Following months of public input and review by a consultant hired by the city, Ann Arbor planning commissioners finalized a set of recommendations to revise parts of the city’s downtown zoning. Those recommendations will now be forwarded to the city council. The action took place at the commission’s Dec. 3, 2013 meeting.
The recommendations, which in general aim to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods, included the following:
- Rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface).
- Reduce the maximum height in the East Huron 1 Character District (on the north side of Huron, between Division and State) to 120 feet. Include a tower diagonal maximum and consider a step-back requirement to reduce the shading of residential properties to the north.
- Rezone the parcel at 425 S. Main, at the southeast corner of Main and William, from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface) and establish a maximum height of 60 feet for D2 zoning in the Main Street Character District.
- Revise the premium conditions to require mandatory compliance with core design guidelines for a project to receive any premium in the D1 or D2 districts.
- Reduce the residential premium with the goal of encouraging the use of other existing or proposed premiums to compensate for this reduction, such as increased energy efficiency certification, open space with landscape, active ground floor use, balconies and workforce housing.
- Review options in D1 and D2 districts, with the housing and humans services advisory board (HHSAB), for providing additional affordable housing within mixed income projects or through other funding mechanisms.
- Eliminate the affordable housing 900% FAR (floor area ratio) “super premium.”
- Evaluate the downtown real estate market to determine the effectiveness of premium incentives every 2-5 years.
The commission debated most of these recommendations at its Nov. 19, 2013 meeting, which adjourned at about 12:30 a.m. The group did not tackle the most controversial item that night: Possible changes to the parcel at 425 S. Main, at the southeast corner of Main and William.
On Dec. 3, commissioners heard from Scott R. Bonney of Neumann/Smith Architecture, who spoke on behalf of KRG Investments, the owners of the Main and William property. Bonney had previously written a letter to the city that suggested a third option to consider: Keep the D1 zoning on that site, but reduce the maximum height to 122 feet and add a tower diagonal maximum of 50% of the maximum diagonal dimension of the site. The letter included diagrams showing the impact this proposal, which Bonney discussed on Dec. 3. [.pdf of Bonney's letter]
Bonnie Bona, who had been involved in the original A2D2 process, advocated for downzoning the entire site, to provide a buffer between D1 zoning and the nearby residential neighborhood. Some commissioners, including chair Kirk Westphal, would like more density in the downtown, and noted that the site has allowed for denser development since the 1960s. The final vote on the recommendation for that site was 5-4, with support from Bona, Eleanore Adenekan, Sabra Briere, Jeremy Peters and Wendy Woods. Voting against it were Westphal, Ken Clein, Diane Giannola and Paras Parekh.
Also, because of feedback received from the city’s design review board, commissioners revisited one of the previously settled recommendations regarding compliance with design guidelines. They unanimously voted to change the recommendation – so that it would require mandatory compliance with some of the design guidelines. The intent is to develop a process that will clarify the design compliance that will be required in order to receive premiums.
The vote on the full resolution with all of the recommendations, as amended, passed unanimously.
The downtown zoning evaluation began earlier this year, following a city council directive to the planning commission on April 1, 2o13 that was prompted in part by the controversial 413 E. Huron development, at the northeast corner of Huron and Division. The council’s direction was for the planning commission to make recommendations to the city council by Oct. 1.
Planning consultant ENP & Associates was hired to gather public input and evaluate certain aspects of downtown zoning known as A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown), which was adopted in 2009. ENP’s Erin Perdu took the lead on this project.
Her report had been originally presented at the commission’s Oct. 8, 2013 working session. [.pdf of consultant's downtown zoning report] [.pdf of Appendix A: city council resolution regarding zoning review] [.pdf Appendix B: list of downtown development projects since 2000] [.pdf of Appendix C: public input results]
Commissioners held a public hearing on the consultant’s recommendations that began on Oct. 15, 2013, and continued at their Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. They also discussed the recommendations at a Nov. 12 working session. Based on that discussion, planning manager Wendy Rampson made revisions to Perdu’s original set of recommendations. Rampson drafted a memo and resolution containing these revised recommendations, which served as the basis for the Nov. 19 discussion. [.pdf of Nov. 19 memo and draft resolution]
The recommendations approved by planning commissioners on Dec. 3 now will be forwarded to the city council for consideration. The intent is for the council to review the recommendations and give direction back to the commission about which recommendations to implement. At that point, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee would work with city planning staff to craft actual ordinance language.
Any specific ordinance changes would be reviewed by the full planning commission and ultimately would require city council approval before taking effect. That process would include additional opportunities for public input.
For additional background on this process, see Chronicle coverage: “Feedback on Downtown Zoning Continues“; “Downtown Zoning Review Nears Final Phase“; “Priorities Emerge in Downtown Zoning Review”; ”Downtown Zoning Review Moves Forward” and “Downtown Zoning Review to Wrap Up Soon.”
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]