Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas have been selected to handle the possible sale of the former YMCA lot, located at the corner of Fifth and William in downtown Ann Arbor. The roughly 0.8 acre parcel, owned by the city of Ann Arbor, is used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system. City administrator Steve Powers notified councilmembers of the decision in an email sent July 3, 2013.
Kerrytown Place – a proposed development on North Main Street – has received an initial approval from the Ann Arbor city council for its requested rezoning. The initial action came at the council’s July 1, 2013 meeting.
Kerrytown Place is a project that Tom Fitzsimmons is planning to build on the site of the former Greek Orthodox church on Main Street. The rezoning would be from PUD (planned unit development district) to D2 (downtown interface base district). The 18-unit townhouse development that Fitzsimmons is planning to build is much smaller than The Gallery, for which the PUD zoning had originally been approved at the request of a different owner.
The city planning commission gave a unanimous recommendation of approval at its …
Editor’s note: A forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party on June 8, 2013 drew six of seven total city council candidates who’ve qualified for the primary ballot.
In the Aug. 6 Democratic primary, only two wards offer contested races. In Ward 3, Democratic voters will choose between incumbent Stephen Kunselman and Julie Grand. Ward 4 voters will have a choice between incumbent Marcia Higgins and Jack Eaton. Higgins was reported to have been sick and was unable to attend.
The format of the event eventually allowed other candidates who are unopposed in the Democratic primary to participate: Mike Anglin (Ward 5 incumbent), Sabra Briere (Ward 1 incumbent), and Kirk Westphal, who’s challenging incumbent Jane Lumm in Ward 2. Lumm, who was elected to the council as an independent, was in the audience at the forum but didn’t participate. The event was held at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street. The Chronicle’s coverage is presented in a multiple-part series, based on common threads that formed directly in response to questions posed to the candidates, or that cut across multiple responses.
More than one question posed to candidates was explicitly designed to elicit views on downtown Ann Arbor. Taken as a group, the questions prompted responses that formed several discrete subtopics related to land use and planning: planning in general; planning specifically for city-owned properties; and planning for a hotel/conference center.
Another general theme covered the role of the downtown in the life of the city of Ann Arbor, with additional subtopics that included: the appropriate balance of investment between downtown and non-downtown neighborhoods; who should and does benefit from the downtown; and the role of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.
This report includes candidate responses on these issues.
Part 1 of this series focused on the candidates’ concept of and connection to Ann Arbor, while Part 2 looked at their personal styles of engagement and views of how the council interacts. Part 3 reported on the theme of connections, including physical connections like transportation, as well as how people are connected to local government. Chronicle election coverage is tagged with “2013 primary election.”
The Ann Arbor city council has given direction to the planning commission to review downtown zoning – without imposing a moratorium on approval of site plans for downtown Ann Arbor. A moratorium had been contemplated in the council’s original resolution. The action took place at the council’s March 18, 2013 meeting.
Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 5, 2013): Despite protests by members of the Library Green Conservancy and hesitation by some commissioners, the city planning commission voted unanimously to add the Connecting William Street plan to its list of resource documents that support the city’s master plan. After the vote, Wendy Woods tried to reopen the item for reconsideration, but she was unsuccessful in garnering support from the majority of commissioners, so the initial decision stands.
The Connecting William Street project was undertaken by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the behest of the city council. It focuses on recommendations for coordinated development of five city-own sites in the William Street area, on the south side of downtown. By becoming a resource document, the CWS plan carries less weight than it would if it were part of the city’s master plan.
Amber Miller of the DDA gave a presentation during the March 5 commission meeting, similar to those previously given to the council and the DDA board.
Much of the discussion among commissioners focused on the issue of open space. Miller noted that recommendations on that issue have been deferred to a committee of the city’s park advisory commission. That downtown parks committee is in the early stages of its work – it was scheduled to meet earlier in the day on March 5, but that meeting was canceled.
Commentary during a public hearing on the CWS plan also focused on open space, with several members of the Library Green Conservancy advocating for a centrally located park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure. They criticized the DDA’s process for developing the plan, and felt the planning commission had not adequately publicized the fact that a public hearing on Connecting William Street would be held that evening.
Additional public commentary came after the commission’s vote. Woods said her decision to ask for reconsideration of the item was prompted by concerns raised during this final public commentary. She felt it wouldn’t hurt to wait two weeks until the commission’s next meeting, so that more people could have the chance to weigh in, if they wanted.
Sabra Briere, who had expressed strong reservations before casting her original yes vote, said she supported Woods in her effort to reconsider the item, suggesting that postponement would be appropriate. She expressed concern that the commission was deciding to use the CWS plan as a future planning document – which would be referenced when the planning staff and commission make their recommendations to the city council on site plans and other planning and development actions. Given that importance, Briere – who also serves on city council – wanted to be absolutely certain before accepting it.
Other commissioners disagreed. Kirk Westphal, the planning commission’s chair, also served on a DDA leadership outreach committee (LOC) that helped craft the Connecting William Street plan. He said he felt extremely comfortable with the public process that had led to these recommendations. Eric Mahler also argued against reopening the item for another vote, saying the commission needed to bring closure to this long process. He was satisfied that sufficient public notice had been provided.
It’s unclear whether the city council will take any action on the Connecting William Street plan. As to what happens next, Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, told planning commissioners that the DDA will be following the council’s guidance. Councilmembers have already taken a first step related to one of the five parcels – the former YMCA lot. At their meeting on March 4, 2013, councilmembers voted to direct the city administrator to prepare an RFP (request for proposals) for brokerage services to sell the lot. A $3.5 million balloon payment on the property is due at the end of 2013.
Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (March 6, 2013): In a main agenda item, the DDA board authorized a $300,000 grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission – for renovations to the 64-unit Baker Commons public housing facility. It added to the $280,000 grant made late last year for the replacement of the Baker Commons roof.
The grant award had come at the request of AAHC executive director Jennifer L. Hall, who’s proposing a major change to the way the 360 units of public housing are administered. The approach involves privatization and project-based vouchers.
The DDA’s support for public housing also surfaced at the meeting as a talking point for board members in the context of a proposal being considered by the Ann Arbor city council – which would amend the city ordinance regulating how the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture works. The amendments would clarify existing language in the city ordinance in a way that would favor the other taxing authorities, whose taxes are captured as a part of the DDA’s TIF. The council postponed action on that proposal at its March 4, 2013 meeting. In that context, at the DDA’s March 6 meeting, board member Sandi Smith raised the specter that the DDA would in the future not be able to support affordable housing in the same way it has done in the past.
In addition to clarifying the question of how TIF is calculated, the amendments would prevent elected officials from serving on the board and would impose term limits for board service. Board members took turns at the start of the meeting arguing that the DDA had been a good steward of public dollars and that the amendments to the ordinance are not warranted. Board members indicated that they didn’t think their service as volunteer members of a board was being afforded adequate respect by the city council.
The board comments followed a turn at public commentary at the start of the meeting from Brendan Cavendar of Colliers International, a commercial real estate services firm. His commentary departed from the typical pattern of someone signing up to address the board for up to four minutes. Instead, Cavendar had been invited to appear, and responded to prompts from board members to deliver a range of positive responses, including: future tenancy of the former Borders location; rising rents in the downtown area; and affirmation of the importance of the downtown public parking system.
The city’s public parking system is managed by the Ann Arbor DDA under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. The monthly parking usage report is featured at every board meeting. But the March 6 meeting featured the parking system in an additional way. The board decided to award the full $50,000 of a discretionary management incentive to the DDA’s subcontractor – Republic Parking – for operation of the public parking system. It’s an annual decision, but it’s the first time in the last five years that the full amount has been awarded. The decision was based on good performance on metrics tracked by the DDA, according to the board.
In a third voting item, the board authorized $610,662 in support of getDowntown’s go!pass program, which provides a subsidy to cover the cost of rides taken on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses by employees of participating downtown businesses. To participate, a business must purchase a go!pass for all employees, at an annual cost of $10 per employee. Roughly 6,500 downtown employees are provided with go!passes through the program.
The Ann Arbor planning commission has voted to add the Connecting William Street plan to its list of resource documents that support the city’s master plan. It was the main agenda item at the commission’s March 5, 2013 meeting, and was approved unanimously. By adding the CWS plan to the list of resource documents, the planning commission did not alter the city’s downtown plan or the master plan.
However, there was some concern about whether the agenda item had been adequately publicized. Those concerns were voiced by several people during public commentary before and after the vote, which led Wendy Woods to attempt to reopen the item for reconsideration at the end of the meeting. The vote to reopen …
A six-month moratorium on the acceptance of new site plans for developments in downtown Ann Arbor has been postponed by the city council until its March 4 meeting – in a unanimous vote taken at its Feb. 19, 2013 meeting.
At the same Feb. 19 meeting, the council also postponed a resolution that called for reconvening the downtown design guidelines task force to review and make recommendations to city council regarding improvements to the design review process. Currently, developers must follow a mandatory process of review for downtown projects, but are not required to comply with the board’s recommendations. The resolution was added to the agenda about an hour before the meeting started. Members of the task force mentioned in the …
Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 5, 2013): The contentious debate about zoning for the north side of East Huron Street – which had appeared to be settled with the 2009 A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning project – emerged again as the planning commission deliberated the proposed 413 E. Huron development this month.
Following a lengthy discussion and public hearing that drew 33 speakers, commissioners voted 5-3 to recommend approval of the site plan and development agreement for the residential project at the northeast corner of Huron and Division. However, because a recommendation of approval for site plans requires at least six votes, the project will be forwarded to city council with a technical denial.
Voting against the project were Sabra Briere, Ken Clein and Wendy Woods. Voting to recommend the project were Diane Giannola, Bonnie Bona, Tony Derezinski, Kirk Westphal and Eleanore Adenekan. Eric Mahler was absent.
The action at the commission’s Feb. 5 meeting followed an earlier decision on Jan. 15, 2013 to postpone a recommendation, pending input from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. That meeting also included an extensive public hearing.
The proposal calls for a 14-story, 271,855-square-foot apartment building with 533 bedrooms, marketed primarily to university students. The parcel is zoned D1 – the highest allowable density in the city. The northern edge of the site is adjacent to the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, including historic single-family homes along North Division.
Most speakers during the public hearing were harshly critical of the project, as were most planning commissioners – even those who eventually voted to recommend approval. Diane Giannola, describing herself as a very “design tolerant” person, said that even for her, the building’s design isn’t attractive. Clein, a commissioner who is a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, noted that the building’s design has been dubbed “Death Star Moderne” for its dark, looming style.
Many of the objections related to the design’s insensitivity to the adjacent neighborhood. However, Scott Reed – one of the few speakers who supported the project – argued that if context is an issue, then the context of the surrounding neighborhood should be changed. “Bulldoze it if you have to,” he said. Also supporting the project was Adam Lowenstein – owner of BTB Burrito, Good Time Charley’s and LIVE – who said that downtown business owners welcome the influx of new residents.
Several planning commissioners advocated for starting a review of the A2D2 zoning and of the city’s design review process – echoing the sentiments of several speakers at the public hearing, too. Although the city council had directed such a review to occur one year after the new zoning and design guidelines were approved in 2009, there have been few projects completed during that time and a review has not yet taken place. The planning commission and staff are expected to take up the issue.
At the end of the Feb. 5 meeting, commissioners dealt with another project, voting to postpone action on a proposal to build 19 single-family houses on Hideaway Lane off Traver Road – near the city’s Leslie Park Golf Course. Commissioners were following a staff recommendation that cited the need to resolve several outstanding issues.
Following a public hearing that drew 21 speakers – nearly all of them opposed to the project, sometimes making emotional pleas to halt the project – the Ann Arbor planning commission voted to postpone action on a site plan for 413 E. Huron, a 14-story residential development proposed for the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets. The vote took place at the commission’s Jan. 15, 2013 meeting, acting on staff advice for postponement. Staff had recommended postponing the vote because input on the project hasn’t yet been received from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, which must weigh in because of the building’s location along a state trunkline – Huron Street.
The project, estimated to cost $45 million, calls for combining …
Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan. 9, 2013): The first meeting of the year for the DDA’s board featured a packed agenda – with items ranging from budget adjustments to the adoption of recommendations on the Connecting William Street project. Also voted on by the board were grants to the nonprofit Dawn Farm, an allocation of funds for the DDA’s energy grant program, and two monthly parking permits for The Varsity residential development.
The budget adjustments to FY 2013 were made in order to account for roughly $2.6 million in construction costs associated with the Library Lane underground parking garage. They had been allocated in the previous year’s budget, but not paid last year – because the completion of the construction extended into this fiscal year.
The FY 2012 audit report, which the board also approved at its Jan. 9 meeting, shows that for FY 2012, the DDA spent about $2.5 million less than anticipated for that year – because the construction invoices were not all submitted to the DDA by the time books closed for the year.
The result of those changes leaves a budget with $22,237,924 in revenues against $26,339,555 in expenses for the year – which translates to a planned use of the DDA’s fund balance reserve of $4,101,632. That’s about half of the existing fund balance.
Not a part of the revised budget was the approval of two allocations made by the board – one of $50,000 in connection with the DDA’s existing energy grant program, and another of $150,000 for a grant to Dawn Farm, a nonprofit offering both residential and out-patient services supporting recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts. The energy allocation will essentially attempt to leverage energy audits completed through the DDA’s program for use in the Michigan Saves program, which offers low-interest financing for energy improvements.
The board also approved recommendations to be forwarded to the city council on the future redevelopment of five city-owned sites currently used for parking. The project, which is now named Connecting William Street (CWS), began with an April 4, 2011 city council resolution that directed the DDA to seek “robust public input” from experts, stakeholders and residents to develop a plan for those parcels.
In connection with the parcels in that area, the board also adopted a policy on possible grants from the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) funds to support development of the CWS properties. The policy makes clear that the DDA would not forgo its TIF capture on any property – but the amount of the grant would be calculated based on TIF revenue.
Also in connection with the CWS project, the board heard remarks during public commentary from representatives of the city’s park advisory commission as well as the State Street Area Association. The board also invited Doug Kelbaugh, a University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning, to share his thoughts on parks versus plazas – and why he thinks the site on top of the Library Lane parking garage is more likely to succeed as a plaza instead of a park.
The Varsity residential development has been granted the right to purchase two monthly permits in Ann Arbor’s public parking system, in order to satisfy the project’s 76-space parking requirement under the city’s zoning regulations. The project, located on East Washington Street, is a 13-story, 173-unit, 178,380-square-foot apartment building for approximately 418 people. Construction on the project is well underway.
The vote by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board came at its Jan. 9, 2013 meeting. The DDA manages the public parking system – including parking permits – under contract with the city. The DDA in turn subcontracts out the day-to-day parking operations to Republic Parking.
The developer of The Varsity had originally planned to satisfy its parking requirement through a contract …
The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has voted to approve the recommendations related to future development of five city-owned parcels in the DDA district – known as the Connecting William Street project. The recommendations cover: (1) the Kline lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the old YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library. [.pdf of presentation made at Dec. 5, 2012 board meeting]
The recommendations stemmed from a directive given …
Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Dec. 5, 2012): The board had no voting items for its final meeting of the calendar year, but received several reports. Among the reports was a draft recommendation to be presented to the city council early next year about the use of five city-owned pieces of downtown land, which are currently used for parking – the Connecting William Street project. That presentation, discussion by the board, and public commentary on the topic will be covered in future Chronicle reporting.
The DDA manages the city’s public parking system, and a report presented to the board for October 2012 – the most recent month for which data is available – showed $1.675 million in revenue, which amounts to an increase in revenue compared to October 2011 of about 15.5%. The increase is at least partly a function of rate increases, changes to the billing method, and an increase in the parking system inventory. The recently completed Library Lane underground parking garage offers more than 700 spaces, which were not available a year ago. The use of the parking system as measured by hourly patrons showed only a 1.8% increase.
At the meeting, DDA board member Roger Hewitt announced that future monthly reports would begin including more detailed information on the length of time patrons park in the system. Currently the board uses revenue levels as a kind of imperfect proxy for system usage.
Also related to the parking system, the stats for November will include the fact that the parking system maxed out – with all spaces in the entire system filled – on the night of the Midnight Madness holiday shopping promotion. That’s an event sponsored by the Main Street Area Association (MSAA), which took place on Nov. 30. Maura Thomson, executive director of the MSAA, relayed her appreciation to the board during public commentary for the DDA’s financial support of the holiday lights strung on trees downtown.
Again related to parking were brief remarks made to the board by local attorney Scott Munzel, who spoke on behalf of the developer of the proposed new residential project at 624 Church St. The DDA board had given its support for around 40 parking spaces to be provided for that 14-story, 81-unit apartment building through the city’s contribution-in-lieu program. Munzel alerted the board that the project was anticipated to be on the city planning commission’s Jan. 15, 2013 agenda. Munzel was hoping the location of the parking spaces in the public parking system could be determined by then.
Ray Detter, speaking for the downtown citizens advisory council, updated the board on another major development – 413 E. Huron. The northeast corner of Huron and Division is the location of a planned residential and retail development with 213 apartments – which does not need any variances in the D1 zoning district. Detter reported the developer’s intention to proceed with the development even through it was strongly criticized by the city’s design review board.
Addressing the board on a non-parking topic was Jim Balmer, president of Dawn Farm, a nonprofit offering both residential and out-patient services supporting recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts. Dawn Farm’s Chapin Street facility has been supported in the past by the DDA, and Balmer addressed the board to thank them for that support and to highlight a future funding request – $150,000 to pay down debt. The grant is intended to help Dawn Farm achieve a target of 200 beds for its residential facilities, up from the current 159 beds.
The board received news that the preliminary draft audit report indicates that the fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, 2012, will be unqualified – that is, “clean.” The unrestricted net assets held by the DDA at the end of the fiscal year totaled about $8.65 million.
Proposals for residential buildings in downtown Ann Arbor – including a 14-story building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division – were filed with the city’s planning unit on Sept. 26 for consideration by the design review board.
The 27-page proposal for 413 E. Huron calls for 213 apartments, about 3,000-square-feet of street-level retail space, and 163 on-site underground parking spaces. [.pdf of 413 E. Huron proposal to the design review board] The complex would consist of two main towers and an “inset upper level garden and pool courtyard,” according to the proposal. [.pdf of site rendering] The project would target young professionals, graduate students and upper classmen, with apartment sizes ranging from one to four bedrooms. The …
Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners had a wide-ranging conversation on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012 – mostly focused on responding to a Connecting William Street presentation that was made at PAC’s Aug. 21 meeting.
Their consensus: That the potential development scenarios presented by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – focused on five city-owned properties along William Street – did not include sufficient parkland or green space.
Commissioners plan to craft a resolution for their Oct. 16 meeting, recommending that the DDA incorporate more green space into its final proposal to the city council. The council had directed the DDA to develop a coordinated planning approach for the five sites, to guide future development. The parcels include the lower level of the Fourth & William parking structure, plus four surface parking lots: (1) the Kline’s lot on Ashley; (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant at Main & William; (3) the old YMCA lot between Fourth and Fifth; and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.
PAC’s resolution will also likely suggest specific attributes they’d like to see in a downtown park, such as grassy areas, interactive sculptures, or a performance space. Other attributes might include a visible location with mixed-use development around it, and programming or activities to attract people to the site.
Despite consensus that more green space is needed, commissioners were less unified about where that green space should be located, and expressed some frustration that they didn’t have more time for this task. One possibility discussed was a downtown greenway, making connections between different parcels where pedestrians could walk from Main Street to the library on South Fifth, and possibly continuing to State Street.
Other ideas included setting aside one of the five sites – either Main and William, or Fifth and William were suggested – as a park. Commissioners also discussed a possible park or plaza on the Library Lane site. There was some sentiment that having an outdoor space next to the library would be positive, though they acknowledged the concerns raised by library officials about putting a park there.
Liberty Plaza, one of the city’s current downtown parks, was part of the mix, although it’s not included in the Connecting William Street project. Commissioners have been asked by mayor John Hieftje to look at that park and some staff suggestions for improving it. More broadly, Hieftje has asked PAC to help prioritize the needs for downtown parks and the possibility of adding more parks into the system.
Colin Smith, Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation manager, encouraged commissioners to review the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, which includes recommendations for downtown parks. Some of these issues have been discussed for years, he noted, and it’s important not to “reinvent the wheel.”
The follow-up discussion to requests from Hieftje and the DDA was held at PAC’s land acquisition committee meeting on Sept. 4 in the city council workroom. It was attended by seven of the nine park commissioners: Julie Grand, Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Alan Jackson, John Lawter and Karen Levin. Not at the meeting were the two city councilmembers – Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor – who are ex-officio members of PAC.
Also absent was Bob Galardi, the commission’s most recently appointed member. His absence was noted by some commissioners, who had hoped to hear his perspective as a member of the DDA’s leadership and outreach committee for the Connecting William Street project.
At their recent working session, Ann Arbor planning commissioners got their first detailed look at the Connecting William Street project – an effort to coordinate planning for five city-owned sites in downtown Ann Arbor.
Led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the behest of city council, the project’s goal is to build a framework to guide possible development of those sites, which are primarily surface parking lots: (1) the Kline’s lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the old YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, which recently opened north of the downtown library.
Amber Miller of the DDA and Cheryl Zuellig of SmithGroupJJR led the Aug. 14 discussion and solicited feedback on three development scenarios. Broadly speaking, the scenarios represent low density, moderate density and high density development, and all conform to current zoning. They were created based on input from interviews, focus groups, an online survey, and the work of land use economist Todd Poole. [.pdf of Poole's market study]
Miller stressed that these scenarios are not recommendations for development, but are being used as conversation starters to get additional feedback. The final recommendation to the city council, which is expected in late October, will likely be a hybrid of the ideas in these scenarios.
The planning commission had a wide-ranging discussion, floating questions and suggestions. Ideas included: (1) creating spaces for food carts to give downtown workers more low-cost lunch options; (2) building structures that are adaptable, and that could easily be transformed from office to residential space; and (3) incorporating aspects of the city’s recently approved sustainability framework, as well as elements of a climate action plan that’s being developed.
Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, raised concerns over Ann Arbor becoming a “Disneyland of foodies,” and stressed the importance of diversity for a healthy downtown. Poole’s market study indicates that Ann Arbor residents spend 1.6 times the national average on dining out and entertainment.
Eric Mahler, a planning commissioner who served on a committee that had recommended a development on top of the Library Lot, cautioned that the public’s response to any proposal can’t be underestimated. People will likely challenge any assumptions related to market demand, he said, such as demand for a conference center. He also indicated that parking and traffic concerns shouldn’t be underestimated – people will raise those issues, too.
Miller noted that one of the lessons they’ve learned from previous unsuccessful efforts is the importance of having conversations in advance of specific proposals, and of reaching out to a more diverse group of people. That’s what they’ve been doing with Connecting William Street, she said, and it’s what they’ll continue to do in the coming weeks as they gather input for a final recommendation.
Several additions to the Ann Arbor city council’s Aug. 20 meeting agenda came on Friday, after the initial Wednesday publication.
And two of those items involve city ownership of land parcels – at opposite edges of downtown Ann Arbor. One of the properties is already owned by the city of Ann Arbor – the parcel at 350 S. Fifth. Situated on the southern edge of downtown, it’s also known as the Fifth and William parking lot (because it’s currently used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system) or the Old Y Lot (because it’s the location of the former YMCA building).
The resolution would direct the city administrator to evaluate the parcel for possible public or corporate use; and if none is found, to report back to the city council with a timeline for the disposition of the property – based on state and city laws and policies. The resolution, sponsored by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), is somewhat unlikely to gain much traction with the council. That’s because it explicitly indicates that the city administrator’s efforts are to be independent of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street planning effort, which includes the 350 S. Fifth parcel.
The Connecting William Street project was undertaken by the DDA based on a directive from the city council, on a unanimous vote, given at its April 4, 2011 meeting. Kunselman voted for that planning effort to take place – but was also vocal at the time, as well as before, about his view that the Old Y lot should simply be put up for sale one way or another.
A second piece of property on the council’s Aug. 20 agenda is located on the northern edge of downtown at 414 N. Main St., near Beakes Street – the site of the old St. Nicholas Church. In 2006, owners of the site received approval for a planned unit development (PUD) zoning designation from the city council. The PUD would allow construction of The Gallery, an 11-story building (158 feet tall) that would include 224 parking spaces and 123 units of residential housing, 18 of which would meet the definition of affordable housing derived by a formula based on area median incomes.
That 414 N. Main property does not belong to the city. But the result of a foreclosure process has put it in the hands of another public entity – the Washtenaw County treasurer’s office. It’s being offered at public auction (on auction.com) starting Sept. 6 through Sept. 11, at a price of $365,051. County treasurer Catherine McClary told The Chronicle in a phone interview that the price includes the demolition costs – and that she’s selected a demolition firm to start the work. Asbestos abatement is already underway, and the demolition itself is expected to begin before the auction, though it will likely not be complete by then, as it will take 15 days.
What would the council’s resolution on the 414 N. Main property actually do? It would start the process to change the PUD zoning to that of the surrounding property, which is D2 (downtown interface) – allowing a maximum building height of 60 feet. The resolution, also sponsored by Kunselman, gives as part of its rationale the fact that the original developer is no longer pursuing the project.
If the property doesn’t sell at the Sept. 6 auction, it will be offered at a second auction. If it doesn’t sell at the second auction, the property would revert to the city. The city could exercise a right of first refusal and acquire the property for the minimum $365,051 bid – but that would require the city to make the purchase for a “public purpose.”
After the jump, we provide a bit more detail on the 414 N. Main property.
A hearing is set for Aug. 1, 2012 to get public input on a brownfield financing plan for a residential development at 618 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The hearing will take place at the Aug. 1 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The vote to set the hearing was made at the board’s July 11 meeting.
Previously approved by the Ann Arbor city council on June 18, the project’s brownfield tax increment finance (TIF) plan works in conjunction with a $650,000 TIF grant (paid over a period of four years) awarded by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board at its June 6, 2012. Both the brownfield TIF and the DDA TIF work in a similar …
At its June 18, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the site plan and the brownfield development financing for the 618 S. Main project.
The 618 S. Main project is an apartment complex that developer Dan Ketelaar intends to market to young professionals. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. The project had received approval from the city planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012.
At 85-feet tall, the project is 25 feet higher than permitted in the D2 (downtown interface) zoning district where the site is located. So it was submitted as a “planned project” – a provision in the zoning code that allows some flexibility in height or setbacks, in exchange for public …
Ann Arbor District Library public forum (Saturday, June 9, 2012): At the first of three forums to gather input on the future of the library’s downtown building, AADL staff and board members outlined their goals and answered questions about a possible new facility.
The board faces an Aug. 14 deadline to put a millage on the November 2012 ballot, if they decide to seek tax funding for a bond that would support a new downtown library. The current structure, at the northeast corner of South Fifth and William, was built in the 1950s, with expansions and renovations in the mid-1970s and early 1990s. AADL director Josie Parker joked that one of the building’s boilers is “the same age as I am – I just hope it lasts as long as I plan to last.”
Several years ago, board members and library staff had worked on similar a building project, but suspended the effort in late 2008 because of declining economic conditions. Board members revisited the topic in 2010 as part of their strategic planning process. One of the strategic goals emerging from that process directly related to the downtown building: “Renovate or replace the downtown library with attention to the condition of the existing building, tax base, revenue stream, development of surrounding properties and demographics.”
In November 2011, the board voted to provide $45,000 in funding for consultants to help resume the process, and earlier this year a special facilities committee was appointed to oversee the effort and make a recommendation to the full board. That recommendation is expected to be presented at the board’s July 16 meeting.
At the Saturday morning forum, Parker told the group that the library had commissioned a survey by the Lansing firm EPIC-MRA, which she said “asked questions that we were afraid to ask.” [.pdf of survey results] The survey, conducted in March of 2012, showed that if a vote were taken now – on funding a $65 million renovation or new construction project with a property tax increase of 0.69 mills – 45% of survey respondents would vote yes, and another 15% would lean toward a yes vote. That compares with a total 37% who said they would either vote no or lean toward no. Results indicated even stronger support for a scaled-back project.
The forum provided an opportunity for questions. Topics covered the board’s decision-making process, financial considerations, design and operational issues, and whether the library was coordinating with efforts to develop surrounding properties – such as the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project.
In addition to library staff, about a dozen people attended the forum. Many of them – including former mayor Ingrid Sheldon and Ellie Serras of the Ann Arbor Main Street Business Improvement Zone – are already supporters of the library and will likely be part of a millage campaign, if the board decides to pursue that option. Four of the seven library board members also attended the forum: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman.
Two additional public forums will be held this month: on Tuesday, June 12 from 7-9 p.m.; and Wednesday, June 20 from 7-9 p.m. The June 20 forum will be held in the downtown library’s basement multi-purpose fourth-floor conference room at 343 S. Fifth Ave. in Ann Arbor. In addition, public commentary is open at the library board’s monthly meetings – upcoming meetings are on June 18 and July 16 starting at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown building. Comments or questions can also be emailed to email@example.com. A video of the June 9 forum is posted on the AADL website, along with other information related to this effort.
Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 4, 2012): The absence of four out of 12 DDA board members had no effect on any outcomes at the meeting, because the board did not have resolutions on its agenda.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of the DDA’s budget presentation to the city council the following week – on April 9 – and various other ongoing projects. So the board’s agenda consisted of a collection of regular committee updates and status reports.
Those included an update on the Connecting William Street project – an initiative to explore alternative uses of a limited set of city-owned parcels currently used for parking. The DDA embarked on the project at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council in a resolution it approved about a year ago – on April 4, 2011. The DDA had wanted the ability to lead that exploration, partly in exchange for renegotiating a contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. That new contract was finally settled on May 31, 2011, and features a clause that provides the city of Ann Arbor 17% of gross revenues out of the public parking system.
Total parking revenues for fiscal year 2013 are projected at around $18 million in the budget approved by the DDA board at its meeting the previous month, on March 7, 2012. That budget was presented by the DDA at a city council work session on April 9. The budget presentation featured a review of the DDA’s history of infrastructure investment and impact on the downtown district since its formation in 1982 – over $100 million of DDA investment, accompanied by $300 million in private investment and an increase in taxable value from $89 million to $386 million.
Another work session highlight was a series of questions posed by councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) about compliance with Ann Arbor’s ordinance that regulates how the tax increment finance (TIF) tax capture works for the DDA district. Last year, the city’s financial staff pointed to Chapter 7 of the city code, which appears to limit the amount of taxes the DDA can “capture” from the other taxing units in the district. The DDA board agreed with the city’s interpretation, and returned $473,000 in combined TIF revenues to the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw Community College and Washtenaw County.
Subsequently, the DDA reversed its position and gave a different interpretation to Chapter 7. Responding to Kunselman at the work session, DDA board chair (and retired Washtenaw County administrator) Bob Guenzel told Kunselman that the DDA had informed other taxing units of the DDA’s revised position, which was not to say they agreed with the DDA, he said.
Also the focus of TIF monies captured by the DDA is a proposed development at 618 S. Main, which received a positive recommendation from the Ann Arbor planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. The developer of the project, Dan Ketelaar, has estimated that the tax on the increment between the current valuation of the property and the final built project would yield around $250,000 a year in TIF revenue to the DDA.
is was initially asking that in addition to reimbursement of certain costs (at around $1.4 million) within six months of the project’s completion, the DDA pledge 80% of its TIF capture money for six years – an additional $1.3 million – to support certain aspects of the project in connection with the state’s Community Revitalization Program. But subsequently, Ketelaar revised the request to include just the TIF reimbursement. So the total request, over six years, is $1.3 million. The CRP is the successor to the brownfield and historic preservation tax credit program. In order to approve the tax credit, the state would like to see a commensurate commitment from local units – and Ketelaar is proposing that it take the form of the DDA’s support.
Ketelaar has pitched his idea to the DDA board on several occasions now – first at the full board meeting on Feb. 1, 2012, and at three subsequent DDA partnerships committee meetings. DDA board members are cautious about the precedent that such a pledge might set, and the appropriateness of the DDA’s role at this early stage in the project. (Ketelaar has not yet acquired the land.) At the March 28 partnerships committee meeting, DDA board member Newcombe Clark expressed concern that, depending on the precise role defined for the DDA’s participation, the DDA could effectively be artificially inflating land values.
This report takes a look in more detail at Connecting William Street, the DDA’s April 9 budget presentation to the city council, the lingering TIF capture issue, and the 618 S. Main project, as well as odds and ends from the April 4 DDA board meeting.
At its March 7, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board voted to establish a budget of $100,000 for its Connecting William Street project, which it’s undertaking at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council. The council passed a resolution on April 4, 2011 that gave the DDA direction to explore alternative uses of city-owned parcels – currently used for surface parking – in a limited area of downtown. The area is bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets.
Parcels included in the area are: the Kline’s lot, Palio’s lot, Fourth & William parking structure (ground floor), the old Y lot (Fifth & William), and the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, which …
At its Feb. 7, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of a rezoning request for 1320 S. University Ave., where the three-story Park Plaza apartment building is located. The property – on the south side of South University, between Forest and Washtenaw avenues – is owned by Philip Sotiroff, who hoped to build a mixed-use (retail and residential) building as high as 145 feet. That height would allow for a structure of between 10-14 stories on the 0.82-acre site. The current zoning – D2 (downtown interface) – does not allow for a structure taller than 60 feet. The city’s planning staff had also recommended denial of the rezoning request.
Fifteen people spoke during a public hearing about the …
Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Jan. 19, 2012): A major development on the south edge of downtown Ann Arbor – between Main and Ashley, north of Mosley – was generally praised by planning commissioners at their most recent meeting, and unanimously recommended for approval.
The 618 S. Main project is an apartment complex geared toward young professionals, according to developer Dan Ketelaar. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles.
The project borders the Old West Side historic district – the board of the Old West Side Association submitted a letter of support for the development. Parking and traffic concerns were raised by some commissioners, but the project received praise for its design and its potential to enliven that part of the city. The planning staff had recommended approval.
Two other projects gained approval from commissioners at their Jan. 19 meeting. Rezoning and a site plan for a small addition to the Habe Mills Pine Lodge – owned by the Society of Les Voyageurs – will move forward to the city council with a recommendation of approval. The lodge is adjacent to city parkland near Argo Pond, and had been erroneously zoned as public land.
The commission also signed off on a special exception use at 3645 Waldenwood, which would allow an accessory apartment to be added to the single-family house there. It’s located in the Earhart Estates neighborhood, west of Earhart and south of Glazier Way, in the city’s northwest side.
Several commissioners expressed support of this project and for accessory units in general. “Accessory dwelling units can be an asset to our community and I hope we see more in the future,” said commissioner Erica Briggs.
The site plan and development agreement for 618 S. Main – a major new residential project in downtown Ann Arbor – received a unanimous recommendation of approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting. The project now will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.
The planned project is located at the site of the former Fox Tent & Awning building, north of Mosley between Main and Ashley. It borders properties in the Old West Side historic district, but is not in the district itself. The proposal calls for demolishing two existing structures and erecting a 7-story, 153,133-square-foot apartment building with 190 units for 231 bedrooms.
The building would contain 70 studio apartments, 70 one-bedroom units, 42 …
Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan 4, 2012): The DDA board dispatched with its January meeting in just under a half hour. The discussion by the board and the public about its main agenda item – parking rate increases – had already taken place at previous meetings.
The parking rate increases that will affect many downtown visitors will not take effect until Sept. 1. Among the increases to take effect eight months from now are an increase in on-street metered parking from $1.40/hour to $1.50/hour and an increase in the hourly rate for parking structures from $1.10/hour to $1.20/hour.
Other increases are set to take effect on Feb. 1: an increase in the premium permit parking rate by $5/month (from $175 to $180); an increase in the Ann & Ashley and Liberty Square structure evening/Saturday rates by $1/entry (from $2 to $3); a $1 increase in the 415 W. Washington lot entry (from $3 to $4) and a $5 increase in monthly permit rates (from $80 to $90/month) there; and an increase in First & William lot permits by $10/month (from $105 to $115).
A change of the effective start date – from Feb. 1 to Jan. 21 – will apply only to the meter bag rates. They’re set to increase by $5/day (from $15 to $20).
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved its 2012 calendar. Board meetings are set for the first Wednesday of the month, when they’ve typically been held, except for July 4. That meeting date was shifted to Monday, July 2.
The board also heard the usual set of reports from various subcommittees covering a range of topics, from the future of the midtown area – which includes the AATA’s Blake Transit Center and the Ann Arbor District Library building – to electric charging stations.
During his regular report from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter remembered Ray Fullerton, a former member of that body, who passed away on Dec. 18.
Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 22, 2011): After pausing a project to redevelop the library’s downtown building three years ago, the AADL board voted at their November meeting to provide funds for consultants to help resume the process.
A transfer of $45,000 from the library’s fund balance to the administration’s consulting budget will be used to start the process for determining the future of the AADL’s downtown location, director Josie Parker told the board. In late 2008, economic conditions had prompted the board to call off plans to construct a new downtown building – a process that had been well underway. It’s time to start that discussion again, Parker said.
The downtown library is adjacent to several other projects that will impact its future, including the large underground parking structure – and whatever is eventually chosen to be built on top of it – being constructed immediately to the north of the library.
In other business, the board approved a one-year lease extension of the office space that houses the Ann Arbor News archives. The library took possession of the archives in January 2010. AADL is digitizing and posting the archives online, as part of the library’s Old News project.
The board also was briefed about an audit for its 2010-2011 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The auditor – Dave Fisher of the accounting firm Rehmann – described it as a clean audit. He suggested that the board consider implementing a fund balance policy in response to a new reporting standard issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). The board’s finance committee plans to take on that issue.
In her director’s report, Parker noted that AADL had again received the Library Journal’s five-star rating. It’s the highest rating awarded to libraries, and AADL was the only library in Michigan to achieve five stars.
Later in the meeting, Eli Neiburger – AADL’s associate director of IT and product development – gave a presentation about the library’s popular summer game, which this year had added an online component and achieved an unprecedented level of participation. He noted that although the game is AADL’s version of the traditional summer reading program, the word “reading” isn’t used to promote it. Feedback from previous years indicated that reading seems too much like homework, and discourages participation. ”Take the word reading out of the game, and people will read a lot more,” he said.
Residents gathered in the sewing room of the former Fox Tent & Awning building on Friday night for the first public meeting about 618 S. Main – a proposed apartment building that fronts Main, Mosley and Ashley streets.
That part of town is perhaps best known for the local landmark Washtenaw Dairy, located less than a block away from the proposed development. At Friday’s meeting, donuts from the shop were offered as refreshment, next to a wall of drawings and maps of the project. Washtenaw Dairy owner Doug Raab was among the 50 or so residents who attended.
The building – a six-story structure, with additional apartments on a penthouse level – will consist of about 180 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with rents likely in the $950 to $1,400 range. Two levels of underground parking are planned, with about 140 spaces. The project targets young professionals in their mid-20s to mid-30s, developer Dan Ketelaar told the group on Friday – people who are interested in an urban lifestyle, within walking distance of the downtown and University of Michigan campus.
Ketelaar hopes the project will transform that section of Main Street and perhaps encourage the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to make improvements in that area, as it’s doing now along Fifth and Division.
Because the project as designed is about 80 feet at its highest point – 20 feet taller than what zoning would allow – it will be submitted to the city as a “planned project.” Planned projects allow for some flexibility in height or setbacks, in exchange for public benefits. They don’t allow as much flexibility, however, as a planned unit development (PUD). Ketelaar cited a large courtyard along Ashley as a benefit to the neighborhood. Another benefit he cited was the provision on site of double the amount of required parking.
Parking was among several concerns mentioned by residents during a Q&A on Friday with Ketelaar and his project team, which includes a landscape architect who also helped design the new plaza and rain garden in front of city hall. Several residents said parking and traffic are already an issue in that neighborhood.
City councilmember Mike Anglin – who represents Ward 5, where the project is located – urged Ketelaar to work toward narrowing Main Street south of Packard from four to two lanes, to slow speeds along that stretch. Ketelaar had mentioned the idea of improving that part of Main Street earlier in the meeting. He said he could suggest narrowing the road, but noted that it’s up to the city to make that decision.
Other issues discussed at the meeting include the need to integrate the development with the neighborhood, the project’s financing, and details of the building’s design. Environmental issues covered at the meeting included: the site’s brownfield status; stormwater management; and relation to the floodplain.
This is the second project to go through the city’s new design review process. The first project to be reviewed in this way – The Varsity Ann Arbor – had been approved by city council the previous night. The design review board will meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the former Fox Tent & Awning building at 618 S. Main. That meeting, which is open to the public, will be followed by another community forum on Tuesday, Nov. 22 from 5-7 p.m. at the same location. Ketelaar has previously met with local business owners and members of the Old West Side Association board to discuss the project.
The project is expected to be formally submitted to the city later this month. After review by the city planning staff, it will be considered by the planning commission, which will make a recommendation to the city council. Construction could begin in the fall of 2012.
This past week, the block of Fifth Avenue south of William Street received renewed attention from city of Ann Arbor planning and development officials.
On Friday, Nov. 4, the developer of the City Place residential project filed demolition permit applications for seven addresses: 407, 411, 415, 419, 427, 433 and 437 S. Fifth Ave. The demolition permit applications will undergo flood plain review, grading review, historic review, plan review, and zoning review.
Submission of those seven demolition permit applications came after a filing with the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals earlier in the week (on Nov. 1) by owners of nearby properties. The three-point appeal challenges two decisions made by the city council and one made by the city planning manager …