The Ann Arbor city council’s second regular meeting in January is shifted to the Tuesday following the national holiday honoring the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Highlights of the Jan. 21, 2014 meeting agenda include three items related to development in the city – one for a specific project downtown and two others related to zoning regulations.
The council will be asked to approve the site plan for a revised, expanded version of the 624 Church St. project, located in the block just south of South University Avenue. An earlier version of the project went through the planning review process about a year ago, with city council approval coming on March 4, 2013.
The revised plan is for a 14-story, 116,167-square-foot building with 123 units and about 230 bedrooms. The apartment building would stand adjacent to and over the existing two-story restaurant at 618 Church, and would extend to the southeast corner of Willard and Church, where the building’s entrance will be located. Existing buildings at 624 Church Street and 1117 Willard would be torn down. The city planning commission recommended approval of the revised plan at its Dec. 17, 2013 meeting.
Also on the Jan. 21 agenda are possible future changes to the city’s downtown zoning regulations. A public hearing on the matter will be held at the Jan. 21 meeting. Three of the recommendations relate to specific parcels: (1) Rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface); (2) 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; (3) 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. Several other recommendations focused on the issue of “premiums” – certain features that a developer can provide in exchange for additional square footage.
But the decision on the 624 Church St. project will come long before the zoning revisions could be enacted. And the changes – recommended by the city’s planning commission at its Dec. 3, 2013 meeting – are focused on parts of downtown Ann Arbor other than the South University area. The council’s Jan. 21 resolution, if approved, would direct the planning commission to translate its recommendations into proposed ordinance language, which would require review and a public hearing. The specific ordinance language would then be recommended by the planning commission to the city council, which would make the ultimate decision. In general, the planning commission’s downtown zoning recommendations aim to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods.
Also its Jan. 21 meeting, the council will be asked to give initial approval for the zoning of two unzoned properties on South State Street – 1643 and 1645 S. State. They are proposed to be zoned C1 (local business district). One of those properties houses Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky. The currently unzoned parcels – located in Ward 4 just south of Stimson and the Produce Station – are owned by Stefan Hofmann. The zoning for these parcels, which were annexed into the city from Ann Arbor township in 2011, has previously been considered by the planning commission.
Back in 2011, Biercamp owners Walt Hansen and Hannah Cheadle wanted to zone the property C3 (fringe commercial district), so their business could sell a wider variety of merchandise, including products not made on site. C1 is a more restrictive type of zoning than C3, primarily related to limits on the size of a business. No drive-thru restaurants are allowed in C1 districts, and there’s an 8,000-square-foot limit on the size of a business, for example. There is no restriction in either C1 or C3 that limits the products sold to those that are made on-site.
Also on the Jan. 21 agenda are two items related to construction of sidewalks. One resolution involves a sidewalk gap from the northeast corner of Penberton Court and Waldenwood northward – to connect to a path leading the rest of the way to the King Elementary School. The council had already authorized $10,000 for the design and public process budget at its Aug. 8, 2013 meeting. A small amount of that was spent. To cover the $16,000 construction cost, an additional $6,818 of general fund money is being requested at the Jan. 21 meeting. The other sidewalk item is the first of four steps in the process to impose a special assessment on property owners for a sidewalk on the east side of Pontiac Trail, between Skydale and Dhu Varren Road.
The council will also be asked to extend the contract with the city’s public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, by six months – through June 30, 2014 – and to add $18,500 to his compensation to cover the added term. It’s a part-time position.
The council’s consent agenda includes two contracts related to the sobriety court, one of the 15th District Court’s specialty courts. The consent agenda also includes street closures in connection with three events: Winter Warriors, Shamrocks & Shenanigans, and the University of Michigan Big House 5K.
This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Tuesday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m.
624 Church St.
This project would be located south of South University Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor, next to and over the two-story Pizza House restaurant on the west side of Church. A previous version went through the planning review process and was given approval by the city council almost a year ago at its March 4, 2013 meeting.
The current, revised plan is for a 14-story, 116,167-square-foot building with 123 units and about 230 bedrooms. The apartment building would extend to the southeast corner of Willard and Church, where the building’s entrance will be located. Existing buildings at 624 Church Street and 1117 Willard would be torn down.
The original plan was for an 83,807-square-foot, 14-story building addition with 76 residential units. But after the original plan received site plan approval, the developer purchased an adjacent parcel at 1117 Willard to expand the project. The Tice family, which owns Pizza House, is partnering with Opus Group of Minnetonka, Minnesota, and 624 Partners LLC. When Pizza House expanded in 2006, the project included foundations that would allow for a taller building eventually to be constructed. [.pdf of site plan] [.pdf of draft development agreement] [.pdf of staff memo]
Premiums offered in the D1 zoning district – for buildings with residential uses, and LEED silver certification – are being used to allow a larger structure than would otherwise be permitted, gaining an additional 267% in floor area ratio for a total of 667% FAR. To use the residential premium, each bedroom must have a window directly to the outside.
The project includes a 1,491-square-foot outdoor dining area for Pizza House, which will be built underneath the apartment structure on the south side of the restaurant, opening onto Church Street. It will be partially enclosed, with large garage-style overhead doors along the front property line opening to the sidewalk.
Other features of the project and development agreement include:
- Two small offices for building management on the ground floor of the addition, with a solid waste/recycling room and bicycle parking room at the rear. There will be no new retail space.
- The top floor will include a small “club room” for residents and a rooftop patio with benches, a small grilling area, and garden trellis.
- The second floor will contain a fitness room, study lounge and five apartments. Other floors will have 11 apartments each. The apartments will be divided into: 23 one-bedroom (19%); 88 two-bedroom (72%); and 11 three-bedroom (9%). The units will range in size from 490 to 1,100 square feet.
- The developer will make a contribution of $47,120 to the city’s parks and recreation unit for improvements to the nearby Forest Plaza, adjacent to the Forest Avenue parking structure.
- The development agreement includes a requirement to disconnect 27 footing drains as part of the city’s footing drain disconnect program. That’s an increase from the 20 that were required for the previous version of the project.
The new version of this development was evaluated by the city’s design review board, which was generally supportive of the project. [.pdf of September 2013 DRB report]
The development requires 53 parking spaces under the city’s zoning. Five of those will be provided in spaces underneath the building. The previous proposal had no on-site parking. At its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority granted the owner the ability to buy a total of 48 monthly parking permits in the Forest Avenue parking structure, through the city’s contribution in lieu (CIL) program. That program requires the developer to pay 20% more than the standard rate for monthly parking permits. The DDA had already granted a request for 42 permits under the original version of the project.
At its Jan. 8 2014 meeting, the DDA board approved a request for the option to extend the monthly parking contracts for three five-year periods. Opus had wanted the ability to extend the contract’s 15-year commitment to instead cover a 30-year financing period – based on feedback from firms that would be providing the financing.
The previous development proposal had drawn concern from representatives of the adjacent Zaragon Place apartments, at 619 E. University. The concerns stemmed in part from the fact that under the previous plan, the new building would have been built up to the lot line next to Zaragon Place. The current proposal calls for a setback of 10 feet and 20 feet from that property line. According to planning staff, the city hasn’t received any feedback from adjacent property owners about this current proposal.
Downtown Zoning Recommendations
By way of background, a downtown zoning evaluation began last year, following a city council directive to the planning commission on April 1, 2o13. That direction 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, 2013.
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. [.pdf of Nov. 19 memo and draft resolution]
The commission continued the public hearing and 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 picked up the topic and heard from three people during the ongoing public hearing – all three of them addressing the issue of zoning at 425 S. Main. Following that, the commission’s discussion focused on 425 S. Main, as well as revisiting a recommendation related to the design guidelines.
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.”
In general, the final recommendations made by the planning commission at its Dec. 3, 2013 meeting aim to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods.
Three of the recommendations relate to specific parcels: (1) Rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface); (2) 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; (3) 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.
Several other recommendations focused on the issue of “premiums” – certain features that a developer can provide in exchange for additional square footage. Those recommendations are: (1) 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; (2) 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; (3) 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; (4) Eliminate the affordable housing 900% FAR (floor area ratio) “super premium”; and (5) Evaluate the downtown real estate market to determine the effectiveness of premium incentives every 2-5 years.
The council’s Jan. 21 resolution would accept the recommendations as completing the planning commission’s assignment. The resolution would further direct the planning commission to translate its recommendations into proposed ordinance language, which would require review and a public hearing. The specific ordinance language would then be recommended by the planning commission to the city council, which would make the ultimate decision after a public hearing.
State Street Zoning Request
On the city council’s Jan. 21 agenda is initial approval for the zoning of two properties on South State Street – 1643 and 1645 S. State. The zoning designation would be C1 (local business district). One of those properties houses Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky.
The unzoned parcels – located in Ward 4 just south of Stimson and the Produce Station – are owned by Stefan Hofmann. The site at 1645 S. State is used for storage. In addition to housing Biercamp, the parcel at 1643 S. State also includes an auto repair shop and furniture manufacturer, which is primarily a woodworking shop.
The zoning for these parcels, which were annexed into the city from Ann Arbor township in 2011, has previously been considered by the planning commission. That was when Biercamp owners Walt Hansen and Hannah Cheadle wanted to zone the property C3 (fringe commercial district), so their business could sell a wider variety of merchandise, including products not made on site.
When the property was annexed into the city from the township, the site had been zoned by the township for light industrial. The closest equivalent in the city’s zoning code was M-1 (limited industrial zoning). The city’s master plan – prior to the adoption of the South State Street corridor plan – called for light industrial zoning in that area, but M-1 zoning would only allow for retail space to occupy 20% of the building’s floor area, to sell products made on-site.
At its Sept. 8, 2011 meeting, the planning commission unanimously recommended denial of that C3 zoning request, based on the proposed zoning being inconsistent with the city’s master plan. The request was then made directly to the city council, which also denied the request at a meeting on Feb. 21, 2012.
At the time, planning commissioners also were advocating for a broader study of the State Street corridor. That study was subsequently completed, and on July 15, 2013, the city council adopted the South State Street corridor plan as an amendment to the master plan’s land use element.
According to a staff memo, the adoption of the corridor plan into the city’s master plan prompted city planning staff to initiate the current zoning request. The C1 zoning is consistent with recommendations in the master plan, which calls for a mixed-use neighborhood retail center in that area to serve the Yost and Burns Park neighborhoods.
C1 is a more restrictive type of zoning than C3, primarily related to limits on the size of a business. No drive-thru restaurants are allowed in C1 districts, and there’s an 8,000-square-foot limit on the size of a business, for example. There is no restriction in either C1 or C3 that limits the products sold to those that are made on-site.
The city’s planning commission recommended C1 zoning for these parcels at its Dec. 17, 2013 meeting.
Public Art Administrator
The council will be asked to extend the contract with the city’s public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, by six months – through June 30, 2014 – and to add $18,500 to his compensation to cover the added term. A total of $20,500 would be appropriated from the balance in the public art fund, with the additional money to cover various expenses. Seagraves is contracted to work an average of 20 hours a week.
By way of background, the city council enacted a public art ordinance in late 2007, setting up a Percent for Art program as a funding mechanism. For each of the city’s capital projects, 1% of the budget – up to a cap of $250,000 – was set aside for public art. The Ann Arbor public art commission oversaw the expenditures. However, the approach proved controversial and the city council changed the ordinance to eliminate the Percent for Art funding mechanism at its June 3, 2013 meeting. That ordinance change came after a failed public art millage that was put before voters in the November 2012 election.
Under the new approach, city staff will work to determine whether a specific capital improvement should have enhanced design features “baked in” to the project – either enhanced architectural work or specific public art. The funding for any of the enhanced features would be included in the project’s budget and incorporated into the RFP (request for proposals) process for the capital project.
The funds accrued to the public art fund during the time of the Percent for Art program are still subject to the same legal constraints – which require a thematic link between the original source of the funds (e.g., the street millage) and the piece of art to be funded. The council debate at its June 3, 2013 meeting included wrangling about what to do with that fund balance, with Jane Lumm (Ward 2) arguing unsuccessfully that $845,029 should be returned to the funds of origin. The council voted to return only the money that had accrued to the fund in the most recent budget year – $326,464.
According to a budget distributed at the Ann Arbor public art commission’s Jan. 23, 2013 meeting, the public art fund had at that time an available balance of $1.453 million. Of that, about $607,800 was already allocated for projects already underway, including artwork for East Stadium bridges ($400,000), Argo Cascades ($150,000) and in a rain garden at First and Kingsley ($27,000). The remaining funds totaled about $845,000. [.pdf of Jan. 2013 budget summary]
Updated after publication: A budget summary provided by Seagraves in response to a Chronicle email shows a balance of $839,507 in available funds for public art, as of Jan. 14, 2014. An additional $535,853 is earmarked for three projects that are underway: artwork at East Stadium bridges ($385,709), a rain garden at Kingsley and First ($7,009), and at Argo Cascades ($143,134). [.pdf of financial summary]
Two items involving construction of new sidewalks – at two specific locations – appear on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda.
By way of background, at its Aug. 8, 2013 meeting, the city council had approved a $10,000 design budget for a sidewalk to fill in a gap from the northeast corner of Penberton Court and Waldenwood northward, connecting to a path leading the rest of the way to the King Elementary School.
In its form, that resolution was similar to other sidewalk design budgets the council approved last year. [For example, the council approved similar design budgets for a sidewalk on Barton Drive at its July 15, 2013 meeting, a sidewalk on Newport Road at its Jan. 22, 2013 meeting, and for a sidewalk on Scio Church Road at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting.]
However, the sidewalk gap near King Elementary School includes a history of advocacy by nearby resident and former Ann Arbor Public Schools board member Kathy Griswold dating back to 2009.
For students crossing Waldenwood from the west to attend school, the new segment of sidewalk would allow them to make the crossing at the intersection, where there is a four-way stop – instead of crossing the street using a mid-block crosswalk. According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, “The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Transportation Safety Committee has agreed the use of a new crosswalk at this stop controlled location would be preferable over the existing mid-block crossing at the school entrance.”
From the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010, Griswold addressed the council on at least nine occasions on the topic of the King Elementary School crosswalk and the related sidewalk gap. The construction of a sidewalk had been met with opposition by the immediately adjoining property owners. And the more recent feedback, reflected in the staff memo for the Jan. 21 meeting, indicates that an Oct. 3, 2013 neighborhood meeting attended by 22 people resulted in 15 feedback forms, 10 of which indicated support and 5 of which indicated opposition.
The funding of new sidewalks – as contrasted with repair of existing sidewalks – is typically achieved at least partly through a special assessment on adjoining property owners. Sidewalk repair, but not new construction, can be paid for with the city’s sidewalk repair millage.
In the case of the Waldenwood sidewalk, it’s located to the rear of the residential properties – and the city does not typically special assess properties to finance sidewalks to the rear of a property.
Sidewalks: Pontiac Trail
In a different sidewalk-related item, the council will be asked to take the first of four steps in the process to impose a special assessment on property owners for a sidewalk on the east side of Pontiac Trail, between Skydale and Dhu Varren Road. The project would also construct a concrete curb and gutter northward from Skydale about 920 feet along the east side of Pontiac Trail and about 1,030 feet along the west side of Pontiac Trail. Those stretches currently don’t have a curb and gutter.
This first step directs the city administrator to prepare plans, specifications and a cost estimate.
On the council’s consent agenda are two items related to the sobriety court, which is a specialty court within the 15th District Court.
One is a contract with Washtenaw County Community Support & Treatment Services (CSTS) to provide mental health treatment services to defendants who appear in the sobriety court. The amount of the contract is $45,271 and is funded with a grant from the Supreme Court of Michigan State Court Administrative Office Michigan Drug Court Grant Program (SCAO-MDCGP).
The second is a contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office to provide drug abuse screening services of defendants in the sobriety court and the veterans treatment court. The amount of the contract is $23,200 and is paid for through the Supreme Court of Michigan State Court Administrative Office Veterans Treatment Court Grant Program (SCAO-MVTCGP) and the Supreme Court of Michigan State Court Administrative Office Drug Court Grant program (SCAO-MDCGP).
Three street closings appear on the council’s consent agenda:
- Feb. 1, 2014 Winter Warriors. The event will shut down a half block of E. Washington outside the Arbor Brewing Company. The fundraiser to “terminate” hunger with a special batch of Terminator Doppelbock entails sitting outside in the cold.
- March 9, 2014 Shamrocks and Shenanigans 5K Run/Walk. The course is straight up Main Street from the corner of Main and Stadium into downtown Ann Arbor, where it loops around. [.pdf of Shamrocks and Shenanigans street closures]
- April 6, 2014 University of Michigan Big House 5K. Streets to be closed are in the vicinity of the university campus. The finish takes runners into Michigan Stadium down the tunnel with a finish at the 50-yard line.
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