On the evening of Jan. 5, 2011, First Hospitality Group Inc. hosted a citizens participation meeting for the hotel project it’s proposing at the southwest corner of Washington and Division streets. The proposal calls for a 9-story, 104-room, LEED-certified building, facing South Division. The meeting, held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, was required by city ordinance – before submitting a site plan for the city to review, developers must invite owners of property within 1,000 feet of a proposed project to a forum that describes the plan.
Much of the conversation between residents and First Hospitality’s Ira Ury revolved around the city’s downtown design guidelines. Even before the meeting, as Ury and resident Ilene Tyler introduced themselves, Tyler wanted to know if First Hospitality had used the design guidelines to develop the schematics on display.
Ury explained that his team had used the draft of the design guidelines that is available on the city’s website. But that draft, which dates from late 2009, has undergone considerable revision since February 2010, when the council appointed a task force to undertake further study and make a recommendation. The task force has been meeting almost weekly for the better part of the past year.
The task force unveiled its draft at a city council work session on Monday, Jan. 10. One key difference between the 2009 draft and the version the task force has now unveiled is the re-introduction of the original design guidelines advisory committee’s October 2007 recommendation for a design review process. It would be a mandatory process overseen by a design guidelines review board, with voluntary compliance by petitioners. But as Ray Detter, president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, put it to Ury on Wednesday, if a developer doesn’t comply with the recommendations of the review board, “Everyone will know!”
Depending on the timing of city council approval of the design guidelines, First Hospitality’s project could be the first site plan that undergoes a formal design guidelines review process. At the council’s work session, Ward 4 councilmember Marcia Higgins said she planned to attach the final draft to the city council’s Jan. 18 agenda as a communications item, and to bring it forward for council approval at the Feb. 7 meeting.
What exactly are these design guidelines? Where did they come from? When might they be approved?