” rather than “group housing,” which was the phrase used in the Central Area Plan. Commissioners appeared to reach consensus in directing Matt Kowalski – the city planner who’s taken the lead on this project – to clarify the group housing term as one that’s based on the Central Area Plan. Kowalski intends to make some other minor revisions to the draft report, based on feedback from commissioners, before forwarding it to the city council for consideration.
If the recommendations meet with approval from the 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.
This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]