The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Ann Arbor city planning commission it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Platt Road Housing Project Partially Delayed Sun, 10 Aug 2014 15:20:57 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 6, 2014): Ann Arbor city planning commissioners took mixed action on a proposed Ann Arbor housing commission (AAHC) property.

From left: Scott Betzoldt of Midwestern Consulting, Ann Arbor Housing Commission executive director Jennifer Hall, and project architect for AAHC's proposed development at 3451 Platt Road.

From left: Scott Betzoldt of Midwestern Consulting, Ann Arbor housing commission executive director Jennifer Hall, and John Mouat, project architect for AAHC’s proposed development at 3451 Platt Road.

They sent the rezoning request for the 3451 Platt Road property – R1C (single-family dwelling district) and R2A (two-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district) – to the city council with a recommendation of approval. However, commissioners postponed consideration of the site plan for the five-building, 32-unit project, amid concerns about the site’s location in the floodplain and stormwater management.

Zoning and site plan approval must ultimately be given by the city council. However, the zoning approval will require two votes by the council at two separate meetings – because changes to the zoning code are actually changes to a city ordinance. So the delay on the approval of the site plan would not necessarily delay the project, as long at the site plan is put in front of the council for consideration by the time the council takes a second vote on the rezoning.

AAHC is hoping that the zoning and site plan approval can be obtained from the city council by sometime in mid-October, because that will help support a grant application.

Several residents who live near the proposed site spoke against the project during the public hearing on Aug. 6, while advocates for more affordable housing spoke in support of it. That public hearing will be continued when the site plan is next taken up by the commission.

The question of whether those speakers will be allowed to speak again at that same public hearing is the type of issue that was addressed in a different item handled by the commission at its Aug. 6 meeting. The commission approved revisions to its bylaws, including one stipulating that people who have already spoken at a public hearing can speak at a continuation of that public hearing only at the discretion of the planning commission chair – or if a proposal has changed in a material way between the initial portion of the hearing and the continued portion.

Revisions to the planning commission bylaws will be forwarded to the city council for approval.

AAHC Platt Road Project

At its Aug. 6 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission considered two actions related to an Ann Arbor housing commission project at 3451 Platt Road.

Ann Arbor housing commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 3451 Platt.

The first was a rezoning proposal on 3.1 acres – from R1C (single-family dwelling district) and R2A (two-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). The site includes a property currently owned by AAHC, as well as an adjacent parcel that’s being purchased by the city on behalf of AAHC. The rezoning request needs approval from the city council, in a two-step process.

In a separate item, the commission considered a recommendation on a proposed site plan for the low-income housing development, to allow AAHC time to address staff concerns regarding the impact on natural features. The site plan will also need city council approval. AAHC hopes to have a decision on the zoning and the site plan from the city council by mid-October, to enhance a grant application.

The project calls for demolishing four single-family homes and one two-family building, and constructing a 32-unit apartment complex with five buildings, 61 parking spaces, a playground, and a community building. The new apartments will include: 8 one-bedroom units; 12 two-bedroom units; 6 three-bedroom units; 2 four-bedroom units; and 4 five-bedroom units.

Two of the proposed buildings would be in the floodplain, which raised concerns from city staff. The AAHC is working to address those concerns – possibly by eliminating or reducing the number of buildings in the floodplain. It’s expected that the AAHC can address the issues raised by city staff so that the site plan can return to the planning commission at its Aug. 19 meeting. [.pdf of planning staff report] [.pdf of June 28, 2014 citizen participation meeting report]

This project is part of major renovations and improvements the commission is making to its low-income housing inventory. For background on the AAHC process of renovating its properties, see Chronicle coverage: “Public Housing Conversion Takes Next Step.”

Alexis DiLeo, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alexis DiLeo of the city planning staff.

This project is not the same site as a county-owned property on Platt Road, which is also being considered for affordable housing.

City planner Alexis DiLeo gave the staff report on the project. She described how staff had considered how modifications might be made under a “planned project” designation – to allow a single mid-rise building 6-9 stories tall, or to allow decreased side setbacks and building spacing. But those decreased setbacks might not be desirable to neighbors, she said. DiLeo’s remarks on those “planned project” modifications were met with headshaking from some in the audience.

On the rezoning issue, DiLeo commented that the R4B zoning district allows for every type of dwelling unit and noted that the parcel is big enough to be zoned with its own zoning designation. The city staff from various departments are providing feedback on the site plan proposal, DiLeo said, and the systems planning department had just completed its comments – so the AAHC has not had time to examine those comments. The city’s floodplain coordinator [Jerry Hancock] does not support the existing design, she noted.

The staff were making a split recommendation – to recommend the rezoning, but to delay the site plan. Given the two-step approval process that the council must follow for changes to zoning regulations – with an initial and final vote taken at two separate meetings – the site plan should be able to catch up and could go to council for action at the same time the zoning is considered for final approval, DiLeo thought. That would be in mid-October, she said, “if all the stars align.”

Planning commission chair Wendy Woods indicated that Ron Woods, her husband, serves on the AAHC board. She had no financial interest in the project, but said that she could recuse herself at the pleasure of the commission. None of the other commissioners objected to Woods’ participation in the deliberations and vote on the project.

AAHC Platt Road Project: Public Hearing

The public hearing on this project drew 17 speakers.

Sarah McCallum told the commission she lives within 1,000 feet of the project. She’s been a homeowner for 10 years. She had several concerns, she said. One concern was that she’d attended a citizens participation meeting in February held at the Malletts Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. The site plan presented at that meeting was drastically different from the one now being presented. The current plan has a scope that is exponentially larger, she said – up to 78 bedrooms. She also had concerns about the floodplain. The fact that the buildings won’t have basements means that if there were a storm or tornado, residents would have nowhere to seek shelter.

Joan Doughty, Jennifer Hall, Ann Arbor housing commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, Community Action Network, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Joan Doughty, executive director of the nonprofit Community Action Network (CAN), and housing commission executive director Jennifer Hall.

McCallum also told the commission that traffic in the morning is very congested – because the road had been reduced to two lanes and two bike lanes. The project would result in additional congestion, she said. Property values since she purchased her home started off nice, then decreased but have started to recover. She was concerned about the negative impact of the project on surrounding property values. She questioned why affordable housing projects were being “pushed on” that neighborhood? The neighborhood already had the Hikone project [also operated by AAHC].

She was not opposed to affordable housing – but the proposed project was too dense. She noted that 60% of students at the nearby Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle School qualified for free or reduced lunches. She wondered if the neighborhood could afford additional affordable housing units. She reiterated that she was not opposed to affordable housing. She asked the commission to postpone action, saying that half the people who would have attended a July 28 public meeting weren’t in town.

Julie Steiner, former executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, spoke in support of the project. While previous speaker, Sarah McCallum, thought the project was dense, Steiner called the 32 units acceptable. A different developer could build more units than that, she pointed out. This project is a chance to put in more affordable housing – in a neighborhood with good schools and transportation. The project is recommended to be built to “green” standards, with the possibility that solar panels will be installed, Steiner said. AAHC is also thinking of adding a community center so services can be provided on-site and children have somewhere go and something to do. No matter where we try to put affordable housing, neighborhoods will object, Steiner ventured. But the city only has a limited amount of land.

Flo Burke told the commission that the Aug. 6 meeting was the third one she’d attended on this project. She contended that the notes about those meetings that the AACH had provided to the planning commission had not reflected a lot of the comments made at the meetings. There were a lot of people who’d attend the meetings who didn’t think the project was a good idea, she said – like Sarah McCallum, who’d led off the public hearing. Burke told the commission that she lived on Springbrook. Neighbors on Springbrook are not opposed to public housing or low-income housing, she said. And in fact many of them are low-income residents themselves. She noted that she’d received money from a community development block grant to renovate her house. She pointed out that public housing at Hikone is located not far from the proposed project. She asked the commission to pay attention to residents and not to affordable housing advocates.

Paul Zsenyuk told the commission that he lived across the street from the proposed project. He’d lived there for 27 years and paid taxes. He’d put money into his house fixing it up, he said. Things had reached a point where he had a hard time going to retrieve his mail from the mailbox on Platt Road because there is so much traffic. He told the commission that he was 61 and would be retiring. He didn’t want to sit on his porch and look at that development. He liked the peace and quiet of the property now, and he didn’t want that changed, concluding, “This is not acceptable to me at all.”

Tracy Williams introduced himself as a member of Camp Take Notice, MISSION and Camp Misfit. He understood that there’s a lot of need for affordable housing, he told the commission. Affordable housing should stay affordable and not go up, he said. About the development of the land, he said, this is Ann Arbor and we all knew it was going to grow.

Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Wendy Woods, chair of the planning commission.

Peg Ball addressed the commission from her wheelchair. She told the commission she was really excited about this development. She’d spoken with the architect before the meeting [John Mouat]. Many new developments are built with 8-10 or 20-step stairs. But this proposed development includes “visitability” – and that means that every unit will be enterable by people with disabilities. That’s something that’s needed, she said: People with disabilities want to be a part of the community and be able to visit neighbors, just like able-bodied people do.

Seth Best told the commission that he lived at the corner of Packard and Platt. As someone who needs affordable housing, he was very excited about the proposed project. The proposed design makes it looks like a residential community as opposed to an apartment complex, he said. As far as the concern that during a tornado, a house with no basement would have no place to offer shelter, Best told the commission that people down South live in houses built on slabs and they survive bad weather. The 78 bedrooms that would be built as a part of this project should be considered in the context of the 500 units that are needed, he said. Some people have to choose between sleeping on the street or visiting the shelter, he said. He relied on disability payments, which were $1,000 a month and he was paying $690 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. He thanked god he had a Section 8 voucher. He’d come to Ann Arbor because it was safe, and he was also staying because he expected it would stay that way. Best concluded his remarks by congratulating Sabra Briere on her run for mayor, saying he was sorry that it didn’t work out – but she’d run a wonderful campaign. [Briere is a city councilmember who also serves on the planning commission.]

Greg Pratt addressed the issue of the floodplain by telling the commission that Swift Run ran behind his house. His house is built on a slab, because that’s the way it needs to be built given that the Swift Run drain is that close. He’s a member of MISSION, and that group works with hundreds of people who have no place to go at night. He was in support of the AAHC project.

Tom Snoblen said he’s in favor of Section 8 housing. But he’d bought his house as an investment. And he really didn’t want to see a big building like that across the street from him. He wanted to see the zoning stay the same.

Abdul Al-Samadi told the commission that he and my family would be affected as they live at 3451 Platt, one of the houses that is proposed to be demolished.  They love their neighborhood and  they have a strong sense of community, he said. The proposal will construct a big building in a field, he said – where they enjoy playing soccer. He felt the project is not going to be feasible, because it’s going to be overcrowded. Platt Road is crowded as it is, he said.

Judy Shapiro told the commission she lived right across the street from the proposed project. She and her husband had bought the house they live in 13 years ago, and they knew that the AAHC property was located across the street from theirs. But they thought it would keep the same zoning. Right across the street the zoning is for single family. There is supposed to be a process for changing the zoning, she said. There were a lot of angry people at the citizens participation meeting – but she didn’t see that reflected in the AAHC’s report on that meeting.

Caleb Poirier told the commission that his nonprofit owns a property on Stone School Road about 1 mile from the location of the proposed AAHC project. He ventured that those who live near a property tend to “mentally lay ownership beyond their property lines.” If you want to maintain a low-density environment, then you move into a subdivision to secure that type of density, he said. The R4B zoning allows for 15 units per acres – so 45 units. But only 32 units are proposed to be built. He also wanted to draw the commission’s attention to the people who were not at the meeting that night – those who would be living in this project.

Tim Colenback, Ann Arbor housing commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Tim Colenback, a member of the AAHC board.

Joan Doughty allowed that she lived nowhere near the project, but she works for Community Action Network (CAN), which is the service provider for Hikone. [Doughty is CAN's executive director.] She was there of her own volition. The AAHC Platt Road proposal is exactly the kind of proposal that would work, she said. Hikone has 29 units and Green Baxter has 23 units. At that size, there is a challenge achieving a critical mass for programs, she said. But 32 units is a perfect size. She also liked the variable sizes of the apartments that are proposed. Sometimes a family gets larger and smaller – so it’s awesome for kids if they don’t have to move to a different community as the family grows. AAHC is an excellent steward, she said. Doughty also highlighted the proposed community center as a benefit.

Tim Colenback, who serves on the AAHC board, told commissioners there are a lot of reasons to support this project. It is only a small development, he said, and it’ll be an improvement over what’s there now. The buildings will have high quality construction with green standards beyond what is required by the city.

But real reason he wanted to support the project is because of the people who will be served. The community has had a crisis for some time, he said. People who do the difficult jobs in the city can’t live here – those who clean our buildings and serve our food. Some of our low-income housing has been converted to market rate, he noted. His polling location for elections is at Arrowwood Hills Cooperative housing. It’s just a stone’s throw – because he lives near there, he said. He has many great friends who live at Arrowwood. He was very glad they didn’t go market rate because there is a large group of low- and moderate-income people there. He asked planning commissioners to please meet the needs of 32 families who need this kind of housing.

AAHC executive director  Jennifer Hall noted that the property had been owned by the city of Ann Arbor for over 40 years – and it was purchased to be affordable housing. It never went through the process of zoning, she said. She didn’t know why only four units were built there. About the citizen participation meeting, Hall allowed that there’d been a lot of yelling and anger. She characterized most of the opposition as being against developing the property on the west side of Platt, which was not part of site plan. The reason the proposal had been increased from 26 to 32 units was because the AAHC had been approached by the owner of the adjoining parcel with a duplex, so the project now comprises three parcels instead of two. The density of the three-parcel project, she explained, is actually less than the density was as a two-parcel project. It’s less density than Colonial Square, she noted.

Scott Betzoldt of Midwestern Consulting and John Mouat of Mitchell and Mouat Architects wrapped up the public hearing with a description of the site plan.

AAHC Platt Road Project: Commission Discussion – Rezoning

Diane Giannola asked for clarification about the staff preference to delay on the site plan, but to send the rezoning proposal to the city council with a recommendation of approval.

Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Diane Giannola.

DiLeo explained that the city planning staff is doing the best it can to set the AAHC up for a possible city council approval by mid-October. AAHC is applying for a grant, and if the site plan and zoning approval is completed by mid-October, the AAHC gets additional points on its grant application. There’s “automatic dead time” between the first and the second readings of the zoning change in front of the city council, DiLeo explained.

Giannola expressed some concern that the site plan might be completely different by the time it reached the city council, and might not be compatible with the R4B zoning. DiLeo explained that R4B allows for a lot of flexibility and would likely be consistent with anything that AAHC might propose.

Eleanore Adenekan asked some questions about the proposed detention pond. It was proposed to be about four feet deep.

On the specific question of the rezoning, Jeremy Peters stated his support for the rezoning, saying that it would allow the development of additional affordable housing, which was a community goal – as reflected in the sustainability framework. He also said the rezoning would provide site improvements that would benefit the broader neighborhood.

Ken Clein asked DiLeo what criteria are used to evaluate whether the rezoning would have a negative impact on the area. DiLeo clarified that the claim in the report about a lack of any negative impact was the AAHC’s response on the application for rezoning, not the planning staff’s conclusion. But she gave a hypothetical example of a proposed rezoning to allow manufacturing. Her professional planning opinion would be that rezoning to manufacturing would have a negative impact on public welfare and property rights. Or if it were rezoned to commercial, which would allow a Target to be built there, then the traffic and intensity of land use would be impactful on the area.

Clein concluded that the proposed AAHC project was a little different from what the neighbors are accustomed to, allowing that it’s a little more dense than what it is now. Clein cautioned against thinking of this as “poor people housing.” Some back-and-forth between Clein and AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall clarified how residents of AAHC units are screened.

Sabra Briere asked for the maximum number of units could be built under the existing zoning. Hall indicated that Midwestern Consulting’s Scott Betzoldt had calculated that number to be 20. Briere concluded that it would be an increase in density. Briere asked about turf pavers that were mentioned in the site plan – which were explained to be there to allow fire trucks to have access. Briere said she continued to be hopeful that more open space could be provided on the site. She said that according to the description of R4B, it is supposed to be suitable for infill development for moderate density – which she concluded the AAHC project seemed to be.

Outcome: The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend rezoning of the parcel to R4B.

AAHC Platt Road Project: Commission Discussion – Site Plan

The discussion by planning commissioners about the site plan focused on the natural features and the floodplain.

Ken Clein, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Ken Clein.

Giannola asked how anything could be built in the floodplain. DiLeo explained that buildings can be constructed in the floodplain, if they are elevated. She noted that the city’s floodplain coordinator does not support this project as proposed.

Briere was concerned about the amount of impervious surface and increased runoff. She also expressed some concerns on an aesthetic level – saying there was not enough distinction between one unit and another. In an allusion to her mayoral campaign, she said after spending a lot of time in the last few months walking through residential neighborhoods, she’d observed that there were always ways that people had made their homes their own. She encouraged the architects to look for opportunities to make the units more human and less consistent in pattern and design to the point that when they deteriorate they’ll all deteriorate the same. She also encouraged that AAHC heed the concern about soccer-playing families and that there be space to run around.

Clein questioned why 61 parking spaces are being proposed when only 48 spaces are required. Hall explained that there are complaints at other AAHC sites about the lack of parking, and pointed out that there is no on-street parking at the site.

After some additional discussion, the commission moved towards a vote to postpone. Peters wanted to be sure that the public hearing would be continued, whenever the site plan was back in front of the planning commission, noting that it was not certain when that might be.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the site plan.

Revision to Bylaws

At its Aug. 6 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission considered revisions to its bylaws related to public hearings.

Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Jeremy Peters.

At the commission’s July 15, 2014 meeting, planning manager Wendy Rampson had introduced staff recommendations for changes to the bylaws, which had also been discussed at a July 8 working session. She noted that when revisions to bylaws are being considered, the commission must provide notice at a meeting before that potential action. That public notice happened on July 15.

Planning commissioners had originally adopted similar revisions to their bylaws at a Feb. 20, 2014 meeting. Such revisions require city council approval. However, the city attorney’s office did not forward the Feb. 20 changes to the council for consideration. There was no action until July, when assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald provided suggested revisions to the bylaws related to public hearings. Those were the changes that were presented to commissioners at their July 15 meeting, and considered on Aug. 6. [.pdf of revised bylaws regarding public hearings] [.pdf of bylaws staff memo]

The main changes considered on Aug. 6 are in Sections 3 and 5 of Article 5 – Public Hearings. In Section 3, the changes eliminate the ability of the commission’s chair to modify or waive the speaking time limitations. Instead, the changes stipulate that the entire commission would have to make that decision via a majority vote.

The changes for Section 5 relate to the continuation of a hearing, and are as follows [deletions in strike-thru, additions in bold]:

Section 5. At the discretion of the Chair, or by vote of a majority of the members present, public hearings may be continued to another date. meeting, but will not be deemed to be a new hearing but a continuation of the original. If a public hearing is continued, individuals who have not previously addressed the Commission during the public hearing may address the Commission following the requirements of Section 3. Individuals who have addressed the Commission previously during the public hearing may only address the Commission for additional time (as limited by Section 3) during the continued public hearing if the Chair, with the consultation of Planning and Development Services staff, determines that: 1) additional public feedback is necessary, or 2) a specific petition has materially changed since the date of the original public hearing date. Agendas for continued public hearings shall specify whether members of the public shall be granted additional time to speak.

There were no changes suggested for the revisions that were passed by planning commissioners on Feb. 20 related to interactions with city councilmembers. That revised section states:

Section 9. A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.

The revisions must be approved by the council before taking effect.

Revision to Bylaws: Commission Discussion

Planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that these changes had been presented to the commission at its July 15 meeting. The bylaws changes clarified how public speaking time at public hearings is regulated. The intent is to make sure the public and commissioners understand whether someone can speak again at a public hearing if it is continued from one meeting to the next.

Rampson explained the basic rule is that there’s an opportunity for a person to speak at a public hearing for three minutes – or five minutes if the person is speaking on behalf of a neighborhood group. The planning commission can waive the time limit through a majority vote, Rampson noted. The new section, as proposed, would clarify that if a public hearing is continued to the next planning commission meeting, a person who spoke at the initial meeting’s portion of the public hearing can’t speak at the continued hearing.

However, the chair of the commission can, in consultation with the staff, determine to allow someone to speak again – if there is some compelling reason, or material changes have been made in a proposal since the initial portion of the public hearing was held.

Jeremy Peters noted that he was the one who had originally proposed this change to the bylaws. The language in the proposal now more closely meets the intent of what he had originally proposed – so he was fully in support of it.

Planning commission chair Wendy Woods got clarification that changes to the planning commission’s bylaws are subject to city council review and approval. Until the council approves the changes, the commission will operate under the current rules.

Kirk Westphal thanked Peters and everyone who pushed it through. He noted there’d been a lot of back-and-forth with the city attorney’s office on the change to the bylaws.

Outcome: The planning commission unanimously approved the changes to its bylaws.

Minutes of Previous Meeting

The usually perfunctory approval of minutes from previous meetings received some detailed discussion. Kirk Westphal asked that the minutes from the May 20, 2014 meeting be corrected, to insert the word “no” in the following passage that reported what he’d said [insertion is denoted in bold]:

Martin said they are confident that it will be extremely active and with a hotel, there will be people coming into that building all the time so the use itself is built in activity. He said he would like to have the flexibility as there are still many unknowns but he believes restaurant or retail will be on the ground floor. He asked if Westphal wanted him to commit to office use.

Westphal clarified no office or financial institution uses.

By way of background, Westphal’s disfavorable view of financial institutional uses for ground-floor, street-facing contexts is well documented.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Kirk Westphal.

In 2009, as the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) rezoning legislation was moving through the approval process, he wrote a guest op-ed piece for the Ann Arbor News that argued for a requirement that street-facing, ground-level land uses in the downtown should be required to be “active.” Banks and offices are not considered to be active uses. The “active use” requirement was not adopted in the final rezoning of downtown.

Consideration of the June 3, 2014 meeting minutes was postponed by the commission. They had been completed just the previous day, planning manager Wendy Rampson told the commission. So staff was requesting postponement – so that the commission could have a chance to review them.

Outcome: The commission approved the May 20, 2014 minutes as amended, and postponed approval of the June 3, 2014 minutes.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Sabra Briere, Ken Clein, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters. Also: City planning manager Wendy Rampson.

Absent: Bonnie Bona.

Next meeting: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 at 7 p.m. in council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]

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Commission OKs Arbor Hills Crossing Sat, 22 Oct 2011 15:10:28 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Oct. 18, 2011): In its main business of the evening, the planning commission recommended approval of the site plan for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw.

Action had been postponed at the commission’s June 7, 2011 meeting so that the developer – Campus Realty – could address some outstanding issues with the plan.

Arbor Hills Crossing rendering viewed from northeast at Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road.

A rendering of Arbor Hills Crossing at the southeast corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road – three of the buildings front Washtenaw. (Image links to higher resolution .pdf)

Commissioners were satisfied with the revisions the developer had undertaken to the plan in response to their comments made at the June 7 meeting. Commissioner Bonnie Bona characterized the site plan as essentially a disguised strip shopping center, but allowed that it was a good strip shopping center.

Arbor Hills Crossing will next go before the city council for its approval.

The commission also granted three separate requests for flexible application of the new landscape ordinance approved by the city council in June 2011. Those requests were from: (1) Gallup One Stop gas station and convenience store; (2) the University of Michigan Credit Union (formerly the Ann Arbor News building); and (3) Glacier Hills.

The commission meeting included its usual range of updates on city council and planning staff activity.

Arbor Hills Crossing Site Plan

The commission was asked to recommend approval of the site plan for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw. Action had been postponed at the commission’s June 7, 2011 meeting so that the developer – Campus Realty – could address some outstanding issues with the plan.

Arbor Hills Crossing Site Plan: Background

The project involves tearing down three vacant commercial structures and putting up four one- and two-story buildings throughout the 7.45-acre site – a total of 90,700-square-feet of space for retail stores and offices. Three of the buildings would face Washtenaw Avenue, across the street from the retail complex where Whole Foods grocery is located. The site would include 310 parking spaces.

According to the city planning staff memo included in the information packet, several changes have been made to the plan since the commission last considered it. At the Oct. 18 meeting, city planner Jeff Kahan ticked through them.

The developer is working with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Washtenaw and Platt. MDOT has signed a letter stating that it is supportive of the signal, but details of design and financing haven’t yet been worked out. In addition, the developer has indicated willingness to locate a bus pullout on property on the west side of Platt Road – the location preferred by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The AATA preference is based on the fact that such a placement encourages crossing at the intersection and allows more space for nonmotorized travel on Washtenaw Avenue, north of the project’s Building A.

Wendy Rampson Jeff Kahan

City planning manager Wendy Rampson and planner Jeff Kahan before the start of the Oct. 18, 2011 planning commission meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The developer is also working to obtain a letter from the property owner south of the site, granting permission to extend the curb radius of the Platt Road driveway within 4.5 feet of the neighbor’s property. The site plan will not be forwarded to city council for approval until that permission is granted, according to city staff.

The city’s brownfield plan review committee has recommended that the project’s brownfield plan be approved by city council. Kahan reviewed how the brownfield plan involves cleaning up three areas of contaminated soil on the site. The developer intends to remove some soils and to cover others with clean fill, or with a vapor barrier within the building.

The site plan and brownfield plan also require city council approval.

Arbor Hills Crossing Site Plan: Public Hearing

Tom Covert of Atwell, an Ann Arbor civil engineering and landscape architecture firm, came to the podium to tell the planning commission he was there along with others in the project team, including Tom Stegeman and Norm Hyman from the ownership group.

Since the last time they appeared before the commission Covert said, the team had communicated with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. The team had addressed many of the comments made at the previous meeting, he said, and had made modifications to the site plan. Adjustments had been made to the entrance to the site from Washtenaw Avenue. Adjustments had also been made to the pedestrian/bike path so that it’s a uniform 10-foot width all across the frontage. A patio has been added west of Building C.

He noted that the project had obtained approval from the city’s brownfield plan review committee. The development team is working towards an agreement granting permission to extend the curb radius of the Platt Road driveway within 4.5 feet of the neighbor’s property. The goal, Covert said, is to continue dialogue and answer any questions the planning commission has, and to move the project along to the city council.

Robb Burroughs of ReFORM Studios Inc., the project’s architect, described some to the changes that had been made to two buildings, Building A and Building D, which he described as the two primary corners of the site. To Building A, more fenestration and glazing had been added, he said, as well as a pedestrian door. Lattice treatment had been added at the pedestrian level. The entry to the building had been made more dominant, he said.

For Building D, he’d increased the amount of transparency and introduced more pedestrian-scale elements. A long metal strut had been added to work as a foil. In sum, he’d made revisions to enhance the two primary corner buildings on the site, he said.

Arbor Hills Crossing Site Plan: Commission Deliberations

Wendy Woods said she supported the shift of the bus pullout location – she was glad to see that. She had a question about the brownfield component: What is a “vapor barrier” all about?

City planner Jeff Kahan explained that it’s a membrane that would prevent poisonous gases from entering the building. There’s a number of ways to provide that barrier, he said. Arthur Siegal, the developer’s environmental attorney, said Kahan’s description was accurate. He described it as a “conservative measure” in this instance. It mitigates any vapor at any level, even if it’s below the established risk levels, he said.

Woods asked if levels of contaminants are continuously monitored throughout the life of the building. Siegal told Woods there is a passive ventilation system, and it works automatically. In response to another query from Woods, Siegal said it’s Building C and Building D where the vapor barrier might be needed – there’s some soil gas testing that still needs to be done. Building D might not need a membrane, Siegal said. He went on to confirm for Woods that there are two separate systems for each building.

Woods wanted to know how common the use of membranes is in brownfield remediation. Siegal explained that it had become more common in the last 3-5 years. Woods wanted to know how the contamination would be addressed that might still exist in soil from the parking lot. Siegal explained that the state has two standards, indoors and outdoors. Levels of contamination can be higher outdoors, he said, and for this site, levels are well under the maximum.

Bonnie Bona asked Siegal if he knew the sources of the contamination. He explained that a gas station was formerly located on the western edge of the property. There are low levels of residual contaminant consistent with that. There used to be an auto repair facility under Building C and D, he said. Oils, greases, cleaners and solvents were there. It underwent remediation in the past, but not all of it was cleaned up, Siegal said.

Tony Derezinski praised the location of the crosswalk, saying that it would benefit not only Arbor Hill’s customers, but also the Washtenaw County recreation center, at the southwest corner of Platt and Washtenaw. He wanted to know if there was any discussion of a shelter in connection with the bus pullout. The development team indicated that there would be a bus shelter installed consistent with other AATA bus shelters – on whatever side of Platt Road it’s placed.

Derezinski noted that the Washtenaw-Platt intersection was identified as a major node of crossing in the Reimagine Washtenaw study.

Erica Briggs asked if there was any consideration of a boardwalk for the wooded area on the site, to help people get across it who wanted to get from one building to the other. The development team indicated that it had been considered, but it’s really not that far to follow around the edge of the wooded area – the whole site plan is conceived to be pedestrian friendly. There’s a walkway all the way around the internal perimeter of the area that’s being preserved as wetland on the site.

Eric Mahler

Chair of the Ann Arbor city planning commission Eric Mahler.

Briggs wondered about the possibility that there could be some additional collaboration with public art. The development team said that could be considered. Briggs suggested that perhaps Derezinski could take that issue back the city’s public art commission, on which he serves.

Kirk Westphal said he appreciated the added effort made by the developer since the first presentation to the commission. He said he seconded Briggs’ interest in advocating for additional ornamentation on the west elevation.

Bona also thanked the developer for responding to requested changes. She characterized them as subtle but felt they could benefit the project far more than the cost. She said the project had interesting shapes. Ultimately, it’s disguising a strip shopping center, but it’s a good strip center, she said.

Eric Mahler, chair of the planning commission, asked about some language in the development agreement that appeared to contemplate conversion to condominium units. He wonder if that was standard. Jeff Kahan indicated that it is standard language – if the property were split into condos, then the new owners would need to adhere to this agreement. The development team indicated, however, it’s not intended as a condo project for residential use.

Mahler also got clarification that it’s standard not to put anything about brownfield mitigation into the development agreement. City planning manager Wendy Rampson explained that the brownfield agreement is a separate agreement.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the Arbor Hills Crossing site plan. It will now be forwarded to the city council for approval.

Exemptions for Landscaping Plans

Non-conforming landscaping plans for three different projects were considered by the planning commission at their Oct. 18 meeting.

Exemptions for Landscaping Plans: Background

The exemptions were prompted when the three projects requested administrative amendments – changes that can be made at the staff level – to previously approved site plans. Those projects are: (1) a 184-square-foot addition to the Gallup One Stop gas station and convenience store at 2955 Packard Road; (2) a 3,231-square-foot third-floor addition to the University of Michigan Credit Union at 340 E. Huron St. (formerly the Ann Arbor News building); and (3) reconfiguration of parking lots for a Glacier Hills planned project Life Enrichment Center addition, at 1200 Earhart Road.

The planning commission was asked to allow existing landscaping plans that were previously authorized at those sites to remain in place, even though the plans now don’t conform to requirements in the landscaping ordinance.

Prior to recent revisions of the city’s landscape ordinance, these exemptions would not have required planning commission approval and would have been handled at the staff level. The landscaping ordinance changes got final approval at the city council’s June 20, 2011 meeting.

Chapter 62
5:608 Modifications

(2) Flexibility in the application of the landscaping or screening requirements of Sections 5:602, 5:603, 5:604 or 5:606 may be allowed if each of the following conditions are met:
(a) The modifications are consistent with the intent of this chapter (Section 5:600(1)); and
(b) The modifications are included on a site plan and in a motion approved by City Planning Commission or City Council; and
(c) The modifications are associated with 1 or more of the following site conditions:

Landscape elements which are a part of a previously approved site plan may be maintained and continued as nonconforming provided no alterations of the existing landscape elements are proposed.

Landscaping Plans: Gallup One Stop Gas Station

City planner Jeff Kahan described how the current landscaping plan was requested to continue in place, based on the flexibility clause built into the ordinance. However, there are trees specified in that original plan that are not currently there. So the owner will be required to add several new trees to the site that will replace trees on the original plan that have since died or were not installed according to that the plan.

No one spoke at the public hearing on the issue.

During commissioner deliberations, Kirk Westphal asked for some confirmation that the parcel had come before the commission previously for a different issue. City planning manager Wendy Rampson indicated that there had been a rezoning request, from C1 to C2B, and a special exception use associated with that previous consideration. Rampson said that previously the owner had developed a full site plan that would have been a full renovation to the site, including the main building and a revised stormwater detention plan. The owner had decided to scale way back, she said, which was reflected in the current proposal of a smaller addition.

Westphal confirmed with Rampson that the administrative review associated with the current proposal did not trigger a need to review the stormwater retention plan. Responding to Westphal, Rampson also said she was not aware of any empirical evidence associated with the site that would warrant a review of stormwater retention.

Wendy Woods asked for some clarification about the trees that were required to be replaced. Rampson noted that it’s hard for staff to tell if the the trees are missing because they died and were cut down or if they were never installed. Responding to Woods, Rampson indicated that it would be a significant task to review whether trees required on a site plan were still in place. Some communities do regular monitoring, Rampson allowed, but she indicated that Ann Arbor staff currently have only enough capacity to make sure the landscaping is in place at the end of the project, and otherwise it’s complaint-driven, or enforced when a project comes before the staff for some other reason.

Woods wanted to know if petitioners are given any suggestions about what kinds of trees they should be planting. Rampson said the city had staff who could provide feedback on street trees, but they don’t go as far as recommending certain trees.

Westphal wanted to know if the request being considered by the commission triggered postcard notification of neighbors. Rampson indicated that it did not.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to approve the request for flexibility in application of the landscape ordinance.

Landscaping Plans: University of Michigan Credit Union

City planning manager Wendy Rampson informed commissioners that the petitioner had asked that the item be postponed, given that the credit union’s representative could not attend the meeting in order to answer questions.

No one spoke at the public hearing on the issue.

Bonnie Bona moved for postponement in deference to the petitioner’s request. Kirk Westphal was not inclined to postpone unless questions arose that commissioners wanted to ask the petitioner – if no such questions arose, then maybe the commission could simply approve the request, he said. Commission chair Eric Mahler told Westphal that was his thought, too. Rampson told the commissioners that was up to them – the petitioner simply wanted to avoid having the request denied.

Erica Briggs agreed with Westphal and Mahler, so Bona withdrew the motion to postpone.

Responding to a question from Westphal, Rampson confirmed that the addition proposed to the building is less than 10% of total floor area and there was no triggering of review by the design guideline review committee.

Tony Derezinski noted that it was a minor change and noted it was good to see the building occupied. [It formerly housed the now defunct Ann Arbor News.]

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to approve the request for flexibility in application of the landscape ordinance at the University of Michigan Credit Union building.

Landscaping Plans: Glacier Hills

Jeff Kahan explained that Glacier Hills was removing some parking spaces to preserve open space. The project was finished last summer about the same time as the new ordinance was approved. Depressing the islands in the parking lot would require complete reconstruction, he said. The request is to allow existing landscape islands to remain as previously approved.

No one spoke at the public hearing.

Tony Derezinski said that for him, one conclusion in the staff report is definitive – retrofitting the islands would require complete reconstruction. That doesn’t seem to be necessary given the intent of the ordinance, Derezinski said.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to approve the request for flexibility in application of the landscape ordinance at Glacier Hills.


Planning commission meetings typically include a variety of updates on issues not necessarily on the agenda.

Updates: City Council Actions – Heritage Row, City Place

The planning commission has one slot assigned to a city council member, which is currently held by Tony Derezinski. He reported that a highlight of the meeting the previous evening was initial approval of the Heritage Row planned unit development (PUD). Two projects for the same South Fifth Avenue site, both owned by the same developer, are moving on parallel tracks, Derezinski said – Heritage Row (a planned unit development) and City Place (a matter-of-right project). Both had previously been approved by the planning commission.

The Heritage Row item included a lot of discussion from councilmembers on the changes to the project, Derezinski said, such as the elimination of the on-site parking requirement. Derezinski noted that under the city’s PUD ordinance, the project still has to have public benefit. Derezinski reported that the initial vote had been 8-3 and that the second and final approval would be held at an extra council meeting on Oct. 24. [The project requires an eight-vote majority.] Derezinski cautioned that the votes on the project will not necessarily stay the same. [Update: The developer subsequently withdrew the Heritage Row proposal from the Oct. 24 agenda.]

The other issue the council took up concerning the same site, Derezinski said, was the already-approved City Place project, for which the developer was requesting an exemption from a buffer requirement in the city’s new landscape ordinance. [That exemption was essentially the same issue that the planning commission acted on for three other projects that same evening.]

Derezinski also noted that the council was asked to approve some changes to the City Place elevations, which the council did. He characterized the situation as the council doing what was required to show the developer good faith, so that he would continue to keep the Heritage Row option open. [Heritage Row is seen by many as a more desirable project.]

Updates: City Council Actions – City Apartments

To Derezinski’s report, city planning manager Wendy Rampson added that the City Apartments project was also granted some changes to the elevations at the council’s meeting. She noted that there’s a public-private partnership for that project at First and Washington. The changes to the height (an increase of 10 feet) and to some banks of windows were substantive enough that they needed the blessing of the council, Rampson said.

Updates: Planning Staff

Rampson reported that the ICMA sustainability fellows have returned to Washington D.C. and will go from there back to Indonesia. Rampson said their visit was a good exercise to show visitors all that Ann Arbor has to offer with respect to sustainability. The three visitors came away quite impressed with Ann Arbor’s approach to sustainability, Rampson said, which is not just a small group of people working in isolation, but is integrated into everything the city does.

Rampson also alerted planning commissioners to the upcoming Michigan Association of Planning conference in Grand Rapids. That meant that city planner Jeff Kahan would be the only staff in town towards the end of the week. Rampson said that she and Evan Pratt would be making a presentation at the conference on Ann Arbor’s new downtown zoning, and Jill Thacher would give a presentation on the city’s zoning for medical marijuana.

Updates: Public Art

Tony Derezinski, who now serves on the city’s public art commission (AAPAC), gave an update from that group. They’re preparing for a city council work session on Nov. 14, he said. Issues have been raised concerning the city ordinance that stipulates a set-aside for public art, he allowed. He said he was a voting member of AAPAC and is working to come up with a good presentation.

Kirk Westphal

After the planning commission meeting, commissioner Kirk Westphal chatted with some University of Michigan urban planning graduate students who attended the meeting out of their deep and abiding interest in city planning issues unique to Ann Arbor and their desire to complete their course requirements. Westphal, a graduate of the program, is not explaining that it's important to keep your hands in the 10-and-2 position when driving a blue tractor.

The art commission is working in collaboration with other entities, he said, including the Rotary Club, which wants to beautify entrances to the city. The Detroit Institute of Arts is also interested in bringing in works of art to Ann Arbor for temporary display, he said, through its Inside|Out program.

Since he’s started serving on AAPAC, Derezinski said, he’s gotten a lot of phone calls about how art can be integrated into the city. He spoke of a rejuvenated art commission that could justify its existence.

Updates: Ordinance Revision Committee

Planning commissioner Kirk Westphal gave a brief update from the commission’s ordinance revision committee.

They’d started their review of the recently changed landscaping ordinance, as well as regulations on drive-though businesses.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Erica Briggs, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Kirk Westphal, Bonnie Bona, Wendy Woods

Absent: Evan Pratt

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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“No” to Sausage, “Not Yet” to Bank Mon, 12 Sep 2011 12:34:51 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Sept. 8, 2011): At its Thursday meeting – held later in the week than usual because of the Labor Day holiday – commissioners had two main business items on the agenda, and did not recommend in favor of the petitioner for either of them. In one case the commission put off a decision, and in the other commissioners took a vote on the issue.

Biercamp Ann Arbor planning commission

Walt Hansen, co-owner of Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky, retrieves a copy of the agenda before the start of the Sept. 8 planning commission meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The commission put off a decision on a proposal from University Bank to increase the number of allowable employees from 50 to 59 at its headquarters on Washtenaw Avenue and to add 14 parking spaces to a new lot on the site. The headquarters is located in what’s known as the Hoover Mansion.

In October 2010, the commission had put off a decision on University Bank’s proposal as well, faced with a recommendation against approval from city planning staff and opposition from some neighbors. This time around, a consensus appeared to have been reached – among planning staff, neighbors and bank officials – to accommodate neighbors’ concerns. However, the commission was reluctant to make a recommendation, because the final site plan had not yet been submitted. The consensus had been achieved only a week ago, on Sept. 1. The vote to postpone, likely until the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 20, was unanimous.

The commission did make a recommendation on a proposal from Walt Hansen and Hannah Cheadle – the owners of Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky – to rezone the property at 1643 and 1645 S. State St., south of Stimson and next to the Produce Station. The parcels currently house the couple’s sausage business as well as an auto repair shop and furniture manufacturer. The commission found the proposed rezoning inconsistent with the city’s master plan and recommended against it.

In connection with the property’s annexation into the city from Ann Arbor Township, the Biercamp owners had wanted to rezone the property to C3 (fringe commercial district). That zoning designation would allow their business to sell a wider variety of merchandise, in addition to the sausage and jerky products they make on site. The recommendation against approval will be forwarded to the city council.

Commissioners offered a glimmer of possibility that commercial zoning for the Biercamp parcel could result from a study of the entire State Street corridor and a revision to the city’s master plan.

At the meeting, commissioners also got an update on future planning-connected events, including a Grand Rapids planning conference that commissioners might want to attend, and visitors from Indonesia that the city is hosting through an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) sustainability fellows program.

The commission also received a heads up that on their Sept. 20 agenda would be a proposal for The Varsity at Ann Arbor, a proposed 13-story, 173-unit, 178,380-square-foot apartment building for approximately 418 students. It would include 77 parking spaces, and would replace the two-story office building and parking lot currently on the site.

University Bank Parking Reconfiguration

The commission was asked to consider a University Bank proposal to increase the number of allowable employees from 50 to 59 at its headquarters on Washtenaw Avenue, and to add 14 parking spaces to a new lot on the site. The headquarters is located in what’s known as the Hoover Mansion.

The change requires amending the supplemental regulations of the site’s planned unit development (PUD) zoning district, which was originally approved in 1978.

The commission did not accept a similar proposal at its Oct. 19, 2010 meeting. They instead tabled it and asked planning staff to work with bank officials to come up with an alternative proposal for locating new parking. At the time, planning staff had recommended denial of the request, stating that the project impacted natural features and didn’t offer an overall benefit to the city.

The current request was initially recommended for approval by staff, but that advice was changed to postponement when the final site plan was not submitted in time for the meeting.

The bank has made several changes based on feedback, according to staff. For example, the new parking lot has been shifted an additional seven feet away from the east property line to reduce the disturbance of woodland in that area. The height of a three-foot-tall masonry screening wall around the parking lot will be increased to six feet, to screen the lot from homes to the east. New bicycle parking spaces are proposed for the southeast corner of the bank building, and a new five-foot-wide walkway connecting Washtenaw Avenue to the bank is proposed for the western part of the site.

Chris Cheng Dan Dever Wendy Woods

The University Bank proposal has been discussed for nearly a year since it was last heard by the commission. Although the planning process sometimes moves slowly, city planner Chris Cheng demonstrates in this photo that planners can move quickly when necessary. Cheng is the blur in the left of the frame. Behind Cheng is local attorney Dan Dever. Seated to Cheng's left are planning commissioners Wendy Woods and Diane Giannola.

At the meeting, city planner Chris Cheng gave the staff report on the University Bank request. He reviewed how it was tabled at the Oct. 19, 2010 planning commission meeting. The staff had recommended that the request be denied back then.

Cheng described how the site plan slide he was projecting on the screen was from last year – due to technical difficulties in getting the current revised site plan, it had not been included in the commission’s packet of materials.

Cheng described how a week before, on Sept. 1, city staff had met with a neighbor and the petitioner and reached a consensus on some additional conditions for the request. Among those were shifting the access drive to be nine feet (instead of one foot) off the property line of the neighboring property at 2021 Washtenaw Ave. The access driveway width has been reduced from 22 feet to 20 feet. The height of the screening wall along the driveway and on the eastern edge of the new parking lot was increased from three feet (specified in the city’s ordinance) to six feet.

Cheng described how University Bank had agreed to put up “no parking” signs at the driveway, as also required by the fire department. Cheng also described how a new five-foot walkway from Washtenaw Avenue up to the Hoover Mansion would encourage alternative transportation as a public benefit. The stormwater detention proposed for the site meets the city’s 100-year storm requirements, he said. Cheng stated that he believed all the neighbors’ concerns had been covered. Staff is waiting for the final site plan submittal in order to do calculations on the impact to the woodland area to determine how many trees would be required as mitigation.

Cheng noted that one of the alternatives analyzed previously showed 14 parking spaces along the drive – city planning staff previously felt like that was a possible alternative. However, the need to provide an access easement prohibits parking, and the fire code requires posting signs that a fire lane must be maintained for half the drive. And in talking to neighbors, Cheng said they don’t prefer parking along the drive. He described the neighbors as willing to live with the parking lot as proposed, as long as the proposed additional screening is put in place.

The staff report had originally recommended that the commission vote for approval, Cheng noted, but now they recommended tabling the item, waiting for the final site plan submission.

University Bank Parking/Employee Expansion: Public Participation

Dan Dever, an attorney for one of neighbors of the Hoover Mansion property, told the commission he was strongly in favor of the staff’s recommendation to postpone. Physical signs are needed indicating that no parking will be allowed along the drive, and he would like to see that assurance in writing. Dever allowed that the process had taken a long time, but said it will need to take a little bit longer.

Ken Sprinkles of University Bank offered his thanks to city planner Chris Cheng for his efforts working on the project. He called Cheng’s attention to the fact that the revisions to the supplemental regulations specify 53 spaces for vehicles and 10 Class C bicycle parking spaces. Sprinkles noted that the number of bicycle spaces should be five. Cheng clarified that it’s five hoops, two bikes on each side, for a total of 10 spaces.

Sprinkles noted that the reason the plans were not submitted in time for that evening’s planning commission meeting was that the consensus had been hashed out in a meeting on Thursday just a week before.

Stephen Ranzini, president of University Bank, told the commission that he appreciated the fact that it seemed like a consensus had been reached. The bank’s conversations had included 19 neighbors, he said. The decision had been postponed a year ago because three people came forward late, he said, and prior to that time had made no attempt to communicate with the bank. Ranzini observed that yet again the project would be delayed two weeks.

By way of background, at the Oct. 19, 2010 meeting, when the project had been put off, Ranzini had warned that the bank might need to relocate elsewhere as it expanded and grew, if the proposal it sought did not gain eventual approval. From The Chronicle’s meeting report:

During a public hearing on the project, bank president Stephen Ranzini told commissioners that if the bank can’t get the additional parking, it could trigger a decision to leave that location and expand elsewhere.

At Thursday’s meeting, Ranzini reiterated the same theme, telling commissioners that there are consequences to delays. He said he hoped that the project could start before the construction season ends. He noted that the reason for the requested parking is because the bank is growing, and currently it cannot house all its divisions at the Hoover Mansion site. Because of the delays up to now, University Islamic Financial [a division of University Bank providing financial services to the Muslim community], had to be relocated out of the Hoover Mansion to Farmington Hills, permanently eliminating seven jobs in Ann Arbor. He told the commissioners that he would not be able to attend their meeting scheduled for Sept. 20, so if they had questions, he asked that they pose them to him that evening.

Gerald Serwer introduced himself as the owner of 2021 Washtenaw Ave., located next to the access road. He described how he’d worked with the bank to eliminate some objections. He said he was grateful for the cooperation. He simply wanted to make sure that the access road has screening of the view so that it doesn’t negatively impact enjoyment of his property – the side yard. That could have a negative impact on the property’s value. To that end, he said, details are important and need to be spelled out before approval. If the details are how he thinks they’ll be, it’ll be okay, he said, but he still wants to see it in writing first. He stressed that there should be no parking along the access road, because it would be an impediment to getting service trucks to his home.

University Bank Parking/Employee Expansion: Commissioner Deliberations

Tony Derezinski, who’s the city council’s representative to the planning commission, began deliberations by saying, “We’re so close.” He characterized the whole process as coming out pretty well. What’s causing the delay, he continued, is the failure of the site plan to be delivered. He said the approval will be accelerated as much as possible, but then cited the old saying: “Trust but verify.” [It's a phrase associated most prominently with Ronald Reagan in connection with treaty negotiations with the Soviet Union on nuclear weapons.] The agreement needs to be written and understood so there’s no ambiguity later on, Derezinski said. He allowed that Ranzini made good points – time is money, especially at the end of the construction season.

Derezinki moved to table the issue until the documents have been submitted and the city planning staff has had a chance to review them. That would be a just outcome, he concluded.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to postpone the issue, likely until the Sept. 20 meeting. Those who attended the meeting were encouraged to leave their contact information, so that they could be notified directly when that timing became more definite.

Biercamp Parcel Rezoning

On the agenda was a rezoning request for the property at 1643 and 1645 S. State St., south of Stimson and next to the Produce Station. The parcels, which are owned by Stefan Hofmann, currently house a new business – Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky – as well as an auto repair shop and furniture manufacturer.

Biercamp owners Walt Hansen and Hannah Cheadle want to rezone the property to C3 (fringe commercial district), which would allow their business to sell a wider variety of merchandise, including products not made on site.

South Area of city of Ann Arbor master plan

The Biercamp parcel is in Site 5 in this map of the city master plan. (Image links to .pdf with higher resolution, complete map.)

The commission first considered this request at its Aug. 16, 2011 meeting, along with a request to annex the land from Ann Arbor Township. The annexation request was approved. However, at that time planning staff recommended postponing the zoning request until Biercamp received a certificate of occupancy from the township, which would grandfather in the business under light industrial zoning that allows it to sell items produced on site. That certificate has been received.

City planner Chris Cheng noted that the background information material would be familiar to commissioners, because they’d considered it three weeks ago. He reminded them that the annexation from Ann Arbor Township to the city of Ann Arbor was approved.

Since that time Biercamp has coordinated with the township and received its certificate of occupancy. The township M1 zoning, under which they would be grandfathered-in, will allow selling for products manufactured on site, Cheng said. The requested C3 or C2B zoning designation would allow for the store to sell products that were not manufactured on site, Cheng said.

Cheng indicated that the city planning staff recommended M1 zoning for the parcel.

The city’s master plan was referenced by several people during the meeting. In relevant part, from the land use section of the city’s master plan, pages 111-113 [emphasis added]:

Site 5. Both sides of State Street to the south end of the U of M Golf Course, and the north end of South Industrial. As sites are annexed into the City, uses consistent with the light industrial district should be encouraged. Residential and commercial uses should be discouraged, except for the parcels adjacent to the Stimson and South Industrial commercial area. This area could serve as a location for a City garage facility since it is zoned or master planned appropriately and is centrally located. Sites on the west side of State Street should be office use. If ORL zoning is desired in this vicinity, the area zoned M1 and M2 south of the proposed deKoning Drive has large parcels and land uses that fit the intent of the district.

Biercamp Parcel Rezoning: Public Participation

David Diephuis introduced himself as a resident with a State Street address near the parcel that Biercamp wants to rezone. He stated that he was opposed to the proposed rezoning for four reasons. First, he said, rezoning to commercial use is contrary to the city’s master plan. That plan only supports commercial zoning “adjacent to” Stimson Street and South Industrial, which in the master plan’s context does not mean simply “nearby.” Second, he said, the commercial C3 or C2B zoning would allow for almost any future use of the land – auto sales, drive-through restaurants or dry cleaners. Auto-centric commercial zoning there could cause crippling congestion in the corridor, he warned. Third, the kind of ad hoc zoning being proposed, without a study, would be contrary to Ann Arbor’s efforts to achieve a sustainable future. Fourth, the light industrial zoning that the parcel would inherit from the township will allow the business to continue as it has for the six weeks since it opened. And that, Diephuis concluded, showed that commercial zoning was not necessary for the business.

Walt Hansen and Hannah Cheadle introduced themselves as the owners of Biercamp. They said the master plan should be followed. But they noted that commercial uses are encouraged adjacent to Stimson and South Industrial. They allowed they could operate their current business as it is. They suggested that the building at 1645 S. State could have its zoning left as is, and that it would be feasible to have only 1643 S. State rezoned as C2B – no drive-throughs would be possible under that zoning configuration.

They hoped their situation could be treated as a special case because of its annexation to the city from the township. They suggested that if the parcel were rezoned as a commercial designation and another business came after them, that business would need a re-occupancy permit, and the city could deny it, if the city did not think the business would be a good fit.

Responding to the criticism they’d heard that the location was good for them as owners but not for customers, they noted that it’s within biking and walking distance of offices near Eisenhower. They noted that when the neighboring Produce Station’s parcel was rezoned from M1 to C3, it was looked at as that store’s potential to serve the community as opposed to the site’s potential to be a McDonald’s. They stressed that the reason they want to be able to sell products not manufactured on site stems from a desire to sell additional products that are made in Michigan.

Biercamp Parcel Rezoning: Commissioner Deliberations

Diane Giannola said she essentially had to repeat some things she’d said at the planning commission’s last meeting about the request. She had trouble finding justification for C3 or C2B zoning in that area. The real problem is the Biercamp owners had leased a place with the wrong zoning, she said, and they hadn’t done due diligence to find that out. There are many other places they could have leased. Biercamp’s proposed rezoning, she said, just doesn’t fit into the master plan.

Giannola allowed that she would like to see the South State Street corridor studied and possibly rezoned as an outcome to that study, but said the commission is not ready to do that yet. Right now, she said, someone could point to this as a case of favoritism and base a lawsuit on that.

Kirk Westphal said he also had similar comments to those he’d made at the commission’s last meeting. If it were up to him, and the commission could attach the rezoning just to the business, that would be okay. But zoning goes with the land, not the business, he said.

Westphal echoed Giannola’s sentiments about consideration of the entire corridor. It’s good to keep in mind, he said, that it’s a high priority on the commission’s work plan to take a look at the State Street corridor. Maybe it turns out that the corridor gets recommended for up-zoning and other uses, he ventured.

Evan Pratt noted that he was not present at the commission’s previous meeting, but echoed Westphal’s thoughts. There’s a need for change in the entire corridor, he said. He said he was thinking along the lines of what the petitioner would like. But it’s not up to the planning commission to change the city’s master plan. That’s something that’s done with public process. He suggested that maybe Biercamp could wait it out a little bit.

In response to a query from Pratt about the possibility that a PUD could be a device to achieve Biercamp’s goals, city planner Chris Cheng noted the need of a PUD to demonstrate a public benefit. In addition, Cheng said, Biercamp’s owners didn’t indicate they wanted to go down that road.

Pratt concluded that he was left with M1 zoning as the best option to allow the business to continue. He ventured that maybe there won’t be labels on every product sold in the Biercamp store. [Pratt meant this apparently in a humorful way, inasmuch as Biercamp could contemplate selling products manufactured elsewhere but not labeled as such, which would be contrary to their zoning.] Pratt noted that the study of the corridor can’t be done quickly. He encouraged Biercamp’s owners to talk to their elected officials. [The site is located in Ward 4, represented by councilmembers Marcia Higgins and Margie Teall.]

Wendy Woods said she agreed with the comments from other commissioners. Responding to the talk of a PUD, she said that if there’s a public benefit, it’s important to come forward with that. She noted there are folks out there who are not crazy about PUDs in general. Regardless of the age of the master plan, Woods said, it serves a purpose. Having the master plan in place means that neighbors don’t have to guess about what’s going to happen next. She said she hoped that funding would be available to look at the State Street corridor.

Tony Derezinski said it boiled down to the source of things being sold. Once a decision is made to rezone, he cautioned, you can’t “un-ring the bell.” The staff recommendation is to deny the rezoning request, but be open to change as the city studies the corridor, he noted. Derezinski allowed that he’s eaten some Biercamp product, and it’s a great business. He suggested that if the State Street corridor study is delayed, the planning commission should think about revisiting the rezoning request. He said that he would encourage his city council colleagues to study the State Street corridor.

Planning commission chair Eric Mahler said he had the same concerns with the “spot zoning” that others had voiced. He noted that the commission has been talking about the State Street corridor for a while. He said that his own vision would be to up-zone the entire corridor.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously not to recommend the requested commercial zoning for the parcel. On a separate vote, the commission agreed unanimously to waive the requirement that Biercamp submit an area plan, because they are using the property “as is” with no additional improvements. Those recommendations will be forwarded to city council.

Commission Updates

Planning commission meetings typically include a variety of updates from staff and planning commissioners.

Comm/Comm: Near North, Washtenaw Non-Motorized Path

As part of his summary of city council activity, Tony Derezinski, the council’s representative to the planning commission, noted that Avalon Housing‘s Near North project appeared to be moving ahead. [The previous day, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority renewed a $500,000 grant to the nonprofit for that affordable housing project, to be located on North Main Street.]

Derezinski also noted that the Washtenaw Avenue non-motorized path had enjoyed its grand opening on a day when it had been raining cats and dogs. He noted the old expression that people can “vote with their feet,” which people had been doing by using the path already – it’s been substantively complete for a month and a half.

Comm/Comm: Medical Marijuana

Also as a part of Derezinski’s update to the planning commission from the city council, he noted that the city’s medical marijuana ordinance had been discussed at that week’s meeting, on Sept. 6. He said that dispensaries in the city are now all closed in the wake of a court of appeals ruling. The council’s specific issue at the Sept. 6 meeting was whether to go ahead with appointing members to the city’s medical marijuana licensing board – the council had decided to go ahead with that.

Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, noted that from a staff standpoint, they continue to get questions about whether people should go ahead and apply for one of the medical marijuana licenses specified in the recently enacted city ordinance. Rampson said that staff are not currently going to continue making any determinations about compliance with zoning or not. However, they’ll accept information if people want to bring it in. Right now, however, the city staff are not acting on any medical marijuana licensing requirements.

Comm/Comm: Public Art

Derezinski also told his fellow commissioners that an issue discussed at the last meeting was the city’s public art program, which sets aside one percent of all capital project budgets for public art. Derezinski indicated that the city attorney’s office “initial review” of the public art ordinance [enacted in 2007] showed that from a legal point of view it was fine. Derezinski said that one of the councilmembers at the last meeting had given his own opinion that the public art program was illegal. [That councilmember was Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), though Derezinski did not name him.] Derezinski reported that he himself had been appointed to replace Jeff Meyers on the Ann Arbor public art commission and had attended just one meeting so far. [The commission has met just once since Derezinski's appointment.]

Present: Bonnie Bona, Eleanore Adenekan, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods.

Absent: Erica Briggs.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 N. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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Ann Arbor OKs COW for Football Games Thu, 11 Aug 2011 16:09:58 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 3, 2011): On the day after city council primary elections, the planning commission had a light agenda, which featured only two action items.

View from Tower

View from the planned location of the "cell on wheels" – the northeast corner of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club parking lot – looking north toward the football stadium. (Photos by the writer.)

First, the commission approved a site plan by Verizon for a temporary cellular tower to be set up on the property of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club, near Main and Stadium. The cell on wheels (COW) will boost service during the University of Michigan home football games.

Second, the commission approved a minor revision to its bylaws. Instead of reviewing its work plan in December, the work plan review will come in May each year.

The commission also got an update from its city council representative, and a heads-up on future issues through an announcement of public hearings.

The hearings include one on zoning and annexation into the city of property on South State Street where Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky has opened for business.

Verizon COW

City planner Matt Kowalski described the request from Verizon, which was followed by a public hearing, after which the commission deliberated on the proposal.

Verizon COW: Background

Kowalski explained that Verizon is seeking approval of a temporary wireless tower – a “cell on wheels” or COW – directly across from the University of Michigan football stadium. The tower would stand 80 feet tall and would be in operation from Aug. 15 to Dec 15. Its purpose is to boost service during home football games at Michigan Stadium.

The tower would be located in the northwest corner of an existing parking lot at the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club and would take up two parking spaces. There would be a tower plus a shed for mechanical equipment. An emergency generator would also be on site. It’s not designed for co-location, because it’s designed to be temporary, Kowalski explained. But the application was being reviewed using the same criteria as a permanent facility would be, he said. It will need building permits and will be reviewed by building officials to make sure it’s structurally secure.

The electrical system will hook into the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club system, he said – the generator is just for emergencies.

He noted that last year, there was a tower installed on the opposite side of the street.

Verizon COW: Public Hearing

Only one person appeared to speak at the public hearing – Jonathan Crane, an attorney and engineer, on behalf of Verizon Wireless. He told the commission he was there to answer any questions and to encourage the commission to approve the site plan. He stressed that it will be a mono-pole with no ability to co-locate additional towers.

Verizon COW: Commission Deliberations

Bonnie Bona asked about the two parking spaces. Kowalski clarified that the tower would actually only take 1.5 spaces, but it was counted as two, because access to the second space would be tight. Bona drew out the fact that the parking spaces in question are not required spaces.

Bona also noted that the tower will be taken down on Dec. 15 – would Verizon want to set up the tower again next year? Kowalski said that Verizon hoped not to need the additional service boost because it anticipated some stadium improvements. Crane indicated that Verizon is in the process of upgrading service on the whole UM campus. Verizon forecasts that it won’t need the temporary tower next year. But 110,000 people using cellular devices at Michigan Stadium, many of them sending pictures (which are higher bandwidth) creates a lot of demand, he said. Bona allowed that the more service that’s offered, the more people use it.

Kirk Westphal asked about the possibility that noise could be an issue in the event that the emergency generators would run. Kowalski explained that the generators would strictly be for an emergency, if the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club’s power was not available, and then only during football games. The sound stats on the emergency power are: 65 decibles measured 23 feet from the center of the generator.

Crane explained that the tower would be powered up only during football games, including a couple of hours before and after the game. Having emergency backup is part of a cellular carrier’s civil defense obligation, he said.

Outcome: The commission unanimously approved the site plan for the Verizon COW after amending the approval to include the dates Aug. 15-Dec. 15. The decision does not require subsequent approval by the city council.


The commission approved its bylaws with little discussion. Planning commission chair Eric Mahler noted that the revision was that instead of reviewing its work plan in December, the work plan review will come in May each year. [.pdf of planning commission bylaws]

Outcome: The commission unanimously approved the revision to its bylaws.


Reporting to his fellow planning commissioners with an update on city council activities was Tony Derezinski, who represents Ward 2 on the city council. He highlighted two items.

Update from City Council: City Admin Hire

Derezinski reported that the city council had hired Steve Powers as its new city administrator.

Matt Kowalski Adenekan

Before the meeting, Ann Arbor city planner Matt Kowalski exchanges business cards with Eleanore Adenekan, the planning commission's newest member.

He told the commission that Powers was currently county administrator for Marquette County, Michigan. The city had received 61 applications, he said, and those had been narrowed down to about 10 by the city’s consultant and further down to 3. One of those finalists had subsequently dropped out.

Both of the two finalists could do the job, Derezinski felt, but the nod went to Powers based on his familiarity with Michigan statutory law and his training as a city administrator. The city came up with a contract, which Powers has accepted, Derezinski said. He’ll start in the middle of September.

Update from City Council: City Elections

Derezinski also reported that all three incumbents had won their Democratic Party primaries. Only two of those are challenged in general elections, Derezinski noted, but there was a rumor that an independent would stand for the general election, but that was not yet certain.

[In fact, Jane Lumm did submit nominating petitions for Ward 2 as a candidate not affiliated with any party. She'll face incumbent Stephen Rapundalo, who won his Democratic primary. In Ward 1, only one name will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot – that of incumbent Sabra Briere, who did not have a contested Democratic primary. In Ward 3, the winner of the Democratic primary, incumbent Stephen Kunselman, will face Republican David Parker. In Ward 4, incumbent Democrat Marcia Higgins will face Republican Eric Scheie. And in Ward 5, the winner of the Democratic primary, incumbent Mike Anglin, will face Republican Stuart Berry.]

Update from Planning Commissioners: Pedestrians

Erica Briggs alerted her fellow commissioners to the fact that the city of Ann Arbor will begin enforcing a change in the city code made around a year ago: Motorists are now required to stop and yield to pedestrians who are in or approaching crosswalks not otherwise equipped with traffic signals.

Public Hearing Notice

Public hearings are noticed to the public through multiple mechanisms, including physical posting at the site that is subject of the public hearing. This is the posting for the Verizon COW, which is affixed to a streetlight post along Stadium Boulevard near the entrance to the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club.

The city has mounted a publicity campaign in advance of police enforcement – which will start in September with warnings and in October with ticketing. Tony Derezinski noted that he’d received something in the mail – he assumed it was part of a mass mailing.

Public Hearings Scheduled

Among the public hearings scheduled for Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. is one for the annexation and zoning of a parcel on South State just south of the Produce Station, where Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky has opened for business. The city council gave authorization for a sanitary sewer hookup for the property at its July 18 meeting.

Present: Bonnie Bona, Erica Briggs, Eleanore Adenekan, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods, Tony Derezinski.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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Carlberg Exits Planning Commission Wed, 15 Jun 2011 02:28:59 +0000 Chronicle Staff After a 16-year tenure, Jean Carlberg attended her last meeting as an Ann Arbor planning commissioner on Tuesday, June 14 – a working session held in the city council workroom at city hall.

Carlberg is a Democrat whose 12 years on city council  (1994-2006) representing Ward 3 overlapped with her time on the planning commission. She will not be serving on any other city government boards or commissions, at least for the moment. She is a board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, a nonprofit consortium of groups working to end homelessness in the county.

Carlberg indicated that she had talked with mayor John Hieftje about a year ago about her decision not to seek reappointment. The mayor is responsible for nominating candidates to the city’s boards and commissions. Those nominations must be approved by the city council, but in recent years, dissent has been a rarity.

Hieftje is expected to put forward a nomination for Carlberg’s replacement at the council’s June 20 meeting, but has told neither Carlberg nor Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, the name of the candidate. Tony Derezinski, a Ward 2 city councilmember who serves as the council’s representative on the nine-member planning commission, said he also hadn’t been told who would replace Carlberg.

According to Ann Arbor city code (Section 1:171 – 1:183 of Chapter 8, Title I): ”The Mayor shall notify Council at least 30 days prior to the expiration date of the term of office of any person serving on a board or commission. The Mayor shall place on the table the name of all reappointments no later than 60 days after the expiration date of the term of office.”

Wendy Woods, another former city councilmember who serves on the planning commission, is expected to be reappointed by Hieftje to another term. The current three-year terms for both Woods and Carlberg officially end on June 30. Regular meetings of the planning commission are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, but next Tuesday’s meeting – on June 21 – has been cancelled.

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Design Review Changes to City Code OK’d Tue, 05 Apr 2011 23:49:28 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its April 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission unanimously recommended approval of amendments to the city code that establish a design review board and design review procedures for certain downtown properties.

The city council had approved design guidelines at their Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, as well as a temporary design review committee, but asked the planning staff and planning commission to draft ordinances that would lay out details of a design review program in the city’s code. The review process would take place before the mandatory citizen participation meeting, so that the design review board’s comments could be incorporated into the project’s design before it’s presented to citizens. Though the review process is mandatory, developers aren’t required to act on the review board’s recommendations.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the planning commission is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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