Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 20, 2013): As the city council considers selling the former Y site at 350 S. Fifth, planning commissioners have outlined the kind of development they’d like to see at that location.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend that the council, if it decides to proceed with a sale, should use a request for qualifications (RFQ) and request for proposals (RFP) process.
The planning commission is also recommending that the council impose a set of conditions for future development. The list includes mixed-use development that encourages foot traffic and active first-floor uses, an entry plaza or open space, and mandatory compliance with the city’s design guidelines.
The site was one of five parcels that was the focus of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project. Much of the Aug. 20 discussion centered on the use of CWS as a framework for the resolution.
Sabra Briere, who serves as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, suggested removing entirely references to the CWS project. The council never adopted the CWS report or took any action to implement the CWS recommendations, she noted. Briere felt that leaving those references to CWS in the commission’s resolution might make some councilmembers more resistant to it.
Wendy Woods, a former councilmember, countered that “our role is not to give pablum to council.” The commission’s role is to give advice as a body, regardless of how it might be received by the council, Woods said. She also pointed out that it’s not necessarily Briere’s role to advocate for positions taken by the commission. “The planning commission is its own advocate and we stand on our own,” Woods said.
Bonnie Bona and Diane Giannola, who drafted the resolution, pointed to the amount of public input that had been solicited during the CWS process, and felt that it was more powerful for the commission’s recommendations to be supported by that input. Giannola didn’t want to get into the politics of guessing what the council might support, but offered to extract references to CWS from the two resolved clauses. That compromise was acceptable to Briere and the other commissioners. [.pdf of amended Y lot resolution]
During the discussion, Briere also reported that the broker hired by the city to handle a possible sale has been meeting with councilmembers to talk about the Y lot. The broker is likely to suggest putting as few stipulations on the property as possible, she said, because he believes that such stipulations will lower the purchase price. That’s not necessarily what all councilmembers believe, she noted, but it’s what they’re being told.
The commission’s resolution will be forwarded to the city council as an item of communication, and will possibly appear on the agenda as soon as Sept. 3.
In other action, commissioners recommended approval of a two-story addition that more than doubles the size of the Honda vehicle testing facility on Ann Arbor’s south side. The existing 19,357-square-foot building, built in 1975, is located at 3947 Research Park Drive on a 2.72-acre site. During a public hearing on the project, a representative of American Honda Motor Co. reported that the expansion will include a state-of-the-art environmental testing chamber, to help Honda develop vehicles with cleaner fuel emissions. The $4.3 million project is expected to increase the number of employees who work at the site from 6 to 10.
Commissioners also recommended approval of (1) the site plan for a proposed Belle Tire at 590 W. Ellsworth – just east of the intersection with South State Street, and (2) an annexation and zoning request for 2640 Miller Road, on the city’s northwest side.