The Ann Arbor Chronicle » fraternity it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Delta Chi Site Plan Gets Planning OK Wed, 02 Jul 2014 03:41:21 +0000 Chronicle Staff A plan to tear down the existing Delta Chi fraternity house on Hill Street and build a much larger structure in its place has received a recommendation of approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Delta Chi, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The Delta Chi fraternity house at 1705 Hill St.

The fraternity plans to demolish the existing 4,990-square-foot house at 1705 Hill St. – at the northwest corner of Hill and Oxford – and replace it with a 12,760-square-foot structure on three levels, including a basement. The current occupancy of 23 residents would increase to 34 people, including a resident manager.

The house is now on the northwest corner of the site, and a curbcut for the driveway is located at the intersection of Hill and Oxford. The proposal calls for building the new house closer to the southeast corner of the lot, with a parking lot on the west side and a new curbcut onto Hill – away from the intersection. [.pdf of staff report]

The minimum parking requirement is for seven spaces, but the plan calls for 16 spaces on the parking lot. There will be a shed with spaces for 20 bikes, and another four bike spaces in the back yard.

The project is expected to cost $2.2 million.

The fraternity declined to make a recommended voluntary parks contribution of $3,100 to the city. A statement from the fraternity gives their rationale for that decision: ”While we can see the merit of such a donation for a large, new development that may bring additional residents to the city, we feel that this is not fitting in our situation. The Delta Chi Building Association has owned this property continuously since 1947, and during that time has consistently paid our property taxes and special millage assessments designated for Parks and Recreation. During our 67 years of ownership, we believe that we have contributed much more than the contribution suggested to support the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation system.”

No one spoke during the public hearing for this project, but a fraternity representative fielded questions about the decision not to make the voluntary parks contribution. Commissioners Wendy Woods and Bonnie Bona expressed skepticism that fraternity members didn’t use city parks, and asked that the request be reconsidered.

In two separate votes, the planning commission unanimously recommended approval of a site plan and granted a special exception use for the project. A special exception use is required because the property is zoned R2B (two-family dwelling district and student dwelling district). Fraternities are only allowed in R2B districts if granted special exception use by the planning commission. No additional city council approval is required for that.

The site plan does require city council approval.

1705 Hill, Delta Chi, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 1705 Hill.

1705 Hill, Delta Chi, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

1705 Hill site plan.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.

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Theta Delta Chi Gets OK for Expansion Tue, 14 May 2013 02:05:38 +0000 Chronicle Staff An expansion of the Theta Delta Chi house at 700 S. State has received approval from the Ann Arbor city council. The property is located at the southwest corner of State and Monroe streets.

Aerial view of Theta Delta Chi property, at Monroe and State streets.

Aerial view of Theta Delta Chi property, at Monroe and State streets.

The city planning commission had recommended the project for approval at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting. Commissioners also granted a special exception use for the building.

The council’s action on the Theta Delta Chi item came at the May 13 session of the council meeting that began on May 6, 2013. The item had been postponed from the April 15 session. The April 15 meeting lasted until 3 a.m. – and all remaining items on the council’s agenda at that point were postponed until May 6, including the Theta Delta Chi site plan.

The proposal includes expanding the square footage from 12,386 square feet to 14,752 square feet by making an addition at the rear of the fraternity house. The property is zoned R2B (two-family dwelling district and student dwelling district), and the size of the lot would allow for occupancy of up to 50 people. However, the fraternity is not proposing to increase its current occupancy of 33 residents.

The new addition will include an expanded restroom and shower facilities, common space, a resident manager’s apartment, and a bike room with nine bicycle spaces. According to a staff memo, the project entails moving the driveway, which is accessed off of Monroe Street, about five feet to the east. To do this, the fraternity will need to enter into an agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and shift two on-street parking meters a few feet to the east.

The project also will require several variances from the city’s zoning board of appeals, including: (1) permission to alter a nonconforming structure (due to height and setbacks); (2) variances from Chapter 59 (off-street parking) to reduce the number of parking spaces required and allow one parking space in the front open space; (3) a variance from Chapter 47 (streets) to reduce the drive opening width; and (4) a variance from Chapter 62 (landscape and screening) to reduce the conflicting land use buffer width.

Other changes planned for this project include converting a yard on the south side of the house into a large patio. That area is currently used for parking. A new shed for a dumpster, recycling carts, and bike storage is proposed near the southwest corner of the site.

The fraternity is adjacent to apartment buildings and across the street from the University of Michigan law school.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Planners: Same Answer on Ellsworth Zoning Mon, 25 Feb 2013 18:25:17 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 21, 2013): Acting under the direction of the city council, Ann Arbor planning commissioners reconsidered the zoning they had previously recommended for a parcel on Ellsworth Road, east of Stone School. Commissioners came to the same conclusion – that it should be zoned R3 (townhouse district).

University of Michigan, Beyond the Diag, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

University of Michigan students with Beyond the Diag, a neighborhood outreach program. They attended the Feb. 21, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission, which included a brief presentation about the program. (Photos by the writer.)

The vacant lot at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road is the location for the proposed Summit Townhomes project, where the developer wants to build 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings. Because it’s being annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township, the parcel needs to be given a zoning designation. Planning commissioners had recommended R3 zoning (townhouse district) at their Nov. 20, 2012 meeting.

The zoning request was on the council’s Feb. 4, 2013 agenda for final approval, but during a public hearing on the item, several people raised concerns related to increased density in that part of town. So councilmembers voted unanimously to refer the zoning issue back to planning commissioners for another look.

At the commission’s Feb. 21 meeting, planning staff reviewed two other zoning options that would fit with the city’s master plan for that area. But even those options with lower density – for single-family homes – would result in more driveways accessing Ellsworth, causing more traffic concerns. Nor would stormwater management be improved with the other options. So planning staff again recommended the R3 zoning.

Three people spoke to commissioners during a public hearing on the zoning reconsideration, including two residents who live at the nearby Forest Hills Cooperative. They expressed concern about broader issues with the area – including crime and a lack of recreational facilities – as well as the specific proposed zoning and project for that site. Planning manager Wendy Rampson indicated that based on the council’s discussion, city administrator Steve Powers is asking the city’s parks and police staff to look into concerns raised about that area. There is also the opportunity for input on the city’s master plan, she said, when the planning commission holds a public hearing on that topic each May.

In other action at the Feb. 21 meeting, commissioners recommended that the city council approve a site plan for an expansion of the Theta Delta Chi house at 700 S. State St. The historic structure, built in 1922, is located at the southwest corner of State and Monroe, across from the University of Michigan law school. The building had been leased to another fraternity after the Theta Delta Chi chapter at UM became inactive in 1997. The chapter “recolonized” a few years ago, then took possession of the building again in May of 2012. The local architecture firm HopkinsBurns Design Studio has been hired to handle the expansion. It includes making a rear addition to the building, although there are no plans to increase the current occupancy of 33 residents.

The Feb. 21 meeting included another UM connection. Commissioners heard a presentation about Beyond the Diag, a relatively new neighborhood outreach program. It’s a student-initiated effort to build community among students and non-students, and to raise safety awareness on campus and near-campus neighborhoods. One of the program assistants – Matt Lonnerstater, a graduate student in urban and regional planning – also works as an intern with the city’s planning staff.

Zoning on Ellsworth

Zoning for property at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road – where the Summit Townhomes project is proposed – was back on the Ann Arbor planning commission’s agenda for another look, following a city council directive to reconsider zoning for the residential project.

The developer wants to build 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings, with each building between 80 to 160 feet in length. Each of the 24 units would have a floor area of about 1,300 square feet, and an attached one-car garage. The plan includes two surface parking areas on the east and west sides of the site, each with 12 spaces. To build this project, the property needs to be zoned as R3.

Aerial photo of property for Summit Townhomes

Aerial photo of property for Summit Townhomes, outlined in black. The property fronts Ellsworth Road and lies southeast of the Cloverly Village condominiums. The north/south road to the left is Stone School. The north/south road to the right is Shadowwood Drive, leading into the Forest Hills Cooperative townhome development. The structure in the top center of this image is Bryant Elementary School.

The project has been working its way through the city’s approval process for several months. The site plan had been postponed by commissioners in June of 2012 and again on Nov. 20, 2012, but was ultimately recommended for approval at the commission’s meeting on Jan. 3, 2013.

Before recommending the site plan, planning commissioners had previously recommended approval of annexation and zoning of the site in 2012. At their June 19 meeting, commissioners had approved annexing the 2.95-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, from Pittsfield Township into the city of Ann Arbor. The annexation was subsequently authorized by the city council. And at the commission’s Nov. 20 meeting, the R3 zoning for the property had been recommended for approval.

The zoning item appeared on the city council’s Jan. 7, 2013 agenda, when it received initial approval. However, at its Feb. 4, 2013 meeting, the council heard from about a half dozen people who spoke during the public hearing, in opposition to the zoning – citing concerns about congestion and overcrowding. So councilmembers voted unanimously to refer the zoning issue back to the planning commissioners for another look. The council indicated interest in hearing more detail on drainage issues, and the level of recreational services offered in that general area of the city, as well as information about public safety issues.

At the planning commission’s meeting on Feb. 21, city planner Jill Thacher gave the staff report, noting that the item related to the property’s zoning, not the Summit Townhomes site plan. She briefly reviewed the history of the property, noting that city council had requested this additional review by commissioners to focus on whether lower-density zoning would lessen impacts on the surrounding area.

Staff had looked at the city’s master plan and the zoning alternatives that are available for the site, she said. The three zoning designations that align most closely with master plan recommendations are R1C (single-family dwelling), R2A (two-family dwelling) and R3 (townhouse dwelling), which was the previously recommended zoning.

On the 2081 E. Ellsworth Road site, R3 would allow for 29 units – but only 24 are proposed in the Summit Townhomes project, she noted. Thacher reported that according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers manual, the average daily trips for the type of townhome proposed is 5.9 trips per day. By comparison, if the parcel were zoned R1C (single-family dwelling), it would allow for up to 17 units with a maximum of eight driveways leading directly onto Ellsworth Road. Each of those 17 units might generate up to 9.6 trips per day, according to the ITE manual.

The R2A zoning for duplexes would allow a maximum of 30 units on 15 lots. The ITE manual doesn’t give a specific trip estimate for this type of housing, she said, but the city’s traffic engineer estimated it would fall in the middle between the number of trips for single-family houses and townhomes.

Staff still recommends R3 zoning for this site, Thacher concluded.

Zoning on Ellsworth: Public Commentary & Hearing

Two people associated with the nearby Forest Hill Cooperative – Aiji Pipho and Claudia Myszke – spoke to commissioners during both the general public commentary as well as the public hearing on the zoning issue.

During general public commentary, Pipho told commissioners that there were some side issues she wanted to discuss, tangential to the Summit Townhomes project. She felt there’s been some misunderstanding between planning commissioners and residents. Commissioners seem to be under the impression that there’s not enough parkland in the southeast part of town, she said. In fact, there’s plenty of parkland in the area, Pipho said, but the recreation facilities on that parkland are inadequate.

Aiji Pipho, Claudia Myszke, Forest Hills Cooperative, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Aiji Pipho, a resident of Forest Hills Cooperative, and Claudia Myszke, the cooperative’s managing agent.

She also noted that although there is a community center in the area that does laudable work – Bryant Community Center – which mostly deals with getting food to people who need it. What’s more, that center’s size isn’t sufficient to meet the needs of the overall neighborhood. The area needs a community center where latchkey kids can go after school, so that they won’t be prey to gangs. She reported that her son was beaten up when walking through the park at Arbor Oaks, and that gangs are a growing concern. A real community center would help address those needs, she said.

Myszke, the managing agent of Forest Hills Cooperative, said the southeast side of Ann Arbor often ends up being reactive, not proactive, and is put into an adversarial role with the city. “That is not what we want to do,” she said. She’d like the area to be looked at as a whole, with the same approach that’s being taken with the South State Street corridor study or the North Main Huron River task force.

The southeast side is a low- to moderate-income area that’s known for crime, Myszke said, and residents would like to work with city staff to look at all the issues there. Myszke noted that the city council had given directive to look at numerous issues in the area, not just zoning. Those topics include crime and parks. But when some residents have met with planning staff, “they got a less-than-warm reception,” she said. It’s not clear how residents can voice their concerns without offending anyone, Myszke said. “I think it’s a process of education, and I really would like to see some help.”

At the public hearing about the parcel’s zoning, both women again addressed the commission. Pipho cited concerns over the possibility of the city zoning other nearby parcels for higher density too. Residents want to have more input on this, “and I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” she said. Pipho supported the idea of forming a committee with residents to work on these issues. It’s important that the community as a whole be healthy, she said, no matter where you live. For low-income people to be relegated to a part of town that has high crime “is a terrible thing,” she said. “And the fact is that high density, low income and no services equals crime.” With less density and more services, you can form a stronger community, “and that’s what we’re talking about doing,” Pipho said. She advocated for a real community center for children as well as senior citizens.

Myszke said she was representing not just the 306 families at Forest Hills Cooperative, but also the 630 families at University Townhouses, the 427 families at Colonial Square, and the 150 units in the Bryant neighborhood. The area needs help, and shouldn’t just be viewed on a parcel-by-parcel basis, she said. For a long time, low-income people were looked at as ignorant, she said, “and we’re not.”

Myszke said she was shocked by the support from the city council, especially after not having gotten any support from the planning staff or commissioners, she noted. Residents want to work with the city, and “we need someone to show us the way.” She also said residents want to work with the developer. She described him as a “wonderful man,” saying that the issues in that area are not his problem. [The developer's representative – Leonard Michaels of CIW Engineering in Rossford, Ohio – attended the Feb. 21 meeting but did not formally address the commission.]

Also speaking at the public hearing was Ethel Potts. She said the density in that area was caused by a “major planning error,” which in turn caused a zoning error. It started with Colonial Square, then other townhouses were built there. The land was available and developers wanted to build. But at no point did anyone question why people of a certain income were being clustered in one part of town, she said.

It took years for AATA to provide bus service to that part of town, she said, and recreational facilities there are still lacking. “It was like out-of-sight, out-of-mind social engineering,” Potts said. The map of the area provided in the commission’s meeting packet is very misleading, she said, because it doesn’t show the other housing complexes further east toward Platt Road. It’s a very large neighborhood that people say is “out by the dump,” Potts said, referring to the former city landfill. She disputed the traffic estimates, saying that the proposed Summit Townhomes development would generate a lot more traffic than indicated. The old problems are coming home to roost, she concluded, and it’s up to planning commissioners to do something about it.

Zoning on Ellsworth: Commission Discussion

Planning commissioners touched on several issues during their deliberations, including traffic, density, crime and services to that part of town. This article organizes their discussion thematically.

Zoning on Ellsworth: Commission Discussion – Traffic

Sabra Briere, who also serves as a Ward 1 representative to the city council, reported that there had been a lot of discussion about this site at the council meeting. There had also been a lot of talk about the level of services in that area, which didn’t related to this particular zoning request.

Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor city council, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sabra Briere, a Ward 1 city councilmember who also serves on the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Briere wondered whether planning staff had considered R1D, which allows for smaller units clustered closely together. It seemed to her that R1D – another type of single-family zoning – might be a level of density between the townhomes and duplex.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson said that staff had been asked to look at R1C, not R1D. However, R1D would be essentially the same density as R2A (duplexes), she added. R1D would also have the same issues with traffic, she said, as well as the concerns related to multiple driveways onto Ellsworth. The potential for those multiple driveways was the biggest concern that city planners had for single-family zoning in that area, she said. [The Summit Townhomes project would have one access drive to Ellsworth.]

Diane Giannola clarified with staff that a single-family house is estimated to generate almost twice as many trips as a townhouse. In that case, she said, it would indicate that more traffic would be generated if single-family homes are built there. Rampson replied that it depends on the number of units – it might not be possible to put the maximum 17 single-family units allowed on that site. But in general, single-family homes generate more trips, according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Rampson noted that ITE estimates are taken from figures across the country, so it’s not possible to say that the same number of trips would be generated at any one specific site, “but that’s what we have to start with.”

Kirk Westphal asked whether the additional trips for single-family homes reflect the fact that most single-family homes have more occupants per unit than townhomes do. Rampson replied that average household size is part of it – the average number of residents for single-family homes is generally greater than for townhomes.

Zoning on Ellsworth: Commission Discussion – Stormwater Management

Bonnie Bona pointed out that the Summit Townhomes project would be required to include stormwater management on the site. If the property were zoned R1C (single-family) or R2A (duplex), would that kind of stormwater management be required?

Rampson replied that if the property owner divided the site into individual parcels – up to four – then no stormwater management would be required. However, if it’s a “cluster development” of single-family houses along one drive, then it would require a site plan and stormwater management. So it depends on the site configuration, Rampson explained.

Bona noted that if the lots are separated for single-family homes, there would be no stormwater management. So the tendency would be for R3 zoning to require more stormwater control, she said, “which is important all over the city.”

Zoning on Ellsworth: Commission Discussion – Crime

Giannola said it’s always an issue for her when people associate townhouse developments automatically with low-income residents and higher crime. She noted that she lives in a townhome in a different neighborhood, and she doesn’t consider herself low income. The first step in helping the southeast side is to not assume that everything being built there will be for crime-ridden, lower-income families, Giannola said. She didn’t think that the nearby Cloverly Lane townhomes were lower income, and said it helps to mix in different types of income levels.

Westphal also objected to correlating crime with high density. In many cases, higher density actually leads to a safer environment, he said, but it wasn’t an issue that the planning commission could address. He hoped the neighbors could have a fruitful conversation with law enforcement about it.

Zoning on Ellsworth: Commission Discussion – Density, Broader Concerns

Giannola argued that there’s very little difference between R3 (townhouse) zoning and single-family zoning – 24 units in the proposed Summit Townhomes compared to a maximum of 17 units for single-family housing. [By way of clarification, the Summit Townhomes proposal calls for 24 units, but the maximum number of units allowed on that site – if zoned R3 – is 29.] She couldn’t see how that difference in units would make any difference in the lives of the people who already live in that neighborhood.

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

Planning commissioner Diane Giannola.

Most of the issues brought up during the city council meeting are issues that planning commissioners can’t do anything about, she said – crime, parks, and city services. “I don’t see how rezoning this R1C fixes those things,” Giannola said. The R3 zoning seems appropriate, she concluded.

Bona said she agreed with many of Giannola’s points. It’s unfortunate that neighborhood groups are often created because of a problem, but she hoped this would be the start of some positive activity to improve the area. Even though these other issues don’t directly affect the zoning decision, Bona felt that the planning commission does have some responsibility to look at broader issues, primarily tied to their responsibility for the city’s master plan.

Responding to a query from Bona, planning staff indicated that the city’s south area plan – which is part of the master plan – is more than 20 years old. Bona noted that while the planning commission has been focusing on corridors, this southeast neighborhood might be one that deserves more attention. She’d like commissioners to think about asking council to put together a task force to look at this neighborhood. “I think it’s complicated, and I wouldn’t want to try to fix it right here,” she said.

Bona supported the R3 zoning, citing the single drive onto Ellsworth and the clustering of the townhomes, which leaves more open space. She also told the developer that she thought the design of the townhomes could have an impact on the neighborhood. If garages are in front and there are no front porches, then there are no “eyes on the street,” she said. It would add great value to the townhomes if they weren’t dominated by garages, she said. Perhaps a neighborhood group could make suggestions about how the design could help the community function better, Bona concluded.

Westphal said it always feels deflating not to be able to address all the concerns brought forward by neighbors. He asked planning staff to explain briefly the commission’s purview in terms of master planning, and give some indication of where a broader discussion might take place.

Rampson said that city planning staff have had some initial discussions with the neighborhood representatives who were attending that night’s meeting. The staff has been focused on this specific project request, she said, and there’s not necessarily the opportunity in the development review process to have the kinds of broader discussions that Westphal mentioned. But the staff would be open to meeting with residents about what their options are, she said.

One example is getting involved in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) process, she said, to advocate for infrastructure improvements in a particular neighborhood. Rampson also noted that each May, the planning commission considers a resolution to update the city’s master plan, and a public hearing is held as part of that process. People can come and advocate for reviewing aspects of the master plan.

Rampson pointed out that the parcel at 2081 E. Ellsworth is the last one in that area to be annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township. But the property on the south side of Ellsworth is outside of the city’s water and sewer area, she said. So if that property is developed, it will be developed under Pittsfield Township’s jurisdiction. Most of the area on the city’s side is developed, Rampson noted, so this particular parcel is somewhat unusual.

It might be that the focus going forward is to look at capital improvements in the area, as well as some of the non-planning issues that relate to crime, Rampson said. She reported that as a result of the city council’s discussion, city administrator Steve Powers planned to coordinate with the policy chief, John Seto, and with parks staff on issues related to city facilities and crime in that area.

Eric Mahler, Bonnie Bona, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning commissioners Eric Mahler and Bonnie Bona.

Westphal noted that an adjacent parcel to the east of the Summit Townhomes project is zoned R1C (single-family). He wondered why it had been zoned that way, even though the master plan indicates a higher zoning is preferred. Could it be “up-zoned” in the future, to allow for higher density?

Rampson replied that it would be possible to up-zone that property – at 2195 E. Ellsworth – if the landowner requested it. She explained that a few years ago, that property was allowed to be annexed into the city without incurring improvement charges. It was one of several properties that took advantage of the annexation offer before the city’s deadline for doing that expired in 2005, Rampson said. At the time, the property owner of 2195 E. Ellsworth had no plans to develop it, so they opted for R1C zoning. Rampson said if the owners eventually wanted to develop that parcel and rezone it, they’d have to go through the city’s planning approval process and show how their proposal fits into the master plan for that area.

Westphal clarified with Rampson that R3 zoning might be requested for that site in the future, and that if neighbors are concerned about a pattern of development in that area, they should start getting involved now in raising issues related to the master plan.

Outcome: Commissioners again voted unanimously to recommend zoning the parcel at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road as R3 (townhome dwelling). That recommendation will be forwarded to the city council.

Theta Delta Chi Expansion

An expansion of the Theta Delta Chi house at 700 S. State was on the planning commission’s Feb. 21 agenda. Commissioners were asked to grant a special exception use for the building, and to review the project’s site plan.

The proposal includes expanding the square footage from 12,386 square feet to 14,752 square feet by making an addition at the rear of the fraternity house, which is located on the southwest corner of Monroe and South State. The property is zoned R2B (two-family dwelling district and student dwelling district), and the size of the lot would allow for occupancy of up to 50 people. However, the fraternity is not proposing to increase its current occupancy of 33 residents.

Theta Delta Chi fraternity, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial map of Theta Delta Chi fraternity (outlined in black) at the southwest corner of Monroe and South State.

The new addition will include an expanded restroom and shower facilities, common space, a resident manager’s apartment, and a bike room with nine bicycle spaces in the basement. According to a staff memo, the project entails moving the driveway, which is accessed off of Monroe Street, about five feet to the east. To do this, the fraternity will need to enter into an agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and shift two on-street parking meters a few feet to the east.

The project also will require several variances from the city’s zoning board of appeals, including: (1) permission to alter a nonconforming structure (due to height and setbacks); (2) variances from Chapter 59 (off-street parking) to reduce the number of parking spaces required from 7 to 5, and allow one parking space in the front open space; (3) a variance from Chapter 47 (streets) to reduce the drive opening width; and (4) a variance from Chapter 62 (landscape and screening) to reduce the conflicting land use buffer width. The neighbors have requested that the height of a required fence on the east and south sides be reduced to four feet.

Other changes planned for this project include converting a yard on the south side of the house into a large patio. That area is currently used for parking. A bollard and gates would be installed to ensure that the back patio wouldn’t be used for parking. A new shed for a dumpster, recycling carts, and storage for 11 bikes is proposed near the southwest corner of the site.

The fraternity is across the street from the University of Michigan law school, which is located on the east side of South State. The Chi Psi fraternity house is north of Theta Delta Chi, across Monroe Street. In giving the staff report, Jill Thacher noted that to the south and west of the site are a “hodge-podge” of apartment buildings, built in the 1960s and ’70s, as well as older single-family houses that have been converted into student apartments.

The materials used on the addition are proposed to be brick, with limestone at the base.

By way of historical background, Thacher told commissioners that the house was built in 1922 and used to be on the opposite side of South State, where UM law school’s Hutchins Hall is now located. On Aug. 6, 1930, the building was moved intact to its current location. She said there’s a photo at the Bentley Library showing the house sitting in the middle of South State Street, but she wasn’t able to get a copy of it for the meeting.

Theta Delta Chi Expansion: Public Hearing

Arthur Saulsberry introduced himself as a director of the Gamma Deuteron Building Association, which is owned by the fraternity’s alumni. The association’s directors administer the fraternity house property on behalf of the alumni.

Gene Hopkins, Eleanore Adenekan, Tony Derezinski, Ann Arbor planing commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left (seated): Planning commissioners Eleanore Adenekan and Tony Derezinski. In the background is Gene Hopkins, an architect who’s working on the Theta Delta Chi expansion.

The fraternity is part of the city’s history, originally founded in 1889. Saulsberry said they view the house primarily as a platform for the fraternity’s educational mission, and they’d like to make the building safe and attractive for that purpose. As background, he told commissioners that the fraternity “endured continuously” until 1997, when the chapter became inactive. The building was leased, and then was subleased to another fraternity, he said. “It turned out that both those moves were rather grievous mistakes.”

A few years ago, undergraduates “recolonized” the fraternity at UM. In 2008, the association’s board was reconstituted and regained control of the house in May of 2012. Some initial renovations were done last summer, he said.

Currently, the chapter has 49 undergraduates, with some members who’ve been living in the house since September.

There are three significant priorities with this project, Saulsberry said. The first priority is life safety, health and security. That includes installing fire-suppression systems, new emergency egress, improvements in cleanliness and ventilation, and increased security. Part of the site plan is designed to address security issues associated with being on the corner of two highly-traveled streets, he said.

Because the building is historic, the fraternity is very interested in the historic preservation aspects of the project, Saulsberry said. That’s why the architecture firm HopkinsBurns Design Studio has been hired. “We’re looking forward to restoring 700 South State Street to its former glory,” he said.

Another priority is sustainability – both as an organization and for the physical facility, Saulsberry said. So the building’s operation is being handled more like a business enterprise, rather than an “informally administered social organization.” That’s intended to avoid the boom-and-bust cycle of fraternities, he said. There will be a capital fund to allow the organization to make continual renovations and improvements to the building. They’ve also engaged a professional management company to handle cleaning and maintenance, and to enforce the rules for acceptable use of the facility, Saulsberry said. Sustainability also relates to environmental responsibility, he said, so the project includes installing energy-efficient lighting fixtures and plans to install a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Architect Gene Hopkins spoke briefly, saying he was on hand to answer any questions about the project.

Theta Delta Chi Expansion: Commission Discussion

Bonnie Bona asked for clarification about the location of bike parking, and wondered how many bikes are being used now. Only three, Saulsberry replied, adding that he hoped to push fraternity members to use more alternative transportation. The 11 outdoor bike spaces are in a shed in the southwest corner of the site, with an additional nine spaces in the addition’s new basement storage room.

Bona characterized the proposal as a great one, and even the variances seemed like things the city would like to see anyway, she said – like less impervious pavement, a narrower driveway, and fewer parking spaces.

Noting that it was good that the fraternity had talked with its neighbors about this project, Kirk Westphal wondered whether there were any outstanding issues with the neighbors. Saulsberry reported that it seemed to be better for both the fraternity and its neighbors not to have a larger fence, because of the potential for graffiti and general security. The properties have security cameras on the outside of their buildings, he said, so the entire grounds can be monitored. The fraternity’s cameras can be monitored remotely, he noted, saying that has proven to be useful.

Tony Derezinski complimented the fraternity on renovating a building “which has a little bit of age to it.” He said he used to live in that neighborhood, in the UM law quad. He’d hate to see any of those buildings torn down if they can be saved, and it was great to see that they were preserving the structure, he said.

Kirk Westphal remarked on a bay window planned as part of the addition, and thanked the fraternity for investing in that “extra amenity.”

Outcome: In one vote, commissioners unanimously granted the special exception use and recommended that the city council approve the site plan. The special exception use does not require city council approval.

Beyond the Diag

Benjamin Rosebrock, program manager of the University of Michigan’s Beyond the Diag, made a brief presentation at the beginning of the commission’s Feb. 21 meeting. He described the program as a student-initiated effort to build community among students and non-students, and to raise safety awareness on campus and near-campus neighborhoods. Operated out of UM’s dean of students office, it focuses on 12 areas: Elbel, Yost, North Ingalls, Tappan, West Murfin, East Packard, South University, Germantown, Old West Side, North Burns Park, Old Fourth Ward and Oxbridge.

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

Ann Arbor planning manager Wendy Rampson.

As background, Rosebrock noted that in the 2011 academic year, students living off campus were victims to a number of crimes, which caused some students to request additional resources for safety, including lighting and security communications on campus. Those concerns escalated in the summer of 2011 when a series of sexual assaults by strangers occurred near campus. As a result, Rosebrock said, a parent donated funds to the dean of students office, which launched Beyond the Diag.

Currently 14 students serve as neighborhood ambassadors, covering nine of the off-campus neighborhoods. (There are no ambassadors yet for the Old West Side, North Burns Park or West Murfin neighborhoods.) There are also two program assistants who help manage the effort, Rosebrock said, which includes door-to-door canvassing in the fall, distributing safety information and other resources. They also hold neighborhood events to help build community, and promote the program at UM’s Festifall, Winterfest and other venues.

The program emails a monthly newsletter to 31,000 off-campus students, with tips on safety and healthy living, articles and other information.

Rosebrock said the program is fairly new, and it’s growing. When he became program director in November of 2012, there were eight student ambassadors.

About a dozen students stood up and introduced themselves to commissioners, and indicated what neighborhood they worked with. One of the program assistants, Matt Lonnerstater, also works as an intern with the city’s planning staff. He is a graduate student in urban and regional planning.

Beyond the Diag: Commission Discussion

Sabra Briere, who also represents Ward 1 on city council, requested that all city councilmembers be added to the monthly emailed newsletters. She indicated that the council is interested in learning more about issues that affect the student population.

Eleanore Adenekan praised the program, calling it very ambitious. When she commented that she liked the yellow T-shirts that the students were wearing, Tony Derezinski corrected her – the color is maize, he joked.

Bonnie Bona asked that whenever projects or plans come up in the neighborhoods represented by Beyond the Diag ambassadors, “it would be nice to hear back from you” with feedback. Especially with master plans, she noted, “safety is a part of the mix.”

City planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that Matt Lonnerstater is assisting the planning staff with its R4C zoning project. It makes sense, she said, because “we often miss the student perspective in the work that we do.” There are many potential upsides to having a liaison between the city and Beyond the Diag, she added.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Bonnie Bona, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Kirk Westphal.

Absent: Ken Clein, Wendy Woods.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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Theta Delta Chi House Expansion OK’d Fri, 22 Feb 2013 01:54:25 +0000 Chronicle Staff An expansion of the Theta Delta Chi house at 700 S. State will move forward, following action by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Feb. 21, 2013 meeting. Commissioners granted a special exception use for the building, and recommended that the city council approved the project’s site plan.

The proposal includes expanding the square footage from 12,386 square feet to 14,752 square feet by making an addition at the rear of the fraternity house, which is located on the southwest corner of Monroe and South State. The property is zoned R2B (two-family dwelling district and student dwelling district), and the size of the lot would allow for occupancy of up to 50 people. However, the fraternity is not proposing to increase its current occupancy of 33 residents.

The new addition will include an expanded restroom and shower facilities, common space, a resident manager’s apartment, and a bike room with nine bicycle spaces. According to a staff memo, the project entails moving the driveway, which is accessed off of Monroe Street, about five feet to the east. To do this, the fraternity will need to enter into an agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and shift two on-street parking meters a few feet to the east.

The project also will require several variances from the city’s zoning board of appeals, including: (1) permission to alter a nonconforming structure (due to height and setbacks); (2) variances from Chapter 59 (off-street parking) to reduce the number of parking spaces required and allow one parking space in the front open space; (3) a variance from Chapter 47 (streets) to reduce the drive opening width; and (4) a variance from Chapter 62 (landscape and screening) to reduce the conflicting land use buffer width.

Other changes planned for this project include converting a yard on the south side of the house into a large patio. That area is currently used for parking. A new shed for a dumpster, recycling carts, and bike storage is proposed near the southwest corner of the site.

The fraternity is adjacent to apartment buildings and across the street from the University of Michigan law school.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Fraternity’s Special Exception Use Tweaked Wed, 18 Apr 2012 00:05:52 +0000 Chronicle Staff A slight revision to a special exception use for the Michigan Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon – increasing by one the number of beds allowed in its house at 730 Tappan – was granted unanimously by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its April 17, 2012 meeting. The change now allows for 45 beds, including an additional separate bedroom for the required in-house manager.

The commission had granted the original special exception use more than a year ago, at its March 1, 2011 meeting. That had allowed the fraternity to convert a church at the northwest corner of Tappan and Hill into a fraternity house. The building previously had been the home of the Memorial Christian Church, which is now located at 5141 Platt Road. The fraternity didn’t acquire the property until earlier this year, and began interior renovations in March 2012.

The site is zoned R4C (multi-family dwelling district), which allows for fraternities if given special exception use approval. Based on the city’s zoning code, a parcel used for a fraternity must have a minimum of 350 square feet per occupant. According to a planning staff memo, this site’s 22,400-square-foot parcel could support up to 64 occupants, if granted permission by the city.

This brief was filed from the second floor city council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where the planning commission holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Packard Square, Fraternity Site Plans OK’d Mon, 21 Mar 2011 14:09:27 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 15, 2011): Commissioners spent more than 90 minutes on Tuesday discussing a project that could transform the site of the former Georgetown Mall, which has been sitting vacant for well over a year.

Eric Mahler

Eric Mahler, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission. He cautioned developers of Packard Square not to try to undersell the size of their project. (Photos by the writer.)

Despite concerns raised by some commissioners, as well as residents who spoke during a public hearing, the planning commission ultimately voted to recommend approval of the site plan and development agreement for Packard Square, a complex off of Packard Street. The plan calls for 230 apartments and 23,790-square-feet of retail space in a single building.

The commission also recommended approval of two other site plans: (1) at 630 Oxford, between South University and Hill, where the University of Michigan chapter of Phi Kappa Psi plans to convert a rental duplex  into a fraternity house for up to 24 occupants; and (2) at 215 N. Fifth, where owners want to tear down the former Bessenberg Bindery building and construct a two-story, single-family house.

All votes were unanimous. The three site plans will now be considered by the Ann Arbor city council for final approval.

Packard Square Site Plan

Planning commissioners were asked to recommend approval of a site plan and development agreement for a new mixed-use development at the former Georgetown Mall on Packard Road – which has been vacant for about two years. Called Packard Square, the project consists of 230 apartments and 23,790-square-feet of retail space in a single building. It’s located on the west side of Packard, between Pine Valley and King George boulevards.

The project includes a 144-space parking garage underneath the apartment building, and 310 surface parking spaces. A total of 44 carports are proposed along the two main drives from Packard Road to the rear of the site. Fifty-four bicycle parking spaces will also be provided. The apartment complex will include indoor recreational amenities and services, an outdoor pool and courtyard. Also as part of the project, the developer has agreed to pay a contribution of $50,000 to the city, in lieu of providing a dedicated area of parkland on the project site.

A brownfield plan to remove contaminated soils and dewater the site is currently under review by the city.

Packard Square: Public Hearing

Five residents from the neighborhood near Packard Square spoke during the public hearing.

Mary Krasan identified herself as a member of the Georgetown Neighborhood Association. There’s been some concern about the project’s stormwater and sanitary system, she said, and whether it will be draining into the city’s existing infrastructure. They wanted some assurances that studies have been done on the maximum capacity for the existing infrastructure, and whether the project would result in volume exceeding that capacity. If so, what measures are being taken to ensure that the city’s system isn’t overloaded along King George Boulevard and Page Avenue?

Richard Dokas, as a representative of the Kensington-Marlborough Neighborhood Association, expressed four concerns. At a recent public meeting about the project, he said he’d asked about stormwater retention and was told it would be handled underground. He noted that it was a 6.5-acre parcel with mostly impervious surfaces and a sharp slope down from Packard. A one-inch rainfall – which the city routinely gets – would result in 176,502 gallons of water. Two years ago, they got over six inches of rain – that’s over a million gallons of water, he said. Dokas noted that Chapter 63 of the city’s code, in the section on stormwater retention, requires that projects be able to handle a 100-year storm event – though that the ordinance didn’t define what a 100-year storm event means, he said. They should also keep in mind that land in that area is mostly clay, and doesn’t drain well.

Another concern is that one of the egresses for the high-density development is on Page Avenue, which leads into the Kensington-Marlborough neighborhood, he said. There’s a stop sign at Marlborough that people already typically ignore. If you add 230 more people, that adds a lot of traffic to the area. Trash pickup is another concern, Dokas said. He lives near an industrial area, and “when the trash pickup takes place, you know it.” For Packard Square, the pickup will likely be more often than once a week, and that’s something to consider. Finally, Dokas noted that it’s the developers who have owned this property and have shown “absolutely no regard to maintenance.” The city has cited them a number of times on this issue. Given the number of apartments, he wondered how high the occupancy rate will be, and what that might mean for maintenance. It’s an issue, especially in light of the owner’s history, he said.

Jenna Jordan told commissioners that she lives in a house on King George that will have a view onto the four-story apartment building. She’ll lose her privacy, and her view of the sky. She’s extremely upset about the aesthetics, but she’s also concerned about stormwater runoff and trash pickup. Thirty-five years ago she planted a berm of trees, which won’t do well in the shadow of the apartment complex. Jordan said she knows she’s just “a little cog in the wheel,” and there are only eight homes that border the complex, but she hoped commissioners would consider these issues. She suggested that trash pickup and deliveries be moved to the north side of the complex, away from the residential area. She also proposed building only a two-story structure on the residential side, and putting the taller part of the building near the commercial area on the other side of the complex.

Matthew Williams wants the city to consider adding another pedestrian crossing on Packard – possibly a HAWK signal, like the one recently installed at the intersection of Chapin and Huron. [HAWK stands for high intensity activated crosswalk. Pedestrians press a button and activate a traffic signal, stopping traffic and allowing them to cross the street.] Williams also noted that the city had installed traffic-calming measures on the northbound side of King George up to Page Avenue, in the form of speed humps and raised intersections. But there’s nothing to slow traffic between Page and Packard, and drivers tend to “floor it.” Anticipating additional traffic from Packard Square, he’d like another traffic hump along that stretch.

Robert Baxtresser wondered how the proposed elimination of brownfield tax credits would affect the financing of this project – he thought it could affect the project significantly. [The state budget proposal by Gov. Rick Snyder calls for eliminating several tax incentives, including those for brownfield redevelopment.] In general, Baxtresser asked whether the city staff or planning commission would endorse a project without regard to a developer’s ability to finance it. And would the city or the developer lobby to get those tax credits restored?

Eric Mahler, the planning commission’s chair, responded to Baxstresser by saying that it’s not within the commission’s purview to consider a project’s financing or whether brownfield tax credits will be available.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion

Commissioners spent the next hour asking questions about the project. For this report, their comments are organized thematically.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Density, Design

Bonnie Bona began by wondering why the developer didn’t take full advantage of the density that’s allowed under the parcel’s zoning. The project is using 126% FAR [floor-area ratio], when zoning there allows for 150%. [FAR, a measure of density, is the ratio of the square footage of a building divided by the size of the lot. A one-story structure built lot-line-to-lot-line with no setbacks corresponds to an FAR of 100%. A similar structure built two-stories tall would result in an FAR of 200%.]

Craig Schubiner of Bloomfield Hills-based Harbor Companies, which is developing the site, said they’ve been working for a long time to design a project that’s feasible from a market-demand standpoint as well as a financing standpoint. Market studies show there are two feasible uses for developments at this point, he said – apartments, and small-scale retail. His company determined that the project would support 230 apartments. When they approached the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with the proposal, HUD officials invited them to apply for financing based on that same number of units. So it seems like an appropriate level of density, he said.

Bona then noted that when the city went through the process of developing its area, height and placement (AHP) standards, she felt they should have included site design guidelines as well. [For a primer on AHP, see Chronicle coverage: "Zoning 101: Area, Height, Placement." Additional information is provided on a page of the city's website dedicated to the AHP revision process.]

The Packard Square building is a prime example of the need for those guidelines, she said. It’s basically a simple box. There are some subtleties to the design, but those won’t have an impact, given the scale of the building. It would be nice if the retail area had some character to it, she said. The design could be a lot more architecturally supportive of the surrounding neighborhood. Though she was disappointed in its appearance and massing, Bona added that it’s a huge improvement over the old complex. She felt the amount of housing will make the retail work, as will the pedestrian piece of the development.

Erica Briggs

Planning commissioner Erica Briggs.

Erica Briggs asked Jeff Kahan of the city’s planning staff to explain how the setbacks were calculated. She noted that the proposed 22.5-foot front setback of the building from Packard was obviously far better than the current building’s 202-foot setback, but part of the proposed building is further back than 22.5 feet. That’s true, Kahan said – only a portion of the building needs to comply with the minimum (10 feet) and maximum (25 feet) setbacks. For this project, the building’s setback falls within that range in two places, which is sufficient.

Kirk Westphal noted that the plaza at the front of the property could be a nice amenity for the complex and for people traveling along Packard, but surrounding it with a parking lot might feel isolating. He asked whether they’d thought of making it a true plaza – where it’s more oriented toward pedestrians, treating cars more like a guest. He said it’s not in their purview, but he’d consider it an enhancement.

Briggs and Bona also talked about making the plaza area more appealing. Briggs suggested experimenting with less parking in the front, but Schubiner said they need to balance the desires of pedestrians with the needs of retailers, who always want as much parking as possible in front of their stores. He noted that the plaza is about 25 feet wide and designed to be like a village square – hence the name, Packard Square.

Bona said she completely agreed that parking is critical for the survival of retailers and for the developer’s ability to secure tenants. But there are other ways to make that area more pedestrian friendly. She said she was concerned that the sidewalks – which are only 12-feet wide – will be too narrow to accommodate a coffee shop with outdoor tables, for example. And they’ll lose some of that width if cars park so that their bumpers overlap the sidewalk. Bona suggested making the parking lot out of  a material other than asphalt, and to look for ways that the island in the middle won’t be isolated. If it’s an island, it won’t be used, she said.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Parking

Tony Derezinski commented that they were putting in a lot of parking. How much were they including beyond the need for residential parking? Schubiner said they were accounting for 1.5 parking spaces per apartment, plus the maximum number allowed by zoning for the retail component. He said it’s a safe amount.

Westphal observed that for the 230 units, the site includes 188 reserved parking spots. How will those get assigned? Schubiner said they’ll be assigned based on people’s willingness to pay for a covered spot. There won’t be a premium for uncovered, unassigned parking. Westphal said he assumed that was conventional. But with the city’s stated goal of encouraging more non-motorized transporation, he added, the planning commission looks for ways to ensure that the people with cars won’t be subsidized by those who don’t have cars. He asked whether it was too logistically complicated to charge a nominal fee for any kind of parking. It’s called “cashing out” parking, he said – you could separate it out from the rent. Schubiner said they could think about it.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Stormwater

Jean Carlberg asked about the slope of the land coming down from Packard. Schubiner noted that the existing building – the old Georgetown Mall – sits much farther back from Packard than the new structure will. They plan to fill in some of the front land, but there will still be a five- or six-foot drop from Packard. It will still be a slope, but not as steep, he said. Andrew Wiseman with Nowak & Fraus Engineers noted that the existing property slopes about 30 feet.

Jean Carlberg

Planning commissioner Jean Carlberg.

Carlberg also asked how the project is meeting the city code for stormwater retention, given the concerns expressed during public commentary. Wiseman described various provisions they were making on the site, including an underground detention system that captures 71,000 cubic feet of stormwater runoff. It will be released into the existing stormwater system at a controlled rate, he said, per city and county requirements.

Carlberg asked how they assessed the capacity of the sanitary sewer system – a lot of additional people will be brought to the site, she noted. Wiseman said the project is designed based on city standards. City staff is doing a modeling study to determine if any improvements are needed downstream, he said. If so, those will have to be addressed so that the system can handle the capacity.

Evan Pratt also asked about the issue of stormwater runoff that had been raised during public commentary. Wiseman said that currently, stormwater is running off the site without being detained. When the underground detention system is installed, the situation should get better, not worse.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Traffic

Diane Giannola asked about the traffic study – did it estimate that traffic at the new complex would be greater or less than the traffic at the Kroger grocery store, formerly located at that site? Kahan said the study indicated that traffic patterns would be different. For Kroger, peak hours tended to be on weekends. For a residential complex, peak hours are expected to be in the mornings and evenings.

Saying she lived in that area, Giannola said she was worried about drivers making a lefthand turn out of the development onto Packard. The slope made it difficult to see, she said – without a stoplight, she was concerned there would be accidents. Schubiner noted that they’ll be adjusting the slope – it won’t be as steep, which he felt would improve visibility.

Schubiner also downplayed the traffic issue, saying it wouldn’t be much different than when there was a 30,000-square-foot office building and a 50,000-square-foot shopping center there. Having 230 apartments sounds like a lot, he said, but when you go to an apartment complex elsewhere, it rarely strikes you as a high-traffic place.

Later in the meeting, Pratt returned to the issue of traffic. Looking at peak times was comparing apples and oranges, he said. Overall, would there be more traffic now than before? And how much more would there be compared to existing traffic – what percentage increase would they estimate?

When Schubiner reported that those comparisons were already in the traffic study, Pratt said he understood that, but he was asking for them to present that information publicly at some point in the future. Bruce Measom, also with Harbor Companies, said they’d shared the traffic study results with neighborhood associations in the area. He noted that after the study had been completed, they realized that the baseline measure was taken after Georgetown Mall was closed – so the traffic count was lower than what it would have been when that complex was active.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Trash, Privacy, Maintenance

Wendy Woods asked Schubiner to address some of the concerns raised during public commentary about noise from trash pickup. He said he’d be happy to coordinate with the company that picks up the trash, to find a pickup time that will be less intrusive to neighbors. Later in the meeting, Pratt said they can’t require it, but it would be nice if Harbor would write that commitment into its development agreement with the city. Schubiner indicated that they’d be willing to do that.

Woods also asked about the privacy issue – would there be balconies on the back? Yes, Schubiner said, nearly all the units have a balcony. But the design calls for putting up evergreens to provide some screening, though he acknowledged that the trees wouldn’t screen all four stories.

Briggs noted that it seems like the situation won’t get worse than it is – but that’s not comforting. Residents are saying there are already problems with trash pickup, traffic and maintenance. Some of the issues should be looked at by the city, she said, such as traffic calming along Page Avenue. They need to be looking at current problems, and address these issues proactively. She asked the developers to talk about trash pickup – could it be moved to a different location?

Trash containers are located both on the north and south sides of the site. With 230 units, it would be difficult to expect residents on one side of the complex to take their trash to the other side, Schubiner said. Joe Burnell, an architect on the project, said that carports on one side would help screen the view from the neighborhood, to a certain extent.

Briggs then asked about current maintenance, which neighbors have cited as a problem. What’s the maintenance plan? Schubiner said it’s obviously been an issue since Kroger and Rite Aid moved out. They’ve been working actively with the city and neighbors, he said, and have made some changes, like paving portions of the sidewalk and hiring someone to pick up trash around the property. It’s been difficult, because the property is vacant. But when you have a 230-unit apartment complex, they’ll have full-time staff on site and maintenance will be easier. From the need to keep residents and retailers happy to the desire not to get citations from the city, “there’s a thousand reasons why we’d want to have great upkeep of the property,” he said.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Pedestrians

Responding to a query from Woods about the process for getting a HAWK signal installed, Kahan said that residents should contact him directly, and he’d put them in touch with the right people. Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, said that typically HAWK signals are installed in locations where there’s a long stretch between traffic lights. In this case, there are two nearby stoplights on Packard – at Pine Valley, and another at Stone School. So it’s probably not the best location for a HAWK, she said.

Carlberg noted that the project is in her neighborhood, and she’s very familiar with the area. The stoplight at Packard and Pine Valley would just be a short walk, she said. She described the location as ideal for multifamily housing, given its location near a bus line. There’s also an exit from the complex onto Page Avenue – there are many ways to get out of the complex, even during busy times, she said.

Derezinski wanted to clarify how pedestrians would access the site. Kahan pointed to four different entry points from sidewalks on the project’s perimeter – the developer later clarified that there were five entry points. Several commissioners encouraged the developers to think about how they could clearly distinguish the sidewalks from the parking lot, perhaps by using different materials or colors.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Brownfield Tax Credits

Pratt asked whether eliminating the brownfield tax credits would kill the project, as one of the speakers during public commentary had implied. They hope not, Schubiner replied, though it’s hard to know the costs until the construction documents are drawn up and the project is competitively bid. But getting tax-increment financing is critical, he noted. They’re also hoping to get a grant and tax credits from the Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Pratt said it would be good to clean up the contaminants on that site. [For background on how the brownfield program works, see Chronicle coverage: "Zingerman's Project Seeks Brownfield Status"]

Woods asked how the developer’s brownfield plan is being reviewed. Kahan reported that the city has a brownfield plan review committee that meets once a month – they might take action, in the form of a recommendation, at their April meeting, he said. He described the plan as mostly a financial tool, allowing the developer to recoup upfront costs of remediation by getting property tax credits in the future.

Woods then asked whether they know if the contamination from the former dry-cleaning store has been contained, or if there’s a plume – like the Pall Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume that’s spreading on Ann Arbor’s west side. Kahan replied that the contamination is localized, sitting on a ledge of clay that prevents it from percolating into the groundwater.

Packard Square: Commissioner Discussion – Development Agreement

Westphal asked city staff about a couple of items in the proposed development agreement, related to the removal of discarded building materials and trash during redevelopment, as well as a section about the failure to construct. If the project is only partially completed, what’s the city’s remedy, and what timeframe is considered to reach a point of “failure to construct.” [.pdf file of draft development agreement]

Kirk Westphal, Wendy Rampson

Planning commissioner Kirk Westphal talks with Wendy Rampson, head of Ann Arbor's planning staff, before the start of the March 15, 2011 planning commission meeting.

Rampson fielded the question, saying that many communities require a cash bond or some type of bonding mechanism up front. Ann Arbor typically hasn’t done that, she said. They’ve had success in simply withholding the certificate of occupancy in order to get the site into compliance. But Westphal brought up a good point, she said, because a number of projects have stopped before completion. That’s why the development agreement includes a section allowing the city to take civil action in court.

When does the development agreement time out? Westphal asked. Rampson said the developer can’t start construction until the agreement is signed and recorded. But once it’s signed, it stays – it’s binding on the land. The site plan would expire in three years, she said, but the development agreement would stay in place for a subsequent developer, unless it’s extinguished by the city. She clarified that it doesn’t address the condition of the current site – the agreement only relates to the future project. Kahan has been working with neighbors and the developer, she said, and the site currently seems to be in a steady state – it’s not deteriorating.

Derezinski asked the developer what their ideal construction timeline will be. Schubiner said they’d like to start in August and finish by the end of 2012 or early 2013.

Woods commented that the $50,000 contribution to the parks system is great. She noted that the development agreement outlines that the funds will be used in Esch and Woodbury parks – how was that determined? Parks are chosen based on their proximity to the development that’s making the contribution, Kahan said. The idea is that it will benefit nearby residents.

Eric Mahler directed his comments to the developers, saying that they were trying to undersell the scope of the project. When residents express concern that their views will be blocked, the response is that the building won’t be that noticeable. But Mahler described it as a massive project, and he cautioned the developers not to undersell it to the commission, the city council or the public. “That’s not going to work,” he said.

Mahler also asked whether the developers would be willing to commit in the development agreement to making the building LEED-certified, given that they said many aspects of the construction would qualify it for that. Schubiner said there were some stumbling blocks to doing that, including the cost of certification. The numbers on the project are already borderline, he said.

Mahler concluded his remarks by noting that there are many good aspects to the project, and it would be a great improvement over what’s there now, or even what was there previously. But he did have concerns, including issues about privacy and lighting that might affect the neighbors. Burnell, the project’s architect, said they’d be using lighting fixtures with cutoff shields, so that very little light would leave the site.

Pratt suggested that before taking the project to the city council for final approval, the developers might want to do some drawings that show how the landscaping they plan will help screen the building from  houses in the neighborhood.

Outcome: The planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the site plan and development agreement for Packard Square. The plan will be next considered by the city council for final approval.

Phi Kappa Psi Site Plan

Commissioners were asked to recommend approval of a site plan and to grant a special exception use for a property at 630 Oxford, between South University and Hill. The University of Michigan chapter of Phi Kappa Psi plans to convert a rental duplex – which now allows for up to eight occupants – into a fraternity house for up to 24 occupants. The plan calls for a rear parking lot with eight spaces, plus a shed for up to 12 bikes and hoops for additional bikes.

The commission had postponed the item at its Jan. 20, 2011 meeting, in order for the fraternity to make revisions to the plan as requested by city planning staff.

Phi Kappa Psi: Public Hearing

The only speaker during the project’s public hearing was Allan Lutes of Alpha Management Group, who spoke on behalf of the owners. [The owners are listed in the site plan application as BH630Ox LLC, at 2112 Vinewood in Ann Arbor, where Big House Rentals is located.]

Allan Lutes

Allan Lutes of Alpha Management Group sets up a map showing the neighborhood around 630 Oxford, where the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity wants to locate. (Image links to a close-up of the map.)

He told commissioners that as they developed the site plan, the owners were trying to be sensitive to the concerns of neighbors and the environment – trying to preserve the landmark trees, for example, provide additional screening between the properties, and choose lighting fixtures that would minimize glare. They’ve worked hard to build support in the community, he said. People from the neighborhood had sent in at least 16 letters of support for the project, he noted.

Lutes showed commissioners a map of the neighborhood, highlighting the locations of many other fraternities and sororities, as well as University of Michigan property and city-owned land, like the nearby Angell Elementary School. His point was to make clear that allowing the fraternity to move there would fit within the existing character of the neighborhood. A special exception use is needed so that the fraternity can occupy the building.

Phi Kappa Psi: Commissioner Discussion

Jean Carlberg said she liked the fact that they included a covered area for bikes – “that’s a real bonus.” She also liked their attention to using lights that reduce glare onto neighboring properties. She asked where the fraternity members were likely to recreate in warmer weather.

Lutes replied there’s an area between the back of the house and the parking lot that will likely be a place for members to gather outside. The intent is to keep social gatherings off of the front lawn. Also, the location of the bike shed and attached garage – which had been converted into a bedroom – should help shield that back area from neighbors, he said.

Carlberg then asked whether the resident manager would be an adult. Lutes said the fraternity’s advisory board discussed that issue, and endorsed the need for a “mature person” to live on site. Carlberg asked whether everyone understood what “mature” meant. Lutes clarified that they intend that person to be someone who’s been out of school for more than a few years.

Tony Derezinski asked about the fraternity’s membership. There are about 100 members now, Lutes reported. In the fall, there will likely be around 90 members and new pledges. Derezinski asked whether the house – with an occupancy set for 24 – would be adequate to meet the fraternity’s needs. For the immediate future, it will, Lutes said. However, if a “sugar daddy” writes them a check that would allow expansion, he added, they might return to ask the city for additional occupancy.

Derezinski recalled that at the January 2011 planning commission meeting, there’d been a report that only one person had attended a meeting for residents that the fraternity had held – that woman had represented the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association. Was there any follow-up with her? No, Lutes said, they haven’t heard anything else from that group.

Derezinski then asked about the history of the house – hadn’t it been the residence for Wilbur Cohen? Lutes wasn’t sure, but thought it had originally been built for someone prominent – perhaps the grandson of Alexander Graham Bell. Derezinski said it was a nice neighborhood, and the fraternity would be a good fit there.

Erica Briggs wanted to know where trash bins would be kept. The location is in the side yard, against the house, Lutes said. There will be screening and it will be located near the bike shed, so it won’t be visible, he added.

Bonnie Bona had a question about the use of a drywell for stormwater management – that’s somewhat unusual, she noted. What’s the capacity, and how much water are they retaining? John Adams of Adams Engineering fielded this question, saying they’ll meet the “first flush” requirements for the site. [First flush refers to a rainstorm's initial surface runoff.] They’re proposing a pervious underground tank to handle the volume, which will capture the first flush, then allow it to slowly drain out. He said it’s been a design challenge, given the constraints of the site.

Wendy Woods recalled that at the commission’s  January meeting, she had asked about the building’s occupancy capacity for parties. Had anyone followed up with the fire department about that? Lutes said there hadn’t been a comment about it from staff, so they didn’t contact the fire department. He noted that his firm manages facilities for 13 fraternities and one sorority at UM, and that he’s never heard of a fire marshal coming in and imposing capacity restrictions.

Woods asked how many calls his company typically gets that  are related to noise complaints at the facilities they manage. Generally, Lutes replied, they get about two after-hours calls per month, typically related to a false fire alarm or maintenance issues, like broken pipes.

Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, responded to the building capacity question, saying that residences aren’t regulated in the same way that a commercial facility – like a restaurant – would be. She noted that the fraternity would be monitored by the university’s Interfraternity Council, as well as neighbors, who could call the city if there are noise problems. Previously, she said, the fraternity had indicated that it will hold parties in the building’s lower level, to minimize noise coming from inside.

Outcome: The planning commission unanimously recommended approval of a site plan for the property at 630 Oxford – the plan will be forwarded to city council for final approval. Commissioners also voted to grant a special exception use to allow the building to house the fraternity. That action does not require further approval.

215 N. Fifth: House at Former Bindery Site

Planning commissioners were asked to recommend approval of a site plan for a single-family house at 215 N. Fifth Ave. – formerly the site of the Bessenberg Bindery, which has moved to the Thomson-Shore Inc. facility in Dexter. The property is now owned by Jon and Lisa Rye. Jon Rye, a University of Michigan alumnus, is president and chairman of Greenfield Partners and Greenfield Commercial Credit, both located in Bloomfield Hills.

Former Bessenberg Bindery building

The former Bessenberg Bindery building will be demolished and replaced by a two-story, single-family house. The site is on the west side of Fifth Avenue, north of the Armory condos.

The plan calls for tearing down the one-story building and constructing a two-story, single-family, owner-occupied house with an attached two-car garage. The entrance will be oriented to the north, and the garage will be accessed from the public alley on the west side of the site. The site is directly north of the Armory condos and south of a two-story residential rental property.

The project requires a site plan because the single-family house is on property that’s not zoned solely for residential purposes. It’s zoned D2 (downtown interface) and is located in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. The Ann Arbor historic district commission already reviewed the site plan and issued a certificate of appropriateness at its Feb. 10, 2011 meeting. Jill Thacher, who gave the planning staff report for the project, and who’s also the staff liaison to the HDC, indicated that the design had been modified slightly, based on feedback from that group.

215 N. Fifth: Public Hearing

Dick Mitchell, the project’s architect, was the only speaker during the public hearing. He noted that North Fifth Avenue, a one-way street heading south, is one of the city’s main arteries and is heavily trafficked. Because the site is in a transitional zone – zoned D2, located in an historic district, and adjacent to both residential and commercial sites – an inward-oriented design worked best. The building is oriented around two small courtyards with rain gardens on the north side, where the entrance to the home will be. An inward focus allows them to better control the views, Mitchell said.

Mitchell also noted that comments from historic district commissioners indicated they would have preferred a more traditional design, with a front porch facing North Fifth.

215 N. Fifth: Commissioner Discussion

Diane Giannola asked why there weren’t more second-floor windows on the south side, facing the Armory. [The design indicates only one second-floor window, toward the center of the building.] Mitchell replied that the house will be in the shadow of the Armory, so he’d designed closets, bathrooms and mechanicals along that side of the second floor.

Kirk Westphal noted that an auto repair shop, built in the 1950s, had been located on part of the property. He wondered what triggered the requirement for soil testing. Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff said there weren’t any triggers for it in this case – the house would be built on a slab, so no excavation is planned. Mitchell indicated that they had performed initial soil testing, and found it to be clean.

Westphal then noted that even though it wasn’t in the planning commission’s purview to comment, he assumed that the historic district commission had discussed the building’s entrance. Yes, Thacher said – there had been mixed views on that at the HDC.

Evan Pratt wanted to ensure that the owners knew there might be buildings of “substantial massing” constructed in that area, given its zoning. The views they have now might not remain in the future. Mitchell replied that they are aware, but he noted that even though zoning allows buildings to be as high as 60 feet, getting the approval of the historic district commission for that would be a struggle.

Mitchell clarified for Tony Derezinski that the chimney indicated in the design would be for a real fireplace.

Noting that it’s not in the planning commission’s purview, Erica Briggs said she felt compelled to weigh in with her frustration over the building’s design. The inward-focused design reflects a lack of desire to be pedestrian-oriented. In thinking of the city’s long-term goals, it seems likely that Fifth Avenue will have traffic-calming measures at some point. It’s frustrating that the house doesn’t include “eyes on the street” in some capacity. The design seems very insulated, and it’s not necessary to be that way, she said.

Eric Mahler said he was glad to see a single-family house built there, and glad that it received approval from the HDC. It meets with the conceptual goals of building more density in the downtown area – goals that they’ve spent much time discussing, he noted.

Outcome: Commissioners recommended approval of the site plan for a single-family house at 215 N. Fifth Ave., formerly the site of the Bessenberg Bindery. The project will next be voted on by the Ann Arbor city council for final approval.

Land Annexed Near Mill Creek Townhouses

Planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of a request to annex three parcels totaling about one acre on the east side of Stone School Road at Birch Hollow Drive. The vacant land is located in Pittsfield Township, on the west end of the Mill Creek Townhouses, which was annexed into the city in 1976. The commission also approved zoning the land as R3 (townhouse dwelling use).

No one spoke during the public hearing on this issue. Commissioner Bonnie Bona said she didn’t oppose it, but she wondered why the request was being made. City planner Jeff Kahan indicated that the request was made because the owner was tired of receiving tax bills from multiple jurisdictions.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend approval of the annexation request, as well as the move to rezone the land as R3 (townhouse dwelling use). It will next be considered by the Ann Arbor city council for final approval.

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

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, April 5 at 7 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building boardroom, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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Ann Arbor Landscape Ordinance Approved Fri, 04 Mar 2011 00:35:51 +0000 Mary Morgan The Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 1, 2011): Conducting its business in front of an audience that included more than a dozen Skyline High School students on a class assignment, the planning commission quickly approved revisions to a landscape and screening ordinance that have been in the works for years. They had debated the ordinance extensively at a meeting in December, when they ultimately postponed a vote and asked the staff for additional changes.

Skyline High students at the March 1, 2011 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting.

A cluster of Skyline High students at the March 1, 2011 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

On Tuesday, the issue of screening for privacy came up as commissioners discussed a request from the Michigan Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, which had asked for a special exception use that would allow it to convert a church at 730 Tappan into a fraternity house. The building has been the home of the Memorial Christian Church, which plans to move.

Three people spoke during a public hearing on the issue, including a representative from the neighboring sorority, who raised concerns about lighting and privacy – specifically, about the fraternity having “visual access” to the sorority’s sleeping rooms, which face the current church. However, she said she supported the project overall, and commissioners unanimously voted to grant the request.

During her staff communications, Wendy Rampson – head of the city’s planning staff – noted that city administrator Roger Fraser had announced his resignation the previous evening, at a city council working session. His last day with the city will be April 29 – he’s taking a job with the state of Michigan as deputy state treasurer for local government services. Rampson said she’d alert commissioners as soon as a date is set for his farewell gathering.

Rampson also mentioned that at the city council’s March 7 meeting, they’d be voting on a resolution of support for the state’s Complete Streets policies, saying that the city had been following similar policies for decades. Later in the meeting, however, commissioner Erica Briggs expressed some disappointment that the city wasn’t taking additional steps beyond what’s set by the state. “It certainly doesn’t establish us as a leader,” Briggs said.

Landscape Ordinance Revisions

At its Dec. 7, 2010 meeting, the planning commission had heard an extensive presentation from staff about proposed changes to Chapter 62 of the city code – the landscape and screening ordinance. At that meeting, Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, had told the commission that the intent was to improve water quality by requiring that a greater amount of stormwater runoff be “infiltrated” on the site where it is generated. [Infiltration is a process that retains water before allowing it to filter out into the soil.] The changes also aim to encourage the use of native plants and prohibit the use of non-native invasive plant species, he said.

Jerry Hancock, Wendy Rampson

Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, talks with city planning manager Wendy Rampson before the start of the March 1 planning commission meeting. Hancock was on hand to answer questions regarding revisions to the city's landscape ordinance, but there were none.

The planning commission’s ordinance review committee, which had evaluated and provided input on the changes, had requested that the ordinance include: (1) additional types of land use – such as multi-family dwellings – that are required to have a conflicting land-use buffer; and (2) an increase in the number of trees in the conflicting land-use buffer.

During a lengthy discussion at their Dec. 7 meeting, commissioners raised several concerns regarding the required landscape buffers between multi-family dwellings and public parks or single-family homes. They ultimately tabled action on the ordinance, and asked city staff to consider additional revisions.

On Tuesday, city planner Jeff Kahan outlined the additional changes that had been made since the Dec. 7 meeting. Most of the changes related to the conflicting land-use buffer requirements, known as CLUB:

  • Responding to a concern about requiring a landscape buffer when new residential development is proposed next to parkland, the ordinance language was changed so that the required 4-foot-high screen may be reduced.
  • Language was changed to clarify that new development will need to adhere to the full requirements. Flexibility in applying the CLUB relates only to existing (developed) sites that are being redeveloped.
  • A requirement calling for a landscape buffer between R3 and R4 residential zoning districts and parkland was removed.
  • A requirement was removed that had called for a wall or fence to be constructed as a buffer between a park and land zoned or primarily used for residential purposes.
  • Language was added to clarify that the planning commission has flexibility in applying the conflicting land-use buffer requirement.
  • A nonconforming site clause, which had previously been removed, was kept in the code.

More generally, the revised ordinance will prohibit the use of non-native invasive plants, encourage the use of native plants, provide design flexibility and modify how the conflicting land-use buffer is applied. Other changes include requiring portions of interior landscape islands to be depressed and utilized as bio-retention to improve water quality. [.pdf of landscape ordinance revisions]

No one spoke during a public hearing on the changes, and commissioners had no additional questions or discussion on the revised ordinance.

Outcome: The planning commission unanimously approved revisions to Chapter 62 of the city code, the landscape and screening ordinance. It now moves to the city council for consideration and final approval.

Sigma Phi Epsilon Request

The commission was asked to approve a special exception use for the Michigan Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, allowing it to convert a church at 730 Tappan into a fraternity house. The three-level building is located at the northwest corner of Tappan and Hill, and has been the home of the Memorial Christian Church. No changes are planned for the exterior of the historic building. The church sanctuary was originally built in 1891 – on State Street, where the University of Michigan law quad is now located. It was moved to its current location in 1923, and additions were made to the building in subsequent years.

In giving the planning staff report, Jeff Kahan noted that the 15,560-square-feet structure could accommodate 64 residents, but that the fraternity is requesting a maximum of 44 beds. [The chapter has over 100 members, but more than half live off-site.] The property is currently zoned R2B, a zoning category that allows for fraternities. The neighborhood includes many fraternities, sororities and student rental properties.

The site includes 17 parking spaces. The plan calls for adding 11 bike spaces in the basement of the building as well as 11 bike spaces outside.

Tuesday’s meeting also included a public hearing on the request.

Sigma Phi Epsilon: Public Hearing

Three people spoke during a public hearing about the special exception use request – two of them were affiliated with the project.

Jon Kucera, an architect, is president of SigEp National Housing, a Richmond, Virginia firm that assists local alumni and volunteer groups in the maintenance, management, and purchase of chapter facilities. The UM chapter has been searching for a permanent home for several years, he said. [The chapter is currently located nearby at 704 Hill St., on the southeast corner of Hill and State.]

The fraternity had negotiated an option-to-purchase contract with the church in September 2010, he said. For the purchase to be feasible, they needed, among other things, to secure a zoning variance and the special exception use. They’ve already secured the variance, Kucera said.

He said the reality is that the church is moving, and it’s unlikely another church would be interested in the property. Adaptive reuse of the structure for a fraternity is ideal, he said, because of its proximity to UM’s central campus and because the layout, mass and scale of the building allow for its reuse. The sanctuary space would be converted into a study and meeting area, for example, while the lower level would be used for a meeting and dining area. They hope to finish the project by July of 2012.

In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Kucera laid out the following timeline for the project:

  • By March 31, 2011: Conclude the due diligence period (dealing with issues of zoning, constructability, fundraising, financing, etc.) and execute the option to purchase.
  • By Sept. 30, 2011: Close on the purchase of the property and take title. After this, the fraternity could occupy the building for limited purposes (such as building security, chapter meetings or fundraising events), subject to approval by the city’s building inspectors.
  • January 2012 to July 2012: Renovations will take place.
  • July 2012: Move in furniture and prepare the building for occupancy for the fall semester.
Memorial Christian Church and UM Ross School of Business

The Memorial Christian Church is located across Tappan from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. This file photo from December 2010 was taken from Hill Street, facing north.

Jerry Mangona, president of the chapter’s alumni association, told commissioners he’d been involved with the chapter since its 1997 “recolonization.” [Recolonization occurs after a chapter is revoked or surrendered, then revived. In a phone conversation with The Chronicle, a spokesman for the UM Greek Life office reported that in 1994 – following a hazing incident in the fall – sanctions were put in place against the fraternity. Members at the time felt the sanctions were too harsh, and voted to surrender their charter. In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Mangona confirmed that a hazing incident had occurred under the previous charter and someone was injured. Both the UM Interfraternity Council and the SigEp headquarters had placed sanctions on the group, he said.]

At Tuesday’s public hearing, Mangona said that since recolonizing, they’d demonstrated to the Greek community that their chapter can be both popular socially while maintaining a high GPA and a no-hazing program. The chapter has grown, and has received many awards both here and nationally, he said. [He outlined these awards in more detail in a letter submitted to the commission.] Mangona told commissioners that an 11-member alumni board oversees the chapter, and that another board will oversee the renovation of the building and its future management.

Jane Cooper identified herself as president of the Iota House Corp. board of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, which owns the house at 718 Tappan – adjacent to the church. She referred commissioners to a letter she’d submitted about the project, saying that the sorority doesn’t object to having a fraternity next door – “in fact, the girls are quite pleased,” she said. [.pdf of Cooper's letter] However, they did have some concerns, she said, that she hoped commissioners would address. Because the sorority’s sleeping rooms face the church, they are worried about excessive light, noise and “visual access,” Cooper said. She concluded by saying she was probably more in support of the project than opposed to it, but still had concerns.

Kucera then returned to the podium to respond to Cooper. He noted that city standards set certain levels of lighting in the parking area, for safety, as well as cutoff standards that require fixtures to direct light downward. He said those issues would be addressed at the site plan stage, and that he felt the solutions would satisfy their neighbors and the city. The visibility issue “is a bit more elusive,” he conceded, because the “view angle” from the ground on the fraternity’s property to the sorority’s upper windows is fairly steep – 35 to 40 degrees. That means any ground-based screening would have to be very high, he said. Kucera expressed confidence that they could work with the sorority to identify a solution that would be both practical and appropriate.

Regarding noise concerns, Kucera said that most gatherings would occur in the lower level, which he said is both visually and acoustically separated from the adjoining properties. That would go a long way toward mitigating that issue, he said. Kucera also pointed out that the project had letters of support, including one from Chris Haughee, UM assistant director of Greek Life. [.pdf of Chris Haughee letter]

Sigma Phi Epsilon: Commissioner Questions, Comments

Jean Carlberg had several questions about the project. She noted that there aren’t currently windows on the building’s north side, which faces the sorority. Would windows be added? she asked.

Kucera said the building’s educational wing has windows on the east and west facades on both levels – rooms in those areas would be used for sleeping. The concept plan for the building only includes adding one window on the north facade, he said. The other sleeping area will be at the end of the existing sanctuary, with windows facing west.

Carlberg then asked how much traffic they anticipated during the evening, coming into the parking lot. Currently, only a chain link fence separates the parking lot from the sorority, she noted. Mangona said it is hard to speak for the future, but that the current house has only parking spots for four to six vehicles. The lot at 730 Tappan has 17 parking spots, and he didn’t think the fraternity members would need more than that.

Carlberg asked them to consider putting up a wooden fence to block the car lights. The church doesn’t have a lot of night traffic, she said, and she could imagine that the additional traffic from the fraternity would be a real nuisance for the sorority.

She had additional concerns about the lighting used in the parking lot. She cautioned Kucera to choose fixtures that would block the light from intruding into the sorority house. In response, Kucera noted that city standards address the issue of light intrusion, and asked whether she was requesting something beyond that.

Since the sorority house is so close to the parking lot, Carlberg said, the fraternity needs to be more careful than what the ordinance requires, or they’ll be creating a nuisance. But Kucera noted that in the absence of a definitive standard, the issue becomes subjective. Evan Pratt weighed in, saying that even if the fraternity was fully compliant with the city standards, the commission hoped that they would not have a wall-mounted fixture, for example, with light shining into the sorority.

Carlberg added that the fraternity could work with the sorority “in the interest of good neighbor relations” to come up with a solution. Kucera agreed with that approach, but said he hoped the commission wouldn’t add it as a contingent condition for getting the special exception use.

Kirk Westphal asked for more information about the resident manager. Mangona reported that the alumni board hasn’t yet determined the details of that job. However, they’ll be investing nearly $3 million in the property, he added – it’s a large investment, and one that will make the building a crown jewel for the chapter. They’ll want oversight of that asset to be managed professionally and responsibly, he said.

Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, told commissioners that the city’s zoning doesn’t define what a resident manager is. In the past, it was typically an adult who lived on the property – a house mother, for example, not a student. Over time, she said, that practice has changed and the resident manager could be a graduate student or undergraduate. Mangona said he could state unequivocally that the resident manager for their property wouldn’t be an undergraduate.

Erica Briggs brought up an issue raised in Cooper’s letter, which stated that there are surface water issues along the sorority’s southern property line. Sorority leaders wanted assurances that the fraternity’s parking lot doesn’t drain into their property.

Kucera said that in the three months he’s worked on this project, he hasn’t encountered drainage issues, nor had he received any comments from city staff about stormwater management. To the extent that there are any problems with drainage to the north of the fraternity’s property, that could be addressed during the construction phase, he said. He asked whether Cooper could elaborate on her concerns.

Cooper stated that the issue had been raised by Jan Culbertson, an architect and board member for the sorority. Their big concern is that whatever changes are made should not add to the problem, she said: “We don’t want the new work to make them worse.”

Kucera observed that the concerns might have stemmed from earlier proposals that had considered adding to the existing structure, but that’s no longer the case.

Outcome: Planning commissioners unanimously approved the special exception use for Sigma Phi Epsilon to convert the church at 730 Tappan into a fraternity. The special exception use requires six votes, and six commissioners were present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Misc. Communications

Wendy Rampson, who leads the city’s planning staff, had several items to report during the time set aside for communications, in addition to noting the recent news of city administrator Roger Fraser’s resignation.

At the March 8 working session, she said, agenda topics will include a legislative update on planning statutes, as well as some planning for an upcoming commission retreat. [The commission's previous retreat took place on March 30, 2010.] Rampson said she’ll also provide an update on the staff’s efforts to develop a sustainability framework, part of the work that’s funded by a recent Home Depot grant. She noted that the first update on the project was posted on Feb. 23 on the Sustainable Cities Institute blog.

The planning commission will be meeting at the Washtenaw County administration building boardroom for at least the next several weeks, Rampson reported. Recent flooding in the basement of city hall has pushed back renovations in that building by about a month, she said. [The flooding resulted from a burst water pipe valve that froze when heat was cut off.]

Among the other upcoming meetings Rampson mentioned was a community open house that the University of Michigan is planning for its new North Quad residence hall on Thursday, March 31 from 3-6 p.m. The event will include tours of the building, which is located on South State Street between Huron and Washington.

Kirk Westphal reported that the commission’s ordinance review committee had met recently with staff to take a preliminary look at how the new downtown design guidelines will be incorporated into the city’s site plan review process. Those changes will eventually be brought forward for review by the planning commission.

Eric Mahler, the commission’s chair, noted that the Library Lot review committee would be meeting on March 3. [The next day, that meeting was canceled. The meeting has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 8, from 3-5 p.m. in the fourth floor conference room of city hall.] The committee is charged with reviewing responses to the city’s request for proposals on the use of the space above the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, currently under construction by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Mahler also announced public hearings for three projects, scheduled for the commission’s March 15 meeting: (1) a request to annex and rezone the Millcreek Townhouses on Stone School Road; (2) a site plan proposal for 215 N. Fifth Ave. to tear down the existing industrial building and construct a two-story single family dwelling; and (3) a site plan proposal for Packard Square, a mixed-use development on 6.52 acres at 2502 Packard – site of the former Georgetown Mall.

Present: Erica Briggs, Jean Carlberg, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal.

Absent: Bonnie Bona, Tony Derezinski, Wendy Woods.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 7 p.m. for a working session in the 6th floor of city hall, 301 E. Huron. The commission’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, March 15 at 7 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building boardroom, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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Site Plan OK’d for Avalon Housing Project Tue, 25 Jan 2011 15:55:27 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Jan. 20, 2011): After a public hearing that included comments by some residents of 1500 Pauline, planning commissioners unanimously approved the site plan for an affordable housing project at that location, proposed by the nonprofit Avalon Housing.

Painting of blue houses

This painting of blue houses is not in Avalon Housing's site plan for its affordable housing proposal at 1500 Pauline. It's part of a display by fifth grade students in the lower level of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, where the Jan. 20 planning commission meeting was held.

The project will include demolishing the existing structure and constructing five one- and two-story buildings and a community center. Though commissioners supported the project, some raised concerns over the relocation of current residents and the fact that the new complex, when completed, will have fewer units – 32, compared to the current 47 apartments. Of those, there will also be far fewer one-bedroom units – six, compared to the current 21.

Representatives from Avalon told commissioners that the lower number was sustainable – 35% of the units will be set aside for residents who’ll receive supportive services. They also said the location was more suited for families, and that there’s more need for two- and three-bedroom affordable housing units in the city.

Another project on the agenda – a site plan and special exception use for 630 Oxford – was postponed, as recommended by city planning staff. The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity wants to turn an existing rental duplex into their chapter’s permanent home, housing up to 24 residents. The housing director and some board members for the neighboring Delta Gamma sorority came to Thursday’s meeting to object to the plan, saying they did not want fraternity culture to disrupt their quiet neighborhood.

Commissioners also unanimously recommended approval of the annexation of 1575 Alexandra Blvd., a vacant 0.82-acre lot now in Ann Arbor Township. The lot is surrounded by the city’s Riverwood Nature Area – its owner plans to build a single-family home on the site.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Wendy Rampson of the city’s planning staff reminded commissioners of a public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 26 to get community feedback on draft recommendations for R4C and R2A residential zoning district ordinance revisions. The meeting runs from 6-8 p.m. at the lower level of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

1500 Pauline Redevelopment

The nonprofit Avalon Housing submitted its site plan for the 1500 Pauline project in December. Now called Parkhurst Apartments, the complex – located west of Fritz Park, between Seventh and West Stadium – includes 48 apartment units housing federally subsidized low-income residents. Of those units, one is used for community space, 21 are one-bedroom units, and the rest are two- and three-bedroom apartments.

The plan is to tear down the existing building and construct a new five-building complex with 32 units, a playground and community center, at an estimated cost of $8 million. That cost includes an upfront developer’s fee – typical for nonprofit projects like this – as well as costs associated with relocating current residents and paying for their housing at an alternative site for up to five years, as mandated by federal law under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act.

Avalon expects to fund the project through a combination of sources, including Low Income Housing Tax Credits, HOME program subsidy (HUD funds allocated through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Washtenaw Urban County), the Federal Home Loan Bank, and private loan funds.

The city’s planning staff recommended approval of the project’s site plan.

1500 Pauline: Public Hearing

Saying that he lived at 1500 Pauline, Gladwin McGee wondered why the apartments were in such disrepair, when they had been renovated relatively recently – in the late 1990s. He also questioned why the number of units were being reduced, given that there’s a lack of affordable housing in Ann Arbor.

Jim Mogensen noted that he was speaking for himself, but that he’s past president of the nonprofit Religious Action for Affordable Housing. It’s important that this site remain a place for affordable housing, he said. It’s also important that there are as many two- and three-bedroom apartments as possible – those units are harder to find than one-bedroom apartments, he observed. He also spoke about the cost of the project, saying that in nonprofit projects like this, most of the money is paid upfront for the development costs – unlike for-profit projects, which recoup their costs over time.

Michael Appel, associate director of Avalon Housing, told commissioners about the history of the complex. It’s owned by Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp., which renovated it in 1999. It had been managed by a series of private management companies, he said, until Avalon took over operations in 2009. The complex has suffered from operating losses and deferred maintenance – that’s why they need to tear it down and rebuild. The architect who inspected the complex found hundreds of immediate and short-term issues that needed to be addressed to keep the property up to code.

In previous years, it has only met code after “substantial” subsidies by the city, Appel said. Another factor: The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) determined that because of the significant infrastructure problems, they weren’t willing to invest in the project unless it were rebuit – “leaving us with a very tough choice,” Appel said. They’re working with tenants on relocation – it’s a process that’s tightly regulated by federal law, he said, and the joint city/county office of community development is involved. He wrapped up by saying if they gain approval that night from the planning commission, they could be on the city council’s Feb. 21 agenda and meet a March deadline to apply for state tax credits through MSHDA. The end result, he said, is that tenants will have a much nicer place to live.

Wendy Carty-Saxon

Wendy Carty-Saxon, Avalon Housing's director of housing development, speaks to the planning commission during a public hearing on the 1500 Pauline site plan.

Wendy Carty-Saxon, Avalon’s director of housing development, reported that they’d held two community meetings and two meetings for residents – both had elicited positive responses, she said. [.pdf file of summary from those meetings] The design of the new site will open it up to the neighborhood, she said, providing more “eyes on the street” which will help with security issues. The question of density – how many new units to build – was a difficult one, she said. But they tried to look at what would be sustainable to operate in the future. The 32 units they’re proposing fit with the site’s current zoning, she said. It’s also similar in size to Carrot Way, another Avalon supportive housing project. They wanted to preserve the number of two- and three-bedroom units, she said, and add a modest community center. The site will also have improved barrier-free access.

Lekendrick “Levi” Murphy told commissioners that this is his third year living at 1500 Pauline, and that he likes the neighborhood. As a single male, he said the reduction in one-bedroom units was pressing on his mind. It’s important to be aware of how people are treated as they’re relocated, he said, and to look at who will be allowed to move back in. By and large, the residents there now are “fine people,” he said, adding that he likes the proposed site plan.

John Milroy has lived for 10 years in a house on Northwood, neighboring the complex. He attended one of the community meetings held by Avalon, and said that they seem like they want to do the right thing. He said he had no reason to object to the project, and looked forward to not having to look at a crumbling parking lot anymore. He said he supported the project.

1500 Pauline: Commissioner Deliberations

Wendy Woods began by asking for clarification of the types of units that are currently available at the complex. There are 21 one-bedroom units, with the remaining units divided between two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments, Avalon’s Wendy Carty-Saxon said. One of the three-bedroom apartments is used for community space.

Woods noted that in another Avalon project being built on North Main – called Near North – the nonprofit had argued that there was a shortage of one-bedroom apartments, and that’s why Near North needed to have more one-bedroom units. Woods asked for Avalon staff to help the commission understand how they can rationalize a reduction in one-bedroom units for the 1500 Pauline project, which will include only six one-bedroom apartments.

Michael Appel said it was largely an issue of location. Near North is closer to downtown, opening onto Main Street. It didn’t seem ideal for larger family-sized units. In contrast, 1500 Pauline is in a neighborhood setting, on a less-busy street, next to a park. They also were working with the city/county office of community development, and OCD staff felt that more two- and three-bedroom units were needed. One reason why there are fewer overall units is that they felt the higher density in the past led to some of the problems at the complex, he said.

Woods asked what kind of problems they’ve experienced. Appel explained that in the two years they’ve been managing the complex, the issues of stability, safety and turnover related to higher density. If you compare on a bedroom-per-acre basis, 1500 Pauline has higher density than Carrot Way or many other public housing units.

They’re trying to preserve low-income housing on that site, he said, and were given the option of redeveloping it or losing it – without reinvestment, it would go bankrupt. That drove the decision to redevelop, and they then tried to determine the appropriate mix of units, he said.

Michael Appel, Carol McCabe

Michael Appel and Carole McCabe of Avalon Housing answer questions from Ann Arbor planning commissioners about the 1500 Pauline project at their Jan. 20 meeting.

Carole McCabe, Avalon’s executive director, stepped up to the podium to address Woods’ question. There’s no one more committed than Avalon to expanding affordable housing in this community, she said. But the issues of density are real, and they struggle with them. They have a full wait-list for both single residents and families, McCabe said, but they had limited options at this location.

Jean Carlberg said that one troubling aspect is the relocation of residents in one-bedroom apartments – only six of the 21 tenants will be able to move back in, she noted. She asked for more details on the relocation effort, and whether for some tenants, their relocation would be into permanent housing.

Because the project is federally funded, they are bound by the Uniform Relocation Act, Appel said. They have to work with tenants to find new housing, pay for their moving expenses, and provide a subsidy for the new housing for up to five years. [These costs are built in to the project's estimated $8 million budget.] The office of community development is helping with that process, he said. They anticipate that many of the current tenants will apply to return when the 1500 Pauline is rebuilt, about 18 months from now.

McCabe added that they have a team offering support services, and they’ll be very involved in the relocation process. Within the affordable housing stock that Avalon oversees, they have more one-bedroom units than two- or three-bedroom units, she said.

Evan Pratt clarified with planning staff that the current complex is non-conforming to zoning on that site – that is, it has more units now than the existing zoning allows. In contrast, the number of proposed units does conform to zoning there. [The site is zoned R4B, for multi-family dwellings.] He also pointed out that the Near North project was a planned unit development (PUD), which allows for greater density.

Kirk Westphal said he hoped everyone would agree that the site should be redeveloped, rather than lose available funding – that perspective caps his comments a bit, he said. In general, given the context of the site and the city’s master plan, the commission would be amenable to PUDs, especially for affordable housing projects.

Westphal took issue with the link between density and safety problems, noting that in many cities there are neighborhoods with higher density that are quite safe. His understanding was that for this site, the issue was more related to a staff-resident ratio.

He said he liked the new design – the old building layout was outmoded. He clarified that the proposed playground is technically a public one, then questioned how the public would know that, given that there’s no sidewalk planned from Pauline to the playground. Would there be signs?

Erica Briggs, Chris Cheng

Planning commissioner Erica Briggs, left, talks with Chris Cheng of the Ann Arbor planning staff before the commission's Jan. 20 meeting started.

Chris Cheng of the city’s planning staff said they expected the playground to be used mostly by residents, and that they hadn’t discussed signs or a sidewalk. Erica Briggs concurred with Westphal that it would be more inviting to the general public if a sidewalk were installed from Pauline. Carlberg observed that people would end up creating a path themselves, so Avalon might as well put one in where they wanted it.

Briggs also asked about the neighboring park, noting that in the summary of comments from the community/resident meetings that Avalon held, some people had noted that they didn’t find it safe, and that there are flooding problems there. Cheng said they’ve talked with parks staff about improving the paths in Fritz Park, but it’s not connected with the site plan.

Briggs then asked Avalon to clarify the difference between affordable housing and supportive housing. Wendy Carty-Saxon explained that 35% of the units in the new project would be set aside for supportive housing, with Avalon providing services to tenants, depending on their needs. Often they end up reaching out to other tenants as well, she said. When Briggs began to pursue that line of questioning, Eric Mahler – the planning commission chair – cut her off, noting that they needed to focus their deliberations on issues related to the site plan.

Diane Giannola said she supported the project, and that it would be a benefit to the neighborhood.

Mahler also expressed support, but said the proposal seemed short on details about the design. David Esau of Cornerstone Design, the project’s architect, said they wanted to keep it in scale with the neighborhood, with one- and two-story buildings. They haven’t signed off on all the materials, but it would be largely brick and siding – standard residential construction, he said – and would meet the city’s new energy code.

Outcome: The planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the 1500 Pauline site plan. It will now be forwarded to city council for approval.

Phi Kappa Psi on Oxford

The University of Michigan chapter of Phi Kappa Psi is requesting site plan approval and a special exception use for a property at 630 Oxford, between South University and Hill. The house is now a rental duplex, allowing for up to eight occupants. The special exception use would allow for a fraternity to occupy the building, with a maximum of 47 occupants, based on the size of the lot. The fraternity is requesting permission for up to 24 occupants, including a resident director.

The site plan calls for 10 parking spaces in the rear of the lot, though that number may be revised. Planning staff has asked for more information and changes to the plan, and recommended postponement.

Phi Kappa Psi: Public Hearing

Six people spoke during the project’s public hearing, including two people representing Delta Gamma, whose sorority house is adjacent to the site and who oppose the project.

Allan Lutes of Alpha Management Group spoke on behalf of the owners. [The owners are listed in the site plan application as BH630Ox LLC, at 2112 Vinewood in Ann Arbor, where Big House Rentals is located.] This isn’t a project that was prompted by seeing a For Sale sign, he said – they carefully selected this site, considering the neighborhood and the city’s master plan, he said. They feel the site plan is consistent with the area’s zoning, and they won’t need variances.

It’s in a neighborhood that already includes many sororities, fraternities and University of Michigan housing, Lutes said. The plan is to preserve the building’s outside architecture, and to add additional screening to buffer it from neighbors. They plan to use the basement as their “gathering space,” Lutes said, for minimum impact to the surrounding houses, adding that it “at times may get a little loud.” He noted that they have letters of support from five neighbors.

Saying he’d been on the fraternity’s alumni board for 15 years, David Frayne told commissioners that Phi Kappa Psi had the simple goal of obtaining permanent housing. Though the fraternity had been at the University of Michigan since 1876, they are currently leasing a house on South State from another fraternity, he said – it’s an older building, and not adequately maintained. They look forward to having a house that members can be proud to live in, Frayne said, adding that the project has support from the local alumni network. They’re making provisions to have a resident director on site, and intend to maintain the character of the house and the integrity of the neighborhood, he said.

Mary Higgins identified herself as the house director for the Delta Gamma sorority, a position she’s held for 12 years. The sorority’s house is located just north of 630 Oxford. They are opposed to the project, she said, though they don’t oppose the fraternity itself. It’s a quiet neighborhood, and what they object to is the fraternity culture, Higgins explained, adding that she was also speaking on behalf of the Knight-Wallace Fellows, a journalism program housed at 620 Oxford. The street is narrow and can’t accommodate more cars, she said. Higgins also cited concerns about garbage, noise and “loud and unruly parties,” adding “we do not look forward to this move.”

Phelps Connell said he was a board member of a fraternity in the neighborhood, and that they welcomed the arrival of Phi Kappa Psi. His board supports the site plan, Phelps said. He didn’t identify which fraternity he represented, but said the chapter had been in its location in the Oxford neighborhood for about 100 years – though “I haven’t been on the board that whole time,” he quipped.

Saying he was there representing the undergraduates at Phi Kappa Psi, John Gray – a senior majoring in business – defended the character of the fraternity. He cited a list of honors that the chapter had received. Members strive for excellence in themselves and their community, Gray said. He noted that they had been paired up with Delta Gamma for a social event last year, “and got along with them quite fine” – a comment that elicited laughs from others in the room.

Carol Makowski, chair of the alumni board for the Delta Gamma sorority, told commissioners that they should find out whether Phi Kapp Psi was planning to have an on-site resident director. That could change the character of the house, she said.

Phi Kappa Psi: Commissioner Deliberations

Eric Mahler, the commission’s chair, began by noting that if the project is postponed, anyone who spoke at the public hearing could speak again at the project’s next public hearing.

Ann Arbor planning commission

From left: Planning commissioners Wendy Woods, Diane Giannola and Erica Briggs, and Wendy Rampson, head of the city's planning staff.

Jean Carlberg commented that one of the standards for granting a special exception use was that the project “will not be detrimental to the use, peaceful enjoyment, economic value or development of neighboring property, or the neighborhood area in general.” She hoped that a resident director would be a “bonifide adult” who would be on site at all times.

Allan Lutes of Alpha Management Group responded, saying that the alumni group has every intention of having a live-in advisor who’s not an undergraduate. They plan on building a private two-room suite at the back of the house for that person. As for concerns about fraternity culture, he conceded that there have been some stupid and foolish acts at fraternities, and it’s hard to counter a cultural conception based on “Animal House.”

He noted that this fraternity employs his professional management group to oversee the facility, and his staff would be at the house several times each week. In addition, unlike some fraternities, Phi Kappa Psi is a member of UM’s Interfraternity Council. The IFC has standards of behavior that, if not adhered to, result in sanctions, Lutes said, like social probation.

Carlberg raised another issue: Did they have sufficient parking spaces for 24 residents? Lutes said that zoning requires even fewer spaces than the eight they’re proposing. At their current location, he said, there are 31 residents and 10 spaces, so they’re estimating that eight should be sufficient.

Evan Pratt noted that having a resident director wasn’t written into the special exception use – Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, said it wouldn’t hurt to make that explicit. Pratt then asked whether there would be any bedrooms in the basement, in addition to the common area. They might put in two bedrooms there, Lutes said. When Pratt observed that the house was relatively small for 24 residents, Lutes said the “occupant load” reflected how students preferred to live – in singles and doubles – and was lower than what was permitted by city code.

Wendy Woods said she was glad they planned to postpone action, because there was additional information needed. It would be helpful to see the proposed floor plan, for example, and to find out what maximum occupancy was allowed for parties. Occupancy is dictated by the fire code – Rampson said they could get that information for commissioners.

Woods also asked whether residents had been notified about the proposal, and what kind of input they’d given. Lutes reported that they had distributed letters to residents within 500 feet of the parcel, providing the full site plan and contact information. They hadn’t been contacted by any neighbors, and only one person had attended the meeting, representing the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association. Lutes characterized her opinion of the plan as neutral.

The representatives from Delta Gamma told commissioners that they hadn’t received the mailing.

Outcome: The planning commission voted unanimously to postpone action on the 630 Oxford site plan and special exception use.

Present: Erica Briggs, Jean Carlberg, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods. Also: Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff.

Absent: Bonnie Bona, Tony Derezinski.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building’s boardroom, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]

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Low-Income Housing Project Planned Wed, 01 Dec 2010 11:44:01 +0000 Mary Morgan Documents filed on Monday with the city of Ann Arbor’s planning staff show details of an affordable housing project at 1500 Pauline that includes tearing down the existing apartment buildings and rebuilding a combination of apartments, townhomes and a community center.

Apartments at 1500 Pauline

Entrance to the apartment complex at 1500 Pauline in Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

The project is being proposed by the Ann Arbor nonprofit Avalon Housing, though the property is still owned by the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. Avalon took over operations of several WAHC properties, including 1500 Pauline, in 2009.

Also filing with the city on Monday was the Michigan Alpha Chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, which is seeking a special exception use to transform the Memorial Christian Church building at the corner of Tappan and Hill into a fraternity house.

Avalon Housing: 1500 Pauline

In 2009, the nonprofit Avalon Housing took over operations for properties owned by the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp., including 1500 Pauline. The original intent was to rehab the four apartment buildings on the property, which is located on the north side of Pauline, between Seventh and West Stadium, next to Fritz Park. There are 47 apartments there, rented to federally subsidized low-income residents.

Financing for the originally planned rehab hinged on getting state tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). But a MSHDA official toured the facility earlier this year and determined that several issues – including structural problems caused by deferred maintenance, drainage problems, poor barrier-free access and outdated layouts – made it unlikely that tax credits would be granted. The feeling was that it wasn’t worth additional investment, said Jennifer L. Hall, housing manager for the city of Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County office of community development, which has been working with Avalon on the project.

MSHDA indicated that they’d be more likely to provide tax credits to a newly constructed project. So Avalon now plans to tear down the existing buildings and redevelop the site into 32 units, including three-bedroom townhomes and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The plan also calls for a community center on the site.

David Esau of Ann Arbor-based Cornerstone Design is the project’s architect. Cornerstone has worked on other projects with Avalon, including a renovation of Arbordale Apartments, a 39-unit complex that’s near the 1500 Pauline site.

Financing for the project is still being worked out, said Michael Appel, Avalon’s executive associate director, in a phone interview with The Chronicle on Monday. If the project gains approval from the city’s planning commission and city council, they hope to apply for a March 2011 round of state tax credits, he said, with the goal of starting construction in 2012. [Projects submitted on Monday will be reviewed by city staff over the next few weeks and would likely be scheduled for a vote by the city's planning commission at its Jan. 20, 2011 meeting.]

Hall said that Avalon also could apply for funding from the Washtenaw Urban County, which receives staff support from Hall and others in the office of community development. The Urban County is a consortium of 11 local governments, including Ann Arbor, that receives and allocates funding through a variety of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships. Those two programs provide funding for projects to benefit low- and moderate-income residents, focused on housing, human services and other community development efforts.

The Urban County has already committed funds to other Avalon projects, including the Near North housing project to be built on North Main between Kingsley and Summit. The Urban County has also been involved in the struggling Gateway Apartments, a low-income complex that – like 1500 Pauline – is owned by WAHC and now managed by Avalon.

Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity

The building at 730 Tappan – at the intersection of Tappan and Hill, across the street from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business – is home to the Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The church is planning to sell the property to the Michigan Alpha Chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. On Monday, the fraternity filed for a special exception use with the city – if granted, it would allow the building to be converted into a residence for the fraternity. The chapter is currently located nearby at 704 Hill St., on the southeast corner of Hill and State.

Memorial Christian Church in Ann Arbor

Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at 730 Tappan in Ann Arbor, on the northwest corner of Hill and Tappan.

The application to the city for a special exception use states that no significant changes are planned for the building’s exterior. The site includes 19 parking spaces – the plan calls for adding 11 bike spaces in the basement of the building as well as 11 bike spaces outside. The interior of the three-level building would be remodeled into a residence with a maximum of 44 beds. (The chapter has over 100 members, but more than half live off-site.) The property is currently zoned R2B, a zoning category that allows for fraternities. The neighborhood includes many fraternities, sororities and student rental properties.

Jerry Mangona, president of the chapter’s alumni association, told The Chronicle they’ve been trying to find an appropriate site for the past five years – the current location was never intended to be permanent, he said.

The church site is ideal for two reasons, Mangona said. First is its location – next to the business school and a sorority (Delta Delta Delta, at 718 Tappan), and near Michigan Stadium. There’s also ample parking, he said, which is not the case at their current house. Secondly, the church structure itself is impressive, he said, both in terms of its history and architecture. The historic church was originally built on State Street – where the UM law quad is now located – and was moved to its current location in 1923. The renovation would include common areas, such as a formal dining room and possibly a lecture room. The chapter would be unique on campus, Mangona said – their goal is to be designated a residential learning community, dedicated to leadership development and continuing education for members and alumni.

Mangona declined to provide information regarding the purchase price or cost of renovations, saying only that renovations could reach the 7-figure range. Reached on Tuesday, Dr. Rev. Irwin Green, the church’s pastor, said he preferred not to comment on the sale at this time.

According to its summer 2010 newsletter, the church was negotiating a sale of the property for $1.4 million. Mangona confirmed that this was the church’s asking price at the time, but indicated it was not the final price. He said the closing of the deal will depend in part on whether they are granted a special exception use by the city, and on whether their architect determines that the interior renovations they’d like to make are feasible.

The church’s December 2010 newsletter indicates that plans for an upcoming move to a leased facility in Pittsfield Township – as well as a name change – are underway:

The work of gathering appropriate information for an appearance at the Pittsfield Township Board to request a property use permit, for the leased facility as a church, should be completed soon. We should be ready to announce our plans on storage and how the logics of storing some of our “stuff” will happen in the very near future. A celebration of who we have been and who we hope to be is being planned for January. We will take the leap toward a new name for the church. That will be a time for us to begin gathering our ancestors – the saints who over a span of 119 years have been part of building up and deepening this small faith community on Hill St and Tappan. We want to carry them with us as we wait and plan for our new church and to pray for their help.

And yet, a true community contains the living and the dead. God’s community of the faithful isn’t limited to only those we can see and share geography. The living have gifts to give too — looking back lacks the dimension and relevant context that leaning forward can bring. Both the living and the dead have something to say about the kind of church we want to be known as and for. Breathe deeply and rest assured that is as it should be too. God is with us on this extraordinary journey toward a new home.

Memorial Christian Church and UM Ross School of Business

The Memorial Christian Church is located across Tappan from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

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