The Ann Arbor Chronicle » planning it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DDA Picks Two Firms for Streetscape Planning Wed, 06 Nov 2013 18:59:59 +0000 Chronicle Staff SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard have been selected by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to work on a streetscape plan for the city’s downtown. Action to select the two firms came at the DDA board’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting.

A budget for the project was authorized by the board at its July 3, 2013 meeting – $200,000 over the next two years. The Nov. 6 resolution sets a not-to-exceed amount of $150,000 and indicates that the project scope still requires refinement. The resolution establishing the budget referred in general terms to the DDA’s development plan, which the resolution characterized as including “identity, infrastructure, and transportation as key strategies, and also recognized that an enjoyable pedestrian experience is one of downtown’s principal attractions.”

The downtown streetscape framework plan, according to the July 3 resolution, would “align with these strategies, as it would address quality of place in streetscape design, on-going maintenance, and private development projects.” The July 3 resolution indicated there would be considerable collaboration with other entities like the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, and the University of Michigan. The benefit of having a streetscape framework plan, according to the July 3 resolution, would be “shortened planning phases, and thus cost, for future streetscape projects due to the overarching plan guidance.”

The most recent streetscape project completed by the DDA related to improvements on Fifth and Division, which included a lane reduction and bump-outs.

SmithGroupJJR provided consulting support for the DDA’s Connecting William Street project. Nelson\Nygaard is the consulting firm the DDA hired to study the parking system, resulting in a 2007 report.

This brief was filed from the DDA offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301, where the DDA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link]

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Ann Arbor DDA Updates: Budget, TIF Talk Sun, 15 Apr 2012 14:52:51 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 4, 2012): The absence of four out of 12 DDA board members had no effect on any outcomes at the meeting, because the board did not have resolutions on its agenda.

Susan Pollay, Marcia Higgins

Before the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority's April 9 budget presentation to the Ann Arbor city council, DDA executive director Susan Pollay rolls up her sleeves as she chats with councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). (Photos by the writer.)

The meeting took place against the backdrop of the DDA’s budget presentation to the city council the following week – on April 9 – and various other ongoing projects. So the board’s agenda consisted of a collection of regular committee updates and status reports.

Those included an update on the Connecting William Street project – an initiative to explore alternative uses of a limited set of city-owned parcels currently used for parking. The DDA embarked on the project at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council in a resolution it approved about a year ago – on April 4, 2011. The DDA had wanted the ability to lead that exploration, partly in exchange for renegotiating a contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. That new contract was finally settled on May 31, 2011, and features a clause that provides the city of Ann Arbor 17% of gross revenues out of the public parking system.

Total parking revenues for fiscal year 2013 are projected at around $18 million in the budget approved by the DDA board at its meeting the previous month, on March 7, 2012. That budget was presented by the DDA at a city council work session on April 9. The budget presentation featured a review of the DDA’s history of infrastructure investment and impact on the downtown district since its formation in 1982 – over $100 million of DDA investment, accompanied by $300 million in private investment and an increase in taxable value from $89 million to $386 million.

Another work session highlight was a series of questions posed by councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) about compliance with Ann Arbor’s ordinance that regulates how the tax increment finance (TIF) tax capture works for the DDA district. Last year, the city’s financial staff pointed to Chapter 7 of the city code, which appears to limit the amount of taxes the DDA can “capture” from the other taxing units in the district. The DDA board agreed with the city’s interpretation, and returned $473,000 in combined TIF revenues to the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw Community College and Washtenaw County.

Subsequently, the DDA reversed its position and gave a different interpretation to Chapter 7. Responding to Kunselman at the work session, DDA board chair (and retired Washtenaw County administrator) Bob Guenzel told Kunselman that the DDA had informed other taxing units of the DDA’s revised position, which was not to say they agreed with the DDA, he said.

Also the focus of TIF monies captured by the DDA is a proposed development at 618 S. Main, which received a positive recommendation from the Ann Arbor planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. The developer of the project, Dan Ketelaar, has estimated that the tax on the increment between the current valuation of the property and the final built project would yield around $250,000 a year in TIF revenue to the DDA.

Ketelaar is was initially asking that in addition to reimbursement of certain costs (at around $1.4 million) within six months of the project’s completion, the DDA pledge 80% of its TIF capture money for six years – an additional $1.3 million – to support certain aspects of the project in connection with the state’s Community Revitalization Program. But subsequently, Ketelaar revised the request to include just the TIF reimbursement. So the total request, over six years, is $1.3 million. The CRP is the successor to the brownfield and historic preservation tax credit program. In order to approve the tax credit, the state would like to see a commensurate commitment from local units – and Ketelaar is proposing that it take the form of the DDA’s support.

Ketelaar has pitched his idea to the DDA board on several occasions now – first at the full board meeting on Feb. 1, 2012, and at three subsequent DDA partnerships committee meetings. DDA board members are cautious about the precedent that such a pledge might set, and the appropriateness of the DDA’s role at this early stage in the project. (Ketelaar has not yet acquired the land.) At the March 28 partnerships committee meeting, DDA board member Newcombe Clark expressed concern that, depending on the precise role defined for the DDA’s participation, the DDA could effectively be artificially inflating land values.

This report takes a look in more detail at Connecting William Street, the DDA’s April 9 budget presentation to the city council, the lingering TIF capture issue, and the 618 S. Main project, as well as odds and ends from the April 4 DDA board meeting.

April 4, 2012: DDA Board Meeting

The board’s meeting featured its usual updates related to the parking system, as well as one item that involves a project meant to find alternative uses to parcels currently used as parking facilities.

DDA Board Meeting: Parking System Report

An update on the performance of Ann Arbor’s parking system is a point of every DDA board meeting agenda. The DDA operates the public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. The following week, on April 9, when Roger Hewitt presented the DDA budget to the Ann Arbor city council, he was asked about the parking system performance. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted to know the basis of Hewitt’s assertion that there was increasing demand for parking in the public parking system.

Hewitt appealed to the two data points that the DDA tracks for the parking system, and which had been presented at the DDA board meeting the previous week: Revenue is up, and hourly patrons are up. Revenue has increased around 16% ($1,362,989 in February 2012 compared to $1,173,568 in February 2011) and the number of hourly patrons is up around 5% (174,492 in February 2012 compared to 165,778). Hewitt told Taylor that the revenue increase outpaced the parking rate increase. Over the last two and a half years, here’s the data on parking revenues and patrons:


Ann Arbor public parking system revenue. Compared to February 2011, February 2012 showed a 16% increase in revenues. (Charts by The Chronicle from DDA data. Image links to higher resolution file.)


Ann Arbor public parking system hourly patrons in structures. Compared to February 2011, February 2012 showed an increase in the number of hourly patrons of about 5%. Due to leap year, there was one more business day for February 2012. (Charts by The Chronicle from DDA data. Image links to higher resolution file.)

DDA Board Meeting: “Library Lane Parking Structure”

During Hewitt’s presentation to the city council on April 9, he showed a slide referring to the new underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue as the “Library Lane Parking Structure” – picking up on the name for the new mid-block cut-through between Division Street and Fourth Avenue, which has been called “Library Lane” from the beginning of the project.


View from the bottom floor of the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor – the light is sunlight filtering down. The garage is nearly completed and is expected to be open at the end of June or the beginning of July. (Image is from a DDA slide presentation to the Ann Arbor city council on April 9, 2012.)

What’s somewhat new is the extension of that name to the structure. Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, told The Chronicle after the work session that for now the DDA will call it the Library Lane Parking Structure, but they would be sensitive to modifying that name depending on what people wind up calling it, after construction is complete and people start to use it.

At the April 4 DDA board meeting, John Splitt led off the regular update on the new underground parking garage with an allusion to the nice weather: “It’s a beautiful day to apply waterproofing.” He said the construction is moving along nicely – the concrete pours for the walls are complete, which means that the structural parts are now done, he said.

The surface waterproofing started a couple of weeks ago, Splitt said, and that’s the next step toward getting the surface concrete poured. Elevators have been installed, and the other mechanicals continue to be installed.

Splitt reported that the target date for re-opening Fifth Avenue is still May 20 – but he’s still saying Memorial Day (May 28). The garage itself is expected to be open by the end of June or the beginning of July.

DDA Board Meeting: Connecting William Street

At the April 4 board meeting, Joan Lowenstein gave an update on the Connecting William Street project – an initiative to explore alternative uses of a limited set of city-owned parcels currently used for parking. The DDA embarked on the project at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council in a resolution it approved about a year ago, on April 4, 2011. The DDA had wanted the ability to lead that exploration, partly in exchange for renegotiating the contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. That new contract was finally settled on May 31, 2011.


Scenario development process being used by the DDA for the Connecting William Street project. (Image links to larger resolution file.)

Parcels included in the area are: the Kline’s lot (on Ashley, north of William), Palio’s lot (at Main & William), the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, the old Y lot (Fifth & William), and the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, which is nearing completion.

Lowenstein reported that a survey circulated to solicit input had generated around 2,000 responses whereas only 1,000 had been expected. Lowenstein characterized the clear message from the results as indicating a strong desire for a vibrant sidewalk experience in the William Street area, with attention to good building quality and design. She also said the results indicated a desire for economic development, housing and open plaza space. The full set of responses, including free responses, is available on the DDA website: Connecting William Street survey responses.

[By way of illustrating the responses to the survey (not meant to cover the range or complexity of the answers given) when asked to share additional extremely important goals for the project area, responses included: "MORE FRICKING PARKING!!!!!" and "Provide natural (i.e., 'green') open space as part of a broader design for public activity and use downtown."]

The DDA is partnering with Concentrate to host a speaker series, Lowenstein said, to explore ways to achieve some of the goals of the project. She called the first event a big success. The speaker was Dan Gilmartin, from the Michigan Municipal League, who has authored a book called “The Economics of Place.” She said the event was very well attended, with practically standing room only at Conor O’Neill’s on Main Street. The next speaker event will be on April 19 at 5:30 p.m. also at Conor O’Neill’s, she said, and will focus on activating sidewalk space. [The speakers will be Kirk Westphal, a member of the city of Ann Arbor planning commission, and Bob Gregory, president of the Detroit 300 Conservancy.]

Lowenstein also reported that the DDA’s leadership and outreach committee had worked with land-use economist Todd J. Poole of 4Ward Planning, who has already made a visit to Ann Arbor. Poole’s work is being funded by the grant that the DDA has obtained for the project, as part of a larger federal grant from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to Washtenaw County.

Of the $100,000 Connecting William Street project budget, $65,000 will come from a community challenge grant awarded recently as part of a larger $3 million HUD grant received by Washtenaw County. The remaining $35,000 will be made up by DDA cash (no more than $20,000) and DDA in-kind contributions of staff time.

At the DDA’s partnership’s committee meeting on April 11, DDA planning and research specialist Amber Miller indicated that the report from Poole would be received around mid-May. She also described how the steps forward will include focus groups and the use of the survey results to start creating an initial iteration of scenarios. That work will take place in the context of understanding the significance of anchor institutions in the study area – the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s Blake Transit Center.

A final recommended scenario is expected sometime in August, Miller said, and that will be forwarded to the city council.

April 9, 2012: DDA at Council Work Session

At the DDA board’s April 4 board meeting, John Splitt noted that DDA board member Roger Hewitt would be delivering a budget presentation to the Ann Arbor city council at a work session the council was holding on April 9. Splitt encouraged other board members to attend.

By way of background, the DDA has in recent years not made such a budget presentation to the council. However, at a March DDA partnerships committee meeting, Ward 2 city councilmember Jane Lumm had asked about a possible presentation by the DDA to the council on its budget. Lumm serves as a city council representative to that committee. There was also support from other councilmembers for having such a presentation from the DDA. The DDA board had already approved its budget for fiscal year 2013 in March.

Council Work Session: DDA Background and Budget

The budget that Roger Hewitt presented to the city council at the work session was the same one that the DDA board had approved over a month earlier, at its March 7, 2012 meeting. It was prefaced by several slides reminding councilmembers of the impact the DDA has had on downtown Ann Arbor since its formation in 1982.

That includes over $100 million in investment by the DDA in various infrastructure, according to the DDA’s presentation. Also since 1982, the private sector has invested more than $300 million in downtown construction, which has added more than 3 million square feet of floor area. The DDA district’s taxable value grew from $89 million to $386 million over that period, Hewitt told the council.

Hewitt highlighted the fact that since the DDA took responsibility for management of the public parking system in 1996, two structures had received major repairs or renovations (Maynard, and Fourth & William) and another two had been demolished and rebuilt (Fourth & Washington, and Forest).

To that list Hewitt added the First and Washington structure, which needed to be demolished because it was failing structurally. The site is currently under construction by the developer Village Green, and will include a parking deck on the bottom floors of the City Apartments residential project – a parking deck the firm is developing in partnership with the DDA.

Highlights of the budget itself include:

FY 2013 DDA Revenues
$ 4 M TIF Capture
$18 M Parking Revenue
$22 M Total

FY 2013 DDA Expenses
$ 6.7 M Debt Service
$ 7.5 M Parking Operations
$ 3.6 M Capital Costs
$ 1.5 M Grants & Transfers
$ 0.7 M Administration
$ 0.4 M Professional Services & Insurance
$ 0.5 M City Municipal Center Grant
$ 3.1 M Parking Revenue (17%) to City
$24 M Total

That difference in revenues versus expenditures means that the DDA will be tapping its fund balance reserve for around $2 million in the next fiscal year. As Hewitt explained to the council, this was a planned use of the fund balance and reflects the fact that the DDA is a capital-project driven organization. The pattern is to build up a fund balance in preparation for a project, which is then drawn down as projects are built. Hewitt told the council that the long-range planning is accomplished through a 10-year plan, which is updated quarterly.

Factoring in coverage of this year’s (FY 2012) use of fund balance and next year’s planned use of $2 million, the DDA will have a total fund balance of $4.38 million at the end of FY 2013, or an amount equal to about 18.2% of expenses [.pdf of FY 2013 budget]. Asked by Jane Lumm when the “floor” of the fund balance reserve will occur, Hewitt indicated that it would be this year or next.

By way of background, in the context of last year’s renegotiation of the contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system, part of the DDA’s negotiating strategy was to point to its fund balance. The DDA warned that the contract terms the city wanted would lead to a precariously low fund balance in its 10-year forecast. The DDA board only agreed to the final term – a payment to the city of 17% of gross revenue from the public parking system – when the city of Ann Arbor agreed to backstop if the DDA’s fund balance fell below $1 million.

Council Work Session: Other Council Questions

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted to know when the parking demand management, which the DDA had talked so much about, would be implemented. Hewitt told her that to some extent the DDA had begun to implement the pricing-by-demand model, but that it had really taken a backseat while the DDA completed the new underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue.

Briere also expressed her hope that the DDA would transition all the on-street parking meters to the kiosk-style electronic meters. Hewitt told Briere that if it were up to him, it would be done tomorrow. [The DDA had envisioned completing the transition, based on the positive results for the initial rollout of new meters in several locations. However, partly due to terms of the new parking contract with the city, the DDA has indicated that it does not have financial resources to make the upfront capital investment right now.]

Hewitt noted that about 70% of the payments made by new meters is via credit and debit cards.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed some dissatisfaction that the budget forwarded to the city council by the DDA did not include the “actuals” from prior years – like every other component of the overall city budget. Kunselman felt including those actual expenditures and revenues from prior years was a requirement of state law – that everything be in the same format. Ann Arbor’s chief financial officer Tom Crawford came to the podium and provided an assurance that the DDA figures from prior years could be provided.

Council Work Session: TIF Questions

Of the questions put to representatives of the DDA by the city council, those posed by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) about TIF capture were the most pointed. The basis of his questions can be traced back to an issue that arose a year ago, when the city of Ann Arbor financial staff pointed out the impact of the city ordinance that lays out how the DDA’s TIF capture is determined.

Council Work Session: TIF Questions – Background

A tax increment finance (TIF) district is a mechanism for “capturing” certain property taxes to be used in a specific geographic district – taxes that would otherwise be received by the entity with the authority to levy the taxes. So in the DDA’s TIF district, the DDA doesn’t levy taxes directly. Rather, a portion of the property taxes that would otherwise be collected by taxing units (like the library, community college and the county) is instead used by the Ann Arbor DDA for improvements within a specific geographic district, covering about 66 city blocks downtown.

What is the portion of the property taxes that is captured by the DDA? The captured tax is only that which applies to the difference between (1) the baseline value of the property when the district was first formed, and (2) the value of the property after new construction or improvements to the property. That difference is the “increment” in “tax increment finance.” Subsequent appreciation of property value due to inflation, after it’s been constructed or improved, is not included in the Ann Arbor DDA’s TIF capture.

Chapter 7 of the city of Ann Arbor’s city code lays out how the tax capture of the Ann Arbor DDA is limited, or capped. The mechanism used to cap the amount of tax that can be captured by the Ann Arbor DDA is the projected value of the increment in the TIF district, as laid out in the TIF plan – a required document under the state enabling legislation for DDAs (Act 197 of 1975). From Chapter 7 [emphasis added]:

If the captured assessed valuation derived from new construction, and increase in value of property newly constructed or existing property improved subsequent thereto, grows at a rate faster than that anticipated in the tax increment plan, at least 50% of such additional amounts shall be divided among the taxing units in relation to their proportion of the current tax levies. If the captured assessed valuation derived from new construction grows at a rate of over twice that anticipated in the plan, all of such excess amounts over twice that anticipated shall be divided among the taxing units. Only after approval of the governmental units may these restrictions be removed. [.pdf of Ann Arbor city ordinance establishing the DDA]

The TIF plan includes a table that lays out the projected valuation of the increment in the district, starting in 2003. The table includes three scenarios for the projected valuation: “realistic,” “optimistic” and “pessimistic.” They’re each based on a constant percentage increase each year. So the three different scenarios are generated from three different estimates of the percentage increase each year. [.pdf of DDA TIF plan appendix]

In May 2011, the DDA initially agreed that based on Chapter 7, the excess TIF money needs to be reimbursed to taxing authorities in its district, for excess TIF that had been captured since 2003. Those taxing authorities include the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw County and Washtenaw Community College, and they were reimbursed a total of $473,000. The city of Ann Arbor was due to be reimbursed for $712,000, but the city council waived that amount.


Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority: Bond payments and TIF capture. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Subsequently, the DDA reversed its legal position, and currently contends that Chapter 7 does not indicate a clear limit on its TIF capture and that the money it returned last year need not have been returned.

The DDA’s position on the Chapter 7 issue is reflected in a chart included in Roger Hewitt’s budget presentation to the city council.

The chart plots the DDA’s bond payments against its TIF revenues. The DDA contends that as long as its revenues from TIF capture (unlimited by Chapter 7) do not exceed its bond payments, it’s not required to apply the calculations in the ordinance – which last year were interpreted to place a limit on the amount of TIF money the DDA captured in the first place.

The DDA’s position relies on a subsequent portion of the ordinance, which reads [emphasis added]:

Tax funds that are paid to the downtown development authority due to the captured assessed value shall first be used to pay the required amounts into the bond and interest redemption funds and the required reserves thereto. Thereafter, the funds shall be distributed as set forth above or shall be divided among the taxing units in relation to their proportion of the current tax levies.

Complicating the issue is the fact that the bonds the DDA has historically used to finance parking structure construction and renovation have relied on revenue from the parking system – not TIF capture – to ensure that the debt service can be covered. [Editor's note: But see Comment 3 below] And it’s not the DDA that issues the bonds, but rather the city of Ann Arbor, which issues the bonds on behalf of the DDA. So in the DDA’s accounting system, the DDA itself does not maintain bond reserves. The DDA’s annual reports consistently show $0 for “bond reserve.” [.pdf of DDA annual reports from past years]

If Chapter 7 is interpreted to mean that any bond payments are first in line to be paid – before any other use can be made of TIF revenues – that could have an unintended impact on the DDA’s payment of roughly $500,000 a year to the city to support the new police/courts building, now called the Justice Center. The city uses that contribution from the DDA to help make payments on bonds it issued to build the Justice Center.

When Newcombe Clark was appointed to the DDA board in 2009, one of the first things he insisted on was to classify that police/courts payment to the city as a “grant” and not a “bond payment.” If it’s not a bond payment, then on the DDA’s current interpretation of Chapter 7, it’s not clear how the DDA could make that payment to the city out of its TIF revenues – because there would be other, outstanding debt that would have to be paid first, and there would not be any left over to make the $500,000 police/courts payment out of the TIF fund. However, the DDA could conceivably make the police/courts contribution from parking system revenues.

At the city council’s April 2, 2012 meeting, Kunselman had brought forward a resolution – which he could not persuade enough of his colleagues to pass. It would have directed the city financial staff to analyze the TIF capture according to Chapter 7, based on last year’s interpretation of the ordinance.

Council Work Session: TIF Questions – How Does this Work?

With that as background, Kunselman led off by asking whose responsibility it is to calculate the TIF. Hewitt told Kunselman that the DDA does not calculate the TIF capture.

Before the start of the April 9 DDA budget presentation to the city council. Foreground: Bob Guenzel talks with Margie Teall. Background: Ward 3 city councilmember Stephen Kunselman talks with assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald.

Before the start of the April 9 DDA budget presentation to the Ann Arbor city council. Foreground: DDA board member Bob Guenzel talks with Ward 4 councilmember Margie Teall. Background: Ward 3 city councilmember Stephen Kunselman talks with assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald.

Kunselman ventured that he had a different understanding, based on conversations with the city treasurer’s office. Hewitt deferred to Bob Guenzel, who is now chair of the DDA board. Guenzel served many years as Washtenaw County administrator until he retired in May of 2010.

In broad strokes, Guenzel explained that the DDA receives a check from the city of Ann Arbor treasurer’s office. Joe Morehouse, deputy director of the DDA, confirmed that’s how it works, from the DDA’s vantage point. Kunselman went on to raise the possibility that the DDA might need to be prepared to receive a different amount than the full TIF capture it had used to plan its FY 2013 budget – if the city treasurer were to reach a different conclusion than the DDA about how Chapter 7 applies.

Guenzel responded to Kunselman by summarizing the DDA’s legal position. As a legal matter, he said, the DDA believes that as long as there’s outstanding debt that exceeds the amount of the full TIF capture [as in the "DDA TIF and Bond Payments" chart], there’s no obligation to distribute TIF back to the other taxing units. Guenzel noted that the DDA had advised the taxing units in the district of the DDA’s position, which was not to say that those taxing units agreed with it.

618 S. Main Street

Related to TIF capture is the 618 S. Main project. Developer Dan Ketelaar is asking that the DDA use part of the TIF capture that would come from the new project to pay for certain elements of the project that he contends have a public benefit.

618 S. Main Street: Background, Proposal

The 618 S. Main project is a 7-story building, which would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. It received a unanimously positive recommendation from the Ann Arbor planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012. The developer of the project, Dan Ketelaar, has estimated that the tax on the increment between the current valuation of the property and the final built project would yield around $250,000 a year in TIF revenue to the DDA.

Ketelaar is was initially asking that in addition to reimbursement of certain costs (at around $1.4 million) within six months of the project’s completion, the DDA pledge 80% of its TIF capture money for six years – an additional $1.3 million – to support certain aspects of the project in connection with the state’s Community Revitalization Program. But subsequently, Ketelaar revised the request to include just the TIF reimbursement. So the total request, over six years, is $1.3 million. The CRP is the successor to the brownfield and historic preservation tax credit program. In order to approve the tax credit, the state would like to see a commensurate commitment from local units – and Ketelaar is proposing that it take the form of the DDA’s support. The costs for which Ketelaar is seeking reimbursement include various standard infrastructure components, green infrastructure components (for example, a rain garden for stormwater cleansing) and streetscape improvements from Mosley to just south of William Street.

Ketelaar has pitched the idea to the DDA board on several occasions now – first at the full board meeting on Feb. 1, 2012, and at three subsequent DDA partnerships committee meetings. Two of those committee meetings took place in March. Ketelaar and his team also discussed his proposal at the April 11 meeting of the partnerships committee. Ketelaar has a purchase option on the land through July, so he has an interest in seeing the financing for the project come together in the next few months. Based on partnerships committee discussions, the city council would prefer not to vote on the project until the issue of the state tax credits is finalized.

At the DDA’s April 4 board meeting, in reporting out from the downtown citizens advisory council (CAC), Ray Detter expressed support for the project, noting that both the CAC and the Old West Side Association strongly supported it. He said they wanted the project to be built. However, he cautioned that the CAC also supported consistent and careful planning. And he expressed caution about the DDA offering its support in the form that Ketelaar is requesting.

Detter pointed out that the CAC had been involved in creating the partnership process that the DDA has used in the past – for the first time in 1999. That had included support to Syndeco Realty, the development arm of DTE Energy, for the Ashley Mews project on Main Street. In all of the cases when the DDA had provided support, Detter said, the DDA had made sure to follow rules and procedures that were consistent and applied equally to all applicants. All those projects also involved some public benefit that might not otherwise have been achieved. So Detter stressed that the DDA should continue to insist that all DDA decisions on supporting 618 S. Main should be made based on the principles that the DDA has always supported. He wanted to make sure that no unfair precedent was set.

618 S. Main: History of DDA Project Support

By way of background, the board approved a $589,800 grant for the construction of pedestrian improvements associated with the Ashley Mews project, located at Main and Packard streets. The grant was for streetscape improvements along South Ashley and South Main streets, as well as on the pedestrian walk-through from Main to Ashley. The board also approved a $75,000 grant from its housing fund, to support affordable housing as a part of the project. [.pdf of Oct. 6, 1999 board minutes]

In his remarks to the DDA board at the April 4 meeting, Detter recalled the DDA’s support of the Ashley Mews project as well as other projects. Those include some that were eventually built, as well as some that were not ever built, he said. He mentioned the Village Green City Apartments project [which just recently started construction at First and Washington], Liberty Lofts [which completed construction in 2006 at First and Liberty] and Kingsley Lane [which was never built]. From a handout provided at a March DDA partnerships committee meeting, here’s a quick overview of the history of support to different developments made under the DDA’s partnerships program:

  • 1999: Ashley Mews – $589,800 and $75,000. Reason: affordable housing/help the city of Ann Arbor sell Main & Packard.
  • 2004: Kingsley Lane [not built] – 20% of the TIF for 10 years. Reason: first downtown residential project after greenbelt millage approval.
  • 2005: Liberty Lofts – $600,000 ($300,000 for stormwater management, $250,000 for pedestrian improvements, $50,000 for parks). Reason: historic preservation/dense residential.
  • 2006: William Street Station [not built] – 20% of the TIF generated over 10 years (maximum $500,000), waive meter bag fees (up to $100,000). Reason: help to preserve 100 very affordable housing units.
  • 2007: Tierra on Ashley [not built] – 25% of the TIF generated over 10 years waive meter bag fees (up to $18,000). Reason: Platinum LEED construction.

In 2008, the DDA discontinued the partnerships grant program, because the board believed that development interest in downtown Ann Arbor was strong enough that such grants were no longer needed to help spur investment. [.pdf of March 5, 2008 DDA board resolution] From the board’s resolution:

Whereas, Development interest in the downtown is currently very strong, and the Partnerships Committee no longer believes that DDA Partnerships Grants are needed to foster development;
RESOLVED, The DDA resolves to eliminate its DDA Partnerships Grant Program, but will retain its other economic development tools to support downtown development including its facade loan program, provision of parking contracts, provision of parking assistance to lessen pedestrian impacts during construction and support for public infrastructure expansions.

Before discontinuing the grant program, the DDA has offered some support to two other projects, but not through that partnerships grant. And since the discontinuation of the program, the DDA has offered substantial support to one project – the Zingerman’s Deli expansion project at Detroit and Kingsley. The DDA voted on July 7, 2010 to support that project with an amount equal to the estimated amount of taxes on the increased value of Zingerman’s property, that the DDA would receive through its TIF capture for the first 15 years after the project is completed. That amount is $407,000.

The board approved the request from Zingerman’s by passing a resolution that specified “improvements to sidewalks and sidewalk curb ramps in the area near the Deli, providing additional wayfinding, providing funding for actual LEED certification costs, and providing contractor parking and staging …”

Here’s a summary of non-partnerships grant support to downtown projects:

  • 2005: Denali/322 E. Liberty – 11 spaces in the South Fifth Ave. lot for 1 year (~$50,000).
  • 2007: Mayer Shairer – reimbursement of $40,000 (fire hydrant).
  • 2010: Zingerman’s Deli brownfield – $407,000 (for sidewalks, wayfinding, etc.). Reason: Jobs, anchor business, national attention.

618 S. Main: Review of DDA Board Discussion

At the DDA board’s April 4 meeting, Sandi Smith (co-chair of the partnerships committee and a Ward 1 city councilmember) reviewed the request that Ketelaar was making. She reported that there’d been a need to clarify how the DDA TIF capture works for Ketelaar’s project team. In calculating the total dollar amounts of TIF capture that the DDA would be pledging, the project team had factored in inflationary increases as a part of the increment on which the DDA could capture tax. The Ann Arbor DDA, in contrast to many other downtown development authorities, captures taxes only on the initial increment between the property value before improvements and the value after improvements. The DDA does not capture taxes on the additional value the property might accrue through inflationary pressures of the real estate market.

At the March 14 meeting of the DDA partnerships committee, Dan Ketelaar pitches his proposal for the DDA to support his 618. S. Main project.

At the March 14 meeting of the DDA partnerships committee, Dan Ketelaar pitches his proposal for the DDA to support his 618. S. Main project.

Smith noted that the committee had reviewed the history of support that the DDA had given to projects and discussed whether 618 S. Main was an “extraordinary” project that the city needed and offered a specific public benefit. That discussion would continue, Smith said, at the next partnerships committee meeting. Part of the discussion, she noted, involves the project’s location in the South Main Street corridor.

At the partnerships committee meetings in March, as well as the committee meeting on April 11, after the board meeting, Ketelaar has stressed the location of the project as a key reason that the DDA should support it. It anchors the edge of the DDA district, could serve as a gateway to downtown, and has the potential to spur the revitalization of Main Street between Mosley and William along Main, Ketelaar says.

At the March 28 partnerships committee meeting – convened as a special meeting just to discuss Ketelaar’s proposal for 618 S. Main – Smith noted that the part of the proposal that resonated with her was the idea that the strip between Ashley Mews southward to the 618 S. Main location would become more attractive through making streetscape improvements. However, she expressed some hesitation about the timing, saying that she wished the DDA could take the time to make a plan for what that road should look like, so that it doesn’t get “piecemealed” together.

Also at that meeting, Newcombe Clark expressed concern that the “urgency” of the issue was being placed upon the DDA by the fact that Ketelaar’s purchase option for the land went only through July. He said he’d feel differently about it, if the land had already been acquired. Given that the land had not yet been purchased, Clark was concerned that the DDA’s support of the project could translate to artificially increasing the cost of real estate in downtown Ann Arbor. If Ketelaar’s project did not go forward, Clark wondered if there could be other developers lined up behind Ketelaar who’d be willing to purchase the land – perhaps for less than Ketelaar was offering – and to build a different project that did not require the kind of support Ketelaar was requesting.

There’d been some question about whether streetscape improvements for the entire stretch between Mosley and just south of William would be considered as a “local match” from the perspective of the state’s Community Revitalization Program. At their April 11 meeting, Nathan Voght, of the Washtenaw County office of community and economic development, indicated to the DDA partnerships committee that based on a conversation with a state official, he believed that the streetscape improvements would count for local match purposes.

Also at the April 11 partnerships committee meeting, DDA board members concluded they’d need to schedule another special meeting to continue the discussion of the 618 S. Main proposal. It will take place on April 25 at 9 a.m. The April 25 meeting will mark the fourth partnerships committee meeting that has featured the 618 S. Main proposal on its agenda.

Present (April 4 board meeting): Nader Nassif, Bob Guenzel, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Newcombe Clark, Russ Collins, John Hieftje, Roger Hewitt.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, May 2, 2012, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]

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Regular Budget Maintenance for DDA Fri, 03 Jun 2011 15:12:59 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 1, 2011): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board performed the annual exercise of revising its budget to match actual expenditures for the fiscal year, which ends June 30. It was the only item on the agenda requiring a vote, which was unanimous. The DDA’s FY 2011 budget showed $23,038,310 in expenses against $19,111,321 in total income.

Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, Leah Gunn

Left to right: Roger Hewitt, mayor John Hieftje, Leah Gunn. Hewitt, a DDA board member, had just handed over a check for $1 million to the mayor. It was the second half of a payment the DDA had agreed to make last year, which had not been required as part of the DDA’s parking contract with the city. (Photos by the writer.)

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also recapped the previous night’s session of the Ann Arbor city council, which had been a continuation of the meeting that began on May 16. At that meeting, the council had finally ratified its side of a new contract under which the DDA would continue to manage the city’s public parking system.

Key elements of that contract include a transfer to the city of Ann Arbor of 17% of annual gross parking revenues, reporting requirements by the city to the DDA about parking enforcement and street repair, and the ability of the DDA to set parking rates and hours without a city council veto.

The DDA board will likely schedule an extended board meeting in September to prepare for a contractually-required joint working session with the city council, which will include a discussion of parking rates and hours of enforcement.

Included in the usual range of the DDA’s reports from its committees was a review of a recent partnerships committee meeting, when DDA board members began to consider how they would handle the responsibility to plan future uses of city-owned surface parking lots downtown. The DDA was given that responsibility in a city council resolution passed at the council’s April 4, 2011 meeting.

Budget Revisions for FY 2011

By way of introducing the resolution on the agenda to revise the budget, Roger Hewitt observed that the DDA passes a budget every year, but is required by state law to amend the budget to reflect actual income and expenses. That’s what the resolution was about, he said.

Many of the changes are due to the South Fifth Avenue underground parking garage construction and the ratification of the new parking agreement with the city. While they are significant changes to the budget, Hewitt said, these were all items the board had previously discussed, voted on and planned for. [.pdf of DDA FY 2011 budget revisions]

Budget Revisions: TIF

Hewitt ticked through the line items that accounted for revisions in the TIF (tax increment finance) fund budget. One item was an added employee. Another line item requiring revision was for energy grants – it had been increased from $200,000 to $381,000 due to unspent money from previous years. The interest payment on the former YMCA lot was shifted out of TIF and into the parking fund. The payment to the city for the municipal center was reclassified as a grant instead of bond payment. There’s an added expense for the real estate consultant – The Roxbury Group – in connection with the Library Lot request for proposals (RFP). The Zingerman’s Deli brownfield program is a $207,000 item, and the return of excess TIF capture to taxing units in the DDA’s district amounted to $473,000.

Some items that are under budget include lower expenses on the Fifth and Division streetscape improvement project. For the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, the entire bond payment will be made out of TIF fund for the first five years – after that, the parking fund will take over, said Hewitt. For the bottom line, the TIF fund expenses are $850,000 lower than originally budgeted.

Budget Revisions: Parking Fund

In the parking fund, the budget revision reflects about $800,000 less revenue – due to a delay in new rates going into effect. The rate increases had been delayed from July 1 to Sept. 1 due to concerns about the negative impact on summer business. Legal fees had increased due to work on the new parking contract. About $200,000 had been saved by having Republic Parking staff do information technology work instead of contracting it out to a different entity. Overall expenses for Republic Parking were down this year. Bond payments for the underground parking garage are reduced, because the TIF fund will pick up that cost for the first five years.

Hewitt touched briefly on the other two funds in the DDA’s budget – the parking maintenance fund and the housing fund. The parking maintenance fund didn’t get its usual $2 million transfer this year. Actual parking maintenance expenses had been reduced from $1 million to $600,000. Maintenance costs had been deferred, but over the 10 years in the DDA’s 10-year plan, Hewitt said, the maintenance fund would remain whole. The deferred schedule was based on recommendations from the DDA’s engineering consultant. The DDA had elected not to go ahead with installation of additional e-park stations, saving $1.3 million in the short term.

Russ Collins confirmed with Hewitt that the $2 million reduction in parking fund expenses had been achieved primarily by deferring maintenace.

Outcome: The DDA board voted unanimously to approve the changes to its FY 2011 budget.

May 31 City Council Meeting Re-Cap

Board chair Joan Lowenstein invited Roger Hewitt to make the report out from the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee by saying that she hoped this is the last time the board ever has to ask for such a report. Hewitt reviewed recent events, including the special meeting the board had convened on May 27 to ratify the final version of the new parking contract under which the DDA would continue to manage the city’s public parking system.

Hewitt reported how the previous evening, the contract had been considered by the Ann Arbor city council, and had provoked a two-hour debate – an hour and a half of which he’d spent answering questions from councilmembers. Some of the questions Hewitt described as “relevant,” and some had not been so relevant. Hewitt reported that an amendment on restoring a council veto to the contract was defeated 9-2, and the vote on the contract was approved 11-0. So now there’s a new parking contract, Hewitt said. It begins July 1, 2011 and lasts for 11 years – there’s an option for both sides to renew it.

The contract will allow the DDA some flexibility for parking demand management. For their work on the contract Hewitt thanked the DDA staff – Susan Pollay and Joe Morehouse. Pollay had been invaluable in making sure the contract gives the DDA the tools it needs, he said. The contract language is much more clear, so there will be no misunderstanding about what it means. He said that Morehouse had repeatedly been given a new set of numbers to run – he’d cranked out an enormous amount of data to help come up with an agreement the DDA can live with.

Lowenstein said a big advantage of the contract is greater stability. She said the DDA didn’t want to give up as much money as the contract calls for, but that the DDA will move on and will be better for it. She thanked Hewitt for his work and mayor  John Hieftje for “steering the discussion” at the city council meeting.

Hewitt returned Lowenstein’s thanks for helping to work out the politics with the city council and “getting it to the finish line.”

Russ Collins described the contract negotiations as a long process. But he said that “we need to ask ourselves: Did we do right by the voters, taxpayers, citizens?” Collins said he appreciated some of the dialogue about the parking contract generated by city council. He may not have appreciated it immediately when he heard it, but he did appreciate it, he said. He also added that he hoped the city council appreciated the DDA’s dialogue.

Sometimes people get whipped up in the controversy without stepping back and understanding what the accomplishment is, Collins said: The parking system is excellent. Parking, he continued, is an emotional issue that transcends logic. Miraculously, Collins said, both the DDA board and the city council had unanimously approved the parking contract – they can’t lose that point. That makes all the “Sturm and Drang” worth it, he said. Collins thanked Lowenstein and Hieftje.

Hieftje noted that the council had also passed another resolution recognizing the issue of excess TIF capture, and councilmembers had agreed to waive the $712,000 in excess taxes that had been captured from the city of Ann Arbor since 2004. Later, during the discussion on budget revisions, Gary Boren asked how final the excesss TIF capture issue was. Had the other taxing units accepted the calculations as correct? Hewitt told Boren the numbers are based on the opinion of Jerry Lax, the DDA’s legal council. Another taxing authority could challenge the DDA’s calculations, he said. The city of Ann Arbor’s share, in any case, is roughly 60% of the total. Lowenstein confirmed that the return of the excess TIF to other taxing authorities would be made by the end of this month.

Hewitt noted that during the council’s May 31 session, an issue had been raised [by councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)] about a possible non-payment of $1 million owed to the city by the DDA, which is related to parking revenues (not excess TIF capture). The issue concerned the payment of the second part of $2 million that the DDA had awarded the city of Ann Arbor last year, which had not been required under the parking contract then in place.

Hewitt said he had a check for the mayor, which he handed to Hieftje, saying, “Now, we’re even.”

Communications, Committee Reports

The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.

Comm/Comm: Downtown Development

Russ Collins reported that Cresson Slotten, the city of Ann Arbor unit manager in the systems planning division, had given a presentation to the partnerships committee on the city’s water and sewer system. Collins said citizens should know that most of it was installed about 100 years ago – things have changed over the last 100 years.

Collins described the problem that is faced when a developer is “first in” and needs to bear the entire cost of installing a new water main, to which subsequent developers get free access. That really doesn’t seem fair. Sandi Smith, who co-chairs the partnerships committee with Collins, also noted that Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of the University of Michigan college of architecture and urban planning, and lecturer Kit McCullough had approached the committee and shared their thoughts on a public process for the future use of city-owned downtown parcels. [Chronicle coverage: "DDA Preps Downtown Ann Arbor Process"]

They want to develop a shorter term 5-year vision as well as a 25-year vision, Smith said. She noted that local developer Peter Allen has also made some efforts in this direction, too, already talking to individual business owners in the area of the Library Lot, where the DDA is building an underground parking structure. Allen is doing this on his own, Smith noted. She said the committee had asked Kelbaugh and McCullough to come up with a specific proposal, and they’ll present that at the next meeting of the DDA partnerships committee. The DDA can then decide if it wants to hire them. The next meeting of the partnerships committee is June 8, 2011 at 9 a.m. at 150 S. Fifth Avenue.

Peter Allen

Local developer Peter Allen appealed to the map on the wall for his brief remarks made during public commentary at the DDA board’s June 1 meeting.

Peter Allen was also present at the June 1 meeting. He took the opportunity –provided at the end of all DDA board meetings for public commentary – to briefly sketch some preliminary feedback he’d heard from those people with whom he’d spoken so far. He described the need to connect “four corners,” which are: the Allen Creek greenway; the riverfront of the Huron River; the Fuller Road Station (a proposed parking garage, bus depot and possible train station); and the University of Michigan campus.

Ray Detter’s report from the downtown citizens advisory council (CAC) also focused on future planning of downtown. Detter explained that he had not attended the previous month’s DDA board meeting, because he’d been helping with tours given to 400 high school students to introduce them to the city’s history. He also plugged his annual party, which takes place on June 9.

Detter told the board that the CAC’s meeting the previous evening had included a recommitment to support transportation area planning and the Fuller Road Station – they hoped for an improved design as a result of recently acquired federal funding. The CAC continues to support the downtown planning of the Library Lot, he said. The CAC had unanimously agreed that the Library Lot should be more than a park – it should be a mixed-use development that includes an as-green-as-possible plaza. That new plaza should be connected to Library Lane – a small east-west road, just north of the downtown library building, that will connect Division and Fifth.

Whatever is approved for the Library Lot should add to the city’s tax base, Detter continued. That all sounds like “standard stuff,” allowed Detter. He told the board: “That’s our position and we’ll be sticking to it!” As for the suggestion that the city needs to go back to community for further consultation, Detter said the CAC thinks the last six years that began with the Calthorpe process has already done that. Out of that process had come a community vision and revised downtown plan and downtown parking study. Everybody had their say, Detter contended – city officials, planning staff, and the community.

The A2D2 rezoning process reinforces “our faith in planning,” Detter said. A2D2 replaces a hodgepodge of zoning districts with just two: D1 and D2. Finishing the design guidelines took an additional year, Detter said. Detter mentioned that coming up very soon, on the site of the Prescription Shop on Washington Street, another student-housing type development was being planned – the CAC hopes to be able to support that project, Detter said.

Comm/Comm: Parking Report

Roger Hewitt characterized the parking report for April 2011 as containing nothing dramatic. The 5.5% increase in revenue compared to last year reflects a parking rate increase in the 6-7% range. So overall, Hewitt said, there’s slightly less usage, but it’s essentially pretty flat.

The number of hourly patrons is up slightly. Hewitt also pointed out that the parking system has about 200 fewer parking spaces than it had a year ago – due to the loss of parking spaces because of construction. Hewitt concluded by reiterating there is nothing particularly dramatic –  it’s not growing, but it’s not clearly shrinking, either. Hewitt said there are two private developments underway [601 S. Forest and Zaragon West – previously known as Zaragon II]. So there’ll be some additional demand when they’re completed, he said. Construction on the new underground garage at Fifth Avenue will be completed by that time, Hewitt said, so the parking system will have some flexibility.

Later in the meeting, Hewitt also noted that the DDA has asked Republic Parking to take a look at generating data on “car hours.” Instead of just looking at the financial part of usage data, the DDA would like to look at actual cars in the system. The question is whether software can kick out the data that they think is already there, Hewitt said. It would be a way to measure demand, not just revenues. [.pdf of parking report for April 2011]

Comm/Comm: Parking Customer Survey

Roger Hewitt also reported on the results of a regular survey of parking system customers: 147 responses had been received in April – a 10% response rate. Of those, 41% had rated the system as excellent and 33% had rated it very good. Considering how many people normally react to surveys, Hewitt said, that’s a high percentage. He noted that typically everyone wants plenty of parking and they want it to be free.

Sandi Smith then followed up on a brief discussion of parking customer payments made by credit card, which took place during the budget adjustment deliberations. Those deliberations had drawn out the fact that increased use of credit cards by parking customers had resulted in additional fees of $7,000.

Hewitt said it reflected the fact that payment by credit card at the new on-street kiosks is being embraced by the parking public – 58% pay with credit card. Deputy DDA director Joe Morehouse said that the credit charge processing fee is 5.5%. Based on his experience operating a restaurant, Hewitt said, the smaller the charge is, the higher the percentage. Joan Lowenstein said there might be some federal legislation passed soon that could reduce that percentage.

What Smith wanted to know is if zip code data could be obtained from credit card companies, or if that information could be required at the point of payment. Morehouse indicated that he would look into that.

Smith also suggested that the board schedule an extended meeting at the end of the summer to look at the impact of the newly ratified parking contract on the DDA’s 10-year plan. Hewitt noted that the revised budget would be plugged into the 10-year plan. He also noted that under the new contract, the DDA board would need to hold a joint working sessin with the city council in October. Based on that, Smith suggested that the extended board meeting could take place on an afternoon in September.

Comm/Comm: Retail Recruitment

Reporting out from the DDA’s economic development committee, Joan Lowenstein said the committee was in a listening-and-learning mode. At the last meeting, the committee had representatives  from different downtown area associations and the Main Street business improvement zone (BIZ). Generally, business is up, but not where it was before 2008, they’d reported. They’re grateful to the DDA for help in navigating various city of Ann Arbor logistical hurdles. They’d like to see additional involvement in retail recruitment.

From Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, they’d heard that business is trending up, but retail businesss have to change their approach – they can’t be just bricks and mortar. Maggie Ladd, of the South University Area Association, had reported excitement about 601 S. Forest, a residential complex that’s under construction and will offer retail floor space. It’s hoped that an anchor store can be attracted, and maybe the DDA can help with that kind of recruitment. Lowenstein said the South University area is also considering formation of a business improvement zone.

Karen Farmer had attended for Kerrytown Market & Shops, Lowenstein reported, and while there was no official representative of the State Street Area Association, committee member John Splitt [who owns Gold Bond cleaners on Maynard Street] was there.

Zaragon II – an apartment building going up at William and Thompson, and now known as Zaragon West – is anticipating more retail space. They’re looking for a resurgence of retail as more people live downtown. Ellie Serras talked about the success of the Main Street BIZ with sidewalk snow removal.

The next main project of the committee – production of a DDA annual report – will be undertaken by DDA research and planning assistant Amber Miller. It will be a glossy annual report that can be used as an informational document and as a selling point. It will describe DDA projects and their impact on the downtown, as well as giving a picture of the current state of the downtown. The report should be finished by the end of the summer or even by the end of the month, Lowenstein said.

Related to that kind of reporting, at the city council’s May 31 session of its May 16, 2011 meeting, councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had raised a complaint: He’d been unable to confirm that the DDA had produced the kind of reports required by the state statute under which the DDA is formed. From the Downtown Development Authority Act 197 of 1975:

(3) Annually the authority shall submit to the governing body of the municipality and the state tax commission a report on the status of the tax increment financing account. The report shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality and shall include the following:
(a) The amount and source of revenue in the account.
(b) The amount in any bond reserve account.
(c) The amount and purpose of expenditures from the account.
(d) The amount of principal and interest on any outstanding bonded indebtedness.
(e) The initial assessed value of the project area.
(f) The captured assessed value retained by the authority.
(g) The tax increment revenues received.
(h) The number of jobs created as a result of the implementation of the tax increment financing plan.
(i) Any additional information the governing body or the state tax commission considers necessary.

In response to Kunselman’s complaint, at the council’s May 31 session, DDA board chair Lowenstein had documented an order placed with earlier this year to publish the information required under the statute.

Comm/Comm: Pedestrian Safety

John Mouat reported that the DDA’s transportation committee had discussed two topics related to pedestrian safety. They’d received a presentation from Erica Briggs, who works with the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition (WBWC). Briggs is working on a project with a DDA matching grant to educate the public about crosswalk laws. The first step is getting a baseline, using a survey and observation.

The other issue the committee addressed was how to use limited funds in targeted areas. Mouat noted that the railroad crossing at William is in poor shape – the DDA could contribute a small number of dollars to get a federal match. On Huron Street, under the railroad tracks, there’s also an area that could be targeted. In connection to the Huron Street location, Mouat alluded to public commentary made by Bill Gross, property manager for 416 W. Huron, at the board’s February 2011 meeting. The committee had also worked on identifying trip hazards downtown, and had looked at crosswalk improvements at State and Liberty, and at Fifth and Huron.

Vegetable-shaped bicycle hoops will appear at the farmers market later in summer, Mouat said. The next meeting of the transportation committee will focus on the getDowntown program.

Invited to the podium, Nancy Shore, getDowntown’s executive director, told the board she would be presenting the transportation committee a report on the go!pass bus pass program. It’s had tremendous success, she said – the program has broken ridership records. Now that the go!passes can be swiped at the farebox for AATA buses, the program has more data about how the cards are being used. The annual commuter challenge in the month of May has also just wrapped up, Shore said.

The getDowntown program is also looking at the question of where the organization will be housed, with one possibility being at the DDA offices. It’s an issue that will need discussion by the getDowntown board, she said. Shore noted that the DDA contributes a tremendous amount to the getDowntown program, which she said has a huge impact on downtown employees.

By way of background, the getDowntown program was previously funded in a four-way partnership with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the DDA and the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce (now the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber). In 2009, the chamber essentially withdrew from the partnership, which meant that the getDowntown program needed to find alternate quarters – part of the contribution made by the chamber had been to provide office space. The getDowntown program then moved to offices at 518 E. Washington, with the support of the DDA. [Brief coverage of that is included in The Chronicle's report on the Dec. 2, 2009 DDA board meeting.]

Comm/Comm: Energy Grants

Sandi Smith reported that Dave Konkle had briefed the partnerships committee on the DDA’s energy grant program. The question before the committee is essentially whether to make grant awards on a first-come-first-serve basis or to make it a value-based program. Also, should the DDA try to make many smaller or fewer bigger grants? Those issues will be the focus of the June committee meeting, Smith said.

Comm/Comm: Fifth and Division

John Splitt reported that the only work being done in connection with the Fifth and Division streetscape project is on Division north of Huron: curbs are being re-aligned. On Fifth between Washington and Liberty streets, a 12-inch water main is currently being installed. Joan Lowenstein clarified that the city of Ann Arbor is doing the water main work. Splitt went on to explain that the DDA’s project would follow on that work, so that the street would not have to be repaved, torn-up, then repaved again.

Comm/Comm: Fifth Avenue Underground Parking Garage

Splitt reviewed how the underground parking project is divided into three phases: (1) the east leg – walls are complete or close to being completed; (2) the middle – slabs are still being poured; and (3) the western edge – the foundation will soon be poured, then the structure will be built up from there. Splitt described the work as “progressing nicely.” Repairs and additional reinforcement to the earth retention system will all be complete by the end of this week, he concluded.

Comm/Comm: Welcome Back

Joan Lowenstein led off the meeting by welcoming back Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director who’s been out on medical leave for a few weeks.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, has returned to action.

The board responded with applause. Lowenstein told Pollay, “We all feel great seeing you there.”

Lowenstein said the board also felt great seeing Joe Morehouse, deputy director of the DDA who’s filled in for Pollay in her absence. But she ventured that no one is happier than Morehouse to have Pollay back.

Present: Gary Boren, Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat

Absent: Newcombe Clark, Keith Orr

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]

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Ann Arbor: We’re For Complete Streets Tue, 08 Mar 2011 04:49:25 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its March 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council adopted a resolution expressing its commitment to the concept of “complete streets” – the idea that streets should be constructed to accommodate a full range of users, from pedestrians, to bicyclists, to public transit vehicles, to privately owned automobiles.

The impetus for the city’s proclamation comes from the state of Michigan’s enactment in 2010 of Public Act 134 and 135, which amended the state’s planning enabling statute and the transportation funding law. The resolution is meant to make sure that Ann Arbor continues to qualify for state transportation funding.

In the resolution approved by the Ann Arbor city council, the city’s complete streets policy is described as including the city’s transportation master plan, the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, a city council resolution setting aside a percentage of Ann Arbor’s Act 51 funds for non-motorized transportation, and a policy that includes construction of non-motorized elements as part of each road construction project and requirements in the city’s public services standards.

At its March 1, 2011 meeting, the city’s planning commission briefly discussed the resolution that would be coming before the city council.

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

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Ann Arbor Parks Commission OKs PROS Plan Tue, 15 Feb 2011 21:51:36 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its Feb. 15, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission voted to recommend approval of the Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan. The plan provides an inventory, needs assessment and action plan for the city’s parks system, and is updated every five years – this version of the planning document covers 2011 through 2015. The updated document is required by the state in order for the city to be eligible to apply for certain grants. The city’s planning commission is expected to vote on the plan at its meeting later on the evening of Feb. 15. Final approval will be needed from the city council – it is slated for the council’s March 6 meeting.

This brief was filed from the PAC meeting at the Washtenaw County administration building. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Development Déjà Vu Dominates Council Mon, 28 Jun 2010 04:00:36 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 21, 2010): Heritage Row is a proposed residential project that would have renovated seven older houses along South Fifth Avenue south of William Street, and constructed three new buildings behind the houses.

Alex de Parry

Developer Alex de Parry addresses the Ann Arbor city council in support of the Heritage Row project at council's June 21 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The number of houses to be renovated – called the “Seven Sisters” by some in the community who support their preservation – matched the number of votes the project received Monday night from the 11-member city council.

While that is a majority, the seven votes in favor of Heritage Row did not meet the eight-vote minimum that was required. The super-majority requirement came as a result of a protest petition that was successfully filed on the same day as the council’s last meeting, June 7. On that occasion, the council first considered this newest iteration of the project, but postponed it until their June 21 meeting.

The project rejected by the council on Monday in its 7-4 vote was a planned unit development (PUD), which would have required the city to amend its zoning. That leaves in play an already-approved earlier project at the same location, called City Place. City Place was authorized by the council last year as a “matter of right” (MOR) project – because it was judged to meet all applicable codes and zoning regulations.

The City Place (MOR) would demolish the seven houses and replace them with two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. It’s a project that would be almost certainly denied by the city’s historic district commission – if a historic district were established in the area, as a study committee has recently recommended. The council is expected to make its final vote on the historic district at its July 6 meeting.

But the council gave its initial consideration to establishment of that historic district on Monday night. It’s more customary for councilmembers to vote for proposals on their first reading – to advance a proposal to a public hearing – even if they ultimately plan to vote against it. But Monday’s meeting saw three councilmembers already voting against establishing the district.

The council’s meeting also started off with the theme of historic preservation, as the city’s historic district commission presented its annual preservation awards.

In other business, the council gave a short extension to developer Village Green, which has an option-to-purchase agreement with the city for the city-owned parcel at First and Washington streets. The time for the extension is to be used to work with the city planning staff to put together milestones that need to be met.

Heritage Row

Heritage Row is a residential project proposed for South Fifth Avenue that would renovate seven houses and construct three new 3.5-story apartment buildings behind those houses, with an underground parking garage. In total, there would be a maximum 82 apartments with no more than 163 bedrooms. The public hearings on both the site plan and the rezoning were continued from the council’s previous meeting on June 7. [Chronicle coverage of that meeting: "Heritage Row Likely to Need Super-Majority"]

Heritage Row: Public Hearings

Speaking during public commentary general time, Shirley Zempel began with a simple, “Hello, Mayor, hello council!” She told them she was back before them because once again the council was being asked to approve a construction project that was too big for the neighborhood. Alluding to the long timeline the project has traced in various iterations, Zempel said she wished the issue could be finally settled. She said she’d visited with developer Alex de Parry and he’d showed them some things he was going to change. But the problem, to her, is the increased density – traffic is going to be “messed up,” she said. She is skeptical, she said, that the tenants of the project would really ride the bus or use Zipcars – the tenants of the new project would have cars, she said.

Thomas Partridge noted that he’d stated his position on similar resolutions many times in the past – all rezoning requests need to require a significant amount of the housing to be affordable. The proposal before the council that night, Partridge said, failed to meet that standard and should be taken back to the drawing board.

Tom Luczak referred to Partridge’s speaking turn during general public commentary reserved time, when Partridge had measured time based on the start of the Obama administration. Luczak said it was possible to measure time based on the start of the Heritage Row project. “Let’s throw the dirt on this thing,” Luczak said. He told the council he wanted to make a few points in defense of zoning. He took a walk from the south of downtown through the downtown to the area north of downtown, he said, and it was striking that there was a clear difference as he walked through these areas.

Zoning, Luczak said, reflected the collective value judgment of how we want to live. The city council is the final adjudicator of a PUD proposal like Heritage Row, which entails a rezoning. It’s only justified, he said, if the value outweighs the detriment to the surrounding neighbors. Density could be achieved on any number of other parcels around town, he said – 40 paces away in the actual downtown, not just near the downtown. For example, he said, Zaragon Place 2 is a project he supports, be cause it’s located in the downtown, where it belongs. [Zaragon Place 2 is a 14-story apartment building proposed for the southeast corner of Thompson and William streets, and was recently approved by the city planning commission.]

Patricia Lesko introduced herself as a candidate for mayor. She said she wanted to talk to the council about zoning. She said she had been riding her bike home and that a neighbor had flagged her down who lived in the area of the location where the Near North development is being proposed. The neighbors had not so much agreed to support that development, she contended, as given up on believing local government would enforce its own zoning. They had given up on the people they looked to to enforce what should be clear-cut zoning rules. Projects like Near North, The Moravian, and Heritage Row, she said, were similar in that they reflected zoning by exception – we were intruding into those neighborhoods and it was upsetting, she said.

The neighbor Lesko said she’d spoken with asked, Why buy a house in a neighborhood that abuts downtown, if we can’t rely on local government to enforce zoning? If we want to have greater density, Lesko continued, we need to have an open and frank discussion about dense development in “fringe neighborhoods.” She said that the discussion should not be about NIMBYs, which would make it personal, but rather about zoning. Planned unit developments are zoning by exception and by favor, she concluded, and we need to think very carefully about that.

Kyle Mazurek, vice president of government affairs for the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Area Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of Heritage Row. Among the reasons he cited were that it supported goals of the chamber: higher density development, support for development of multiple modes of transit, increasing the supply of workforce housing, increasing the supply of parking with 60 underground spaces. He cited the plaza that would be available for public art. He also cited the provision of critical tax revenue to the city. The project, he concluded, was consistent with the goals of the general community.

Gwen Nystuen announced that she was there for the neighborhoods. She said that everyone who lived close to the center of the city had pressure on them for development of that land. The Heritage Row area was already zoned R4C, which was already dense – why was a PUD necessary? she asked. It was a way to get around zoning, she said. In the interest of maintaining the neighborhoods, she urged the council to reject the project.

Bob Dascola told the council that his family had been in business for 70 years in Ann Arbor. He watched urban sprawl take over. He used to live on Fifth Avenue, he said, and had friends who lived there. They always spoke of living downtown, he said. He described Heritage Row as a creative project that would support more people living downtown.

Rita Mitchell said that she was pleased to see the historic district commission awards. She noted that the recent A2D2 rezoning of downtown did not include designation for higher zoning for the site of Heritage Row. She felt that it was important to have the information about the proposed historic district in the area before having the discussion about the Heritage Row PUD. She asked the council to defer action on it, or else deny it. Once a historic building is gone, she cautioned, it is lost forever.

Ellen Ramsburgh, who had presented the historic district commission awards at the start of the council’s meeting, said that the standards for approving a PUD were high and that the project had not met them. She also contended that the intended preservation of the seven houses as part of the project would not comply with the Secretary of the Interior standards for historic preservation – due to the moving of foundations and the removal of additions. The planned buildings in back of the seven houses, she said, would be a detriment.

Ellen Ramsburgh

Ellen Ramsburgh, who serves on the city's historic district commission, spoke against the Heritage Row project.

Joe Ferrario urged the council to support the project. He noted that over the next 30 years, the population of Ann Arbor was projected to grow by only around 500 people, but was projected to add 18,000 jobs. Mindful of all the traffic that US-23 fed into Ann Arbor, he cautioned that sometime in the future we’d be talking about a proposed Heritage Row parking structure. Students already live in the neighborhood, he pointed out. Nothing deteriorates the character of a neighborhood more, he cautioned, than crumbling infrastructure – potholes that aren’t filled, trash that’s not collected, and snow that’s not plowed. He said he hoped the council would support the project and others like it, because it is the only way that Ann Arbor can become a real city.

Alex de Parry began by thanking the full range of people involved in the project – planning staff, city councilmembers and neighbors – for their input on it. He noted that he’d lived in Ann Arbor since the early 1970s and he’d seen the area improve since that time when he’d begun buying property there. During many meetings with neighbors, other citizens, planning staff and the city planning commission, he said, six main goals had emerged:

  • Keep existing houses – the Heritage Row project does that, he said.
  • Keep density close to the same density allowed under code, the density allowed for the matter-of-right project, which had 144 bedrooms in 24 6-bedroom units. Heritage Row, de Parry  said, is a mix of efficiencies, 1-bedroom units, 2-bedroom units, 3-bedroom units, plus one 5-bedroom unit that’s already present in an existing house. The unit count is 79, he said, but the bedroom count is 154, or 10 more than what the matter-of-right project had. Fourteen of those units, he said, were designated for affordable housing.
  • Have adequate parking and keep it underground – the project has 60 underground parking spaces, which represents a 40% increase over the requirement of R4C requirement of 36 spaces. By putting the parking underground, he said, 53% open space would be achieved, including a public plaza.
  • The new buildings should be background buildings behind the houses.

When it was her turn to take the podium, Betsy de Parry, wife of Alex de Parry, picked up on the list of goals where her husband had left off:

  • Keep the height of the new buildings in scale with existing buildings – across the street, the church stands 60 feet tall, and Tom Whitaker’s house stands 44 feet 3 inches tall, she noted. At 39.625 feet, Heritage Row was shorter than both of those buildings and therefore consistent with the existing scale.
  • Keep total massing consistent with what would be allowable under existing zoning – R4C would allow a total of 96,000 square feet, she said, whereas the PUD proposal would occupy only 75,882 square feet in both the new buildings and the existing houses.

Betsy de Parry finished off a list of points that Alex de Parry had started during his own public commentary segment, then made some more of her own.

She summarized the city’s central area plan by saying that Heritage Row is consistent with its stated goals – it’s consistent with the scale, height, and character of the neighborhood; it protects and enhances the existing houses and streetscape; and expands the supply of housing near downtown. The future land use map, she said, specifically designates the area for higher density. The reason Heritage Row exceeds the density allowable by code is because it includes affordable housing units, she said. The planning staff had verified that the project is consistent with the city’s planning documents, she said.

What Heritage Row does, essentially, is change what’s behind the houses, which are parking lots – and “there’s nothing sacred about parking lots,” she concluded.

Scott Betzoldt of Midwestern Consulting, civil engineer for the project, described it as a challenging project from a civil engineering point of view – challenges associated with providing modern utilities to seven existing houses. But he characterized the project as now conceived as something that was typical of the Ann Arbor feel that people have come to know and enjoy. Among the benefits were the preservation of the seven houses and provision of underground parking. Currently, he said, there were seven driveways and curbcuts along with seven different parking arrangements on gravel lots and the like. The existing spaces would be moved underground along with 30 additional spaces, he said, for a total of 62 spaces. Associated with the underground parking, he said, was an increase in the amount of usable open space – 53% of the area. Environmental benefits to the project include taking in stormwater from offsite as well as management of stormwater onsite – there currently is no stormwater management.

David Birchler, a city planning consultant with Birchler Arroyo Associates, addressed the project in the context of various city plans and policies – the central area plan, the downtown residential task force report and various provisions of the PUD ordinance. Many of the goals of the central area plan designed to affect density and affordability, he said, are furthered by Heritage Row: the development of new architecture that complements the scale and character of the existing neighborhood, to protect and maintain the diversity of housing options, to expand the supply of housing to meet a variety of lifestyles and incomes, to increase the availability of low-income rentals, to facilitate private initiatives to increase rental opportunities, and to improve the appearance of buildings and grounds to enhance the appearance of the neighborhood.

The downtown residential task force, Birchler said, had studied an area that includes the Heritage Row site – the area located within a 1/4 mile of the Downtown Development Authority boundary. The goal spelled out in the report, he said, was 1,000 new units of housing near the downtown. Heritage Row contributes to the goal in a way that is consistent with the task force recommendations, he concluded. With respect to the PUD regulations, the Heritage Row project encourages innovation in land use and design, achieves economy and efficiency in the use of land, encourages usable open space, provides adequate housing options suitable to the demands of Ann Arbor and expands the supply of affordable housing. Heritage Row provides opportunities suitable for those people who would choose a less automobile-oriented lifestyle, he said. The project would help cultivate a new model for in-town residential projects that’s sensitive to the quality that Ann Arbor deserves, the affordability it needs and the commitment to historic preservation that it demands.

Bradley Moore is the architect for the project. He described Heritage Row as an infill project that preserves the existing streetscape, while permitting construction of three new apartment buildings behind the existing houses. The new buildings are designed to be background buildings, and to be consistent with the scale of the other buildings in the area. The new buildings were not taller, from the ground to the top of the roof, of existing houses on the site, not taller than other houses on Fifth Avenue, not as tall as the Washtenaw Building less than a block away, not as tall as the public library also less than a block away, and not as tall as some of the houses found on Hamilton Place.


Architect for the Heritage Row project, Bradley Moore, shows councilmembers how the public plaza is configured.

The footprint of the proposed new north building is only 5,200 square feet, compared with 22,000 of the existing house at 415 S. Fifth, Bradley stated. The other two new buildings have footprints of 3,200 and 3,000 respectively, a total of 11,400 for new construction, plus a combined footprint of 13,100 for existing buildings. The new buildings don’t loom over the neighborhood, he said. The materials had been chosen in a way to respect the aesthetic of the existing neighborhood. The architecture of the new buildings has been designed so as not to compete with the existing surrounding architecture, he said, and to blend into the background. They would be constructed to comply with EPA Energy Star standards, which means that they’ll be 20-30% more efficient than a standard building.

The shading studies that had been done, Moore explained, showed that no significant shadows would be cast on buildings to the south, west, or east of the site, and that the existing building to the north of the site would be only modestly shadowed and only for part of the year. Moore said that the project would not shade its neighbors more than Tom Whitaker’s home shaded Tom Luzcak’s house next door.

John Dziurman introduced himself as a historic preservation architect by trade, certified as a historic architect by the state and the federal government. He said he’d served on the historic district commission of Rochester Hills, Mich. since 1987. His role in the Heritage Row project, he explained, was in connection with the preservation of the seven houses and the streetscape, and he’d evaluated the entire proposal with respect to the Secretary of the Interior standards. He stated that the project was consistent with the historic preservation theme in the city’s central area plan.

The seven houses would be restored in accordance with the historic standards for the period of historical significance as determined by the historic district study committee, which was 1838-1941. That would include the removal of some rear additions, Dziurman said. Five of the seven houses would be moved forward, he explained, in order to facilitate construction of the underground parking garage and to comply with the 19-foot setback. He allowed that moving a historic resource is discouraged, but noted that the standards allow it if the structure is primarily of historical significance due to its architectural value, or its association with a historic person or event. Buildings are allowed to be moved, he said, if doing so will preserve the building. After restoration, he said, the seven homes would be repainted with historically correct colors. The elimination of onsite surface parking, through construction of the underground parking garage, he said, was also consistent with historic restoration standards.

Dziurman also spoke at the site plan public hearing on Heritage Row. He noted that he’d served for 20 years on the historic district commission of Rochester Hills and told the council that he’d seen many cases where they’d actually lost their resources. In Rochester Hills, the council would turn down historic preservation in favor of development. One strategy he used, he said, was to allow development but to require preservation of historic buildings. He then said he was not sure if he should say it, but added that building underground parking is very, very expensive, as is preserving seven historic houses.

It’s not a big money-maker for anyone, Dziurman said. So there has to be a little give-and-take by the community. Any one of the houses would cost at least $100,000 to restore, or probably more. If you multiply that by seven houses, and look at the cost per space of building underground parking spaces, he said, you could see how the restoration of the seven houses was a good deal for everybody. Otherwise, he feared that the historic resources would be lost. In Rochester Hills, he’d seen that happen, he said.

Bob Snyder, introduced himself as representing the South University Neighborhood Association. He characterized the situation as a “stalemate” that was not a win-win for anyone. He described the seven houses as having lost all vestige of their architectural integrity. With or without Heritage Row, he said, the seven houses have, for the last two-thirds of their lives, been “savaged and pillaged” all in the name of student housing. Both de Parry and the Germantown neighbors, he said, were being ill-served by the lack of coherence in the administration of the city’s zoning laws. Whichever side wins, he said, it will be a hollow victory.

What needs to happen, Snyder said, is for people to lay down arms and make something good happen that might not be perfect. Snyder appealed to the notion of the Pareto optimality, which is an economic state when no one can be made better off by making someone else worse off. It would take eight votes to approve it, or five [sic] to shoot it down, he said. He suggested that the councilmembers should make sure they’d taken a walking tour of the “crime scene” before making their decision. He concluded that he was neither for or against Heritage Row, but encouraged the council to act as a well-prepared jury before “sticking it to either side.”

Scott Munzel introduced himself as legal counsel for the Fifth Avenue Limited Partnership, the owner of the Heritage Row project. He noted that a PUD is a rezoning, and therefore a “legislative act.” There is, therefore, no higher standard for PUD approval. Also under state law, a PUD is separate from all the others and any decision on a PUD would not set a precedent for any future proposals. Munzel pointed out how the planning staff report details how the project meets the eight criteria outlined in the PUD ordinance. The first criteria is the beneficial effect. Among the effects listed are innovation in land use and variety in design, efficient land use, and expansion of affordable housing inventory. Heritage Row met the standard by innovatively unlocking the hidden area of these unusually large lots, he said, in a way that conformed with the central area plan and the downtown residential task force recommendations. Increased urban density, he said, was an environmental imperative.

Heritage Row is “doubly green” because it increases the energy efficiency of the existing houses, and provides new construction that was in virtue of its location environmentally sound – cutting vehicle miles traveled and allowing residents to walk to work, Munzel said. It also provides affordable and moderately-priced units which would ultimately help downtown succeed. A second PUD standard is whether the project could be achieved under a different zoning class. Other zoning classes, he said, are too rigid to allow this project’s design. A third PUD standard is conformance with the city’s master plan, which has been confirmed by the city’s planning staff, Munzel said. A fourth PUD standard is to eliminate disturbance of historical features. Munzel stated that the project advances the historical preservation goals of the city – it’s “historic preservation plus,” he said. Heritage Row, Munzel concluded, does meet the standard. The concerns of the neighbors, he said, boil down to the neighbors not liking change. It takes courage to face our future challenges, he said, but he thought that city residents had the courage to face them.

David Peters introduced himself as an architect and planner who has worked and lived in the community for 50 years. He said he supported Heritage Row. The renovation of the seven houses would enhance and improve the value of the current neighborhood, he said. He said he’d walked the site and driven by the site. The existing rooflines and structures of the seven houses would minimize the view of the proposed new buildings behind the existing houses. He urged the council to agree with the planning commission and to approve the project.

Peter Webster, an attorney with Dickinson Wright, described the Heritage Row proposal as an alternative to the matter-of-right site plan that has already been approved by the city council, and would remain if the PUD is not approved. The main characteristic of the PUD proposal is the preservation of the seven existing houses, he said. He commented on the compliance of the proposal with the city’s planning documents and the downtown residential task force report. The goal, he said, is to increase the amount and the density of housing – that is achieved by Heritage Row, he said, but in a balanced way.


Peter Webster, an attorney with Dickinson Wright and legal counsel for Heritage Row, spoke in support of the project.

It increases the amount of allowed density only slightly above that which is allowed by the matter-of-right project, Webster noted. The project also overcomes the challenges inherent in the location of the site, he said, noting the underground parking, plus the lack of any increased burden to the infrastructure. The tie-ins for water and sewer plus the stormwater management were significant upgrades to the infrastructure, he said. Two items in the downtown residential task force report highlighted by Webster as challenges were (i) zoning as a barrier to innovative site plans; and (ii) the lack of open space. Heritage Row, he said, attempted to meet the first challenge by asking for a rezoning, and met the second by providing for additional open space.

Anne Eisen spoke about zoning and in support of long-term planning. The question is whether to rezone half a block on Fifth Street, she said. The area is separated from downtown by an existing historic district along William Street, she said, and the current zoning of R4C had been in place for 50 years.

The city’s long-term planning documents have recommended maintaining preservation of the scale and character of the neighborhood, Eisen said. The R4C zoning had not been modified to accommodate that recommendation, she said. When the historic designation of houses in the area was lost [in the Draprop court case, which disallowed the creation of a catchall historic district of various individual, unrelated properties], Eisen said, residents tried but failed to restore the houses’ historic designation. The new A2D2 rezoning, she said, recognized the appeal of the historic neighborhoods in making Ann Arbor special and attractive. The neighborhood had spent three years under siege from those want to “mow down the neighborhood” to build inappropriate structures.

Eisen also spoke during the public hearing on the site plan for Heritage Row. She said she’d been involved in the negotiations with Alex de Parry, and said that it had come a really long way since the original City Place proposal. She appreciated very much that he’d respected the request that the houses be preserved and agreed herself that there were additions that had been put on the houses that should be removed. She said she was not sure that some of the additions were structurally sound. She felt that the possibility should be respected that the historic district could be established. As for the proposed new buildings, she said that an honest height comparison needed to be made between the height of those buildings with long flat roofs versus houses with peaked roofs.

Al McWilliams told the council he’d lived within a few blocks of the neighborhood for 10 years and supported the project. He said it was not an age issue – he employs 10 professionals downtown from 19-45 years old, all of whom need places to live, he said. He had lived in the neighborhood for 10 years and was tired of paying $1,000 a month for a “wall-to-wall barf pit” – he told the council he’d let them figure out what that meant.

Alluding to previous speakers who’d noted the exact height of his house, Tom Whitaker began by quipping that there must have been a lot of people over at his house with ladders. One thing about his house, he said, however tall it is, it’s not 100 feet long, and that’s the difference. In January 2009, as the City Place iteration of the PUD had moved its way through the city’s planning process, a member of the city planning commission had sent a letter to the city council, Whitaker said. He wanted to highlight some of its points.

Noting that the site in question is zoned R4C and therefore creates specific limits on density, the letter goes on to say that the central area plan could not be clearer on the point of the need to protect, preserve, and enhance the character of the neighborhoods. It was not a question of preserving historic homes, but rather one of making sure that infill development is consistent with maintaining scale and existing density.

The goal of PUD zoning, the letter said, was not to allow for a dramatic percentage increase in density in exchange for other benefits. The letter refers to a “bargain” made with residents over the course of the years-long planning process connected to rezoning – there would be increased density in the core that would help protect the integrity of near-downtown residential neighborhoods. If that end of the bargain was not maintained, the letter warned, the fallout could jeopardize future consideration of increased density anywhere near established neighborhoods.

Whitaker reminded the council that the council had rejected the City Place PUD on a 10-0 vote and contended that Heritage Row is no improvement. City Place had 90 units, 164 bedrooms and 97 parking spaces. It had 14 affordable units plus 38 more affordable units at a higher rental rate, plus geothermal HVAC. Heritage Row, on the other hand, has 82 units with 163 bedrooms, 60 parking spaces, and 14 affordable units, but no geothermal system. There’s been no compromise, he concluded, and that’s why he is still opposed to the project.

Ray Detter asked the council to reject the project. Although he is the president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, he said he was speaking only for himself, because the project was a situation outside the downtown area. Detter said that his position is that if a PUD is opposed by a clear majority of residents in the neighborhood, then it should not be forced upon people. He also noted that he is not opposed to projects inside the downtown that increase density, like Zaragon Place 2. Referring to the citations of the downtown residential task force report, which many who had already spoken in support of Heritage Row had cited, Detter noted that the report had not advocated “ripping out” sections of the area near downtown. He’d attended every one of the meetings of the task force, he said. Detter also asked that the council establish a historic district for the area.


During a recess called so that Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) could review the site plan for the matter-of-right City Place project, Kunselman got a visit from Ray Detter, right.

Detter also spoke during the public hearing on the site plan for Heritage Row. He noted that he lives in a house zoned R4C abutting a D1-zoned area. Even D1, he said, does not allow development without a 30-foot setback next to R4C. And then at the 30-foot height, D1 buildings need to step back further, he said.

The Heritage Row project, he noted, allows for only 13-15 feet of a setback and then goes straight up to 39 feet. Detter noted that he’d attended all the meetings of the R4C task force that is currently studying the R4C zoning code – he contended that those who’ve attended the meetings are in favor of keeping things the way they are, to the point of opposing the combination of parcels, as the Heritage Row project does. He allowed that Heritage Row is better than the previous proposals.

Following Detter at the mic during the site plan hearing was Alex de Parry, who told Detter, who was seated behind the podium, that he’d also attended the R4C task force meetings. He told Detter he saw the density question somewhat differently. As de Parry was not facing the podium, Detter admonished him that he needed to speak into the microphone. Continuing, this time speaking into the mic, de Parry observed that allowable density in R4C zoning is greater than what people think. On Hamilton Place there were small lots with large houses – it is extremely dense. The density on the Heritage Row site, he said, was allowed to be 144 bedrooms under R4C zoning. The Heritage Row PUD asked for 154 bedrooms. Of the 79 units, 14 were affordable units. If the affordable unit were subtracted out, the proposed density is would be less than what’s allowed by the existing R4C zoning.

Bradley Moore also addressed the council during the site plan hearing in order to respond to some of Detter’s comments. Moore noted that he had served on the citizens advisory committee on the A2D2 rezoning project for the zoning overlay committee. He said that Detter was correct about the need for setback in D1 areas, but that it was motivated by the fact that in D1 it is possible to do a whole host of other things – it’s for the core of downtown. In D1 zoning, you’re looking at buildings in excess of 150 feet, so it is an entirely different situation that motivates the need for setbacks. The reduced distance in setback to 15 feet, he said, was appropriate to a residential-residential interface and to a three-story building as opposed to a 150-foot-tall building. He also adduced the real-world example of the Washtenaw Building on William Street, which was much longer than the three proposed new buildings, yet did not destroy the character of Hamilton Place.

Beverly Strassmann, who is president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association, said that the bottom line is that Heritage Row will “wreck” the 400 block of South Fifth Avenue in the same way that the omission of the 500 block of South Fifth Avenue from the proposed historic district will wreck that block. Instead of wrecking both those blocks, she asked the council to reject Heritage Row and to add the intact historic 500 block of South Fifth Avenue to the recommended historic district. Strassmann indicated that she felt like the project would be acceptable if the new buildings had one story knocked off of them – as they were currently designed, they could not hide behind the houses.

Lou Glorie, who is contesting Carsten Hohnke’s Ward 5 city council seat in the Democratic primary, told the council she hoped that they would reject the project. She said the benefits don’t outweigh the detriments, and it would set a precedent that is damaging. She also said that the decision should not be made in advance of the decision on the establishment of a historic district.

Heritage Row: Council Deliberations

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) led off deliberations on Heritage Row with a suggestion of an amendment to the development agreement to make clear that if the PUD request were granted, the matter-of-right project that had been previously approved could not be built. The amendment, as read aloud by assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald, stated that the supplemental regulations would apply to the property, “including any previously approved development for the property.”

Outcome: The amendment ruling out the matter-of-right project on approval of the PUD was unanimously passed.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) then led off a discussion of the public plaza area. She wanted to know how visible the area would be and how accessible to the public it would be. Bradley Moore, the architect for the project, used the poster of the site plan to indicate how it was situated – there would be no gate, he said, but it would likely be differentiated through use of different colored pavers. Moore indicated that he thought it would be accessible to the public and no one would be asked to leave unless they presented themselves as a nuisance.


Kevin McDonald, assistant city attorney, was asked to weigh in to clarify legal aspects at various points during deliberations on the Heritage Row project.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) followed up on the public plaza issue by comparing the project with Ashley Mews – that project actually has a public easement, he said. Would Heritage Row have a public easement for the plaza? Developer Alex de Parry indicated that it would be accessible to the public and that if it were not already in the supplemental regulations, it could be added.

Kevin McDonald, assistant city attorney, indicated that he was not aware of anything in the supplemental regulations that addressed a public easement. Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, indicated that the planning commission was presented with an accessible amenity, but not a public amenity.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) confirmed with Rampson that the public plaza was a non-trivial, important part of the open space, that was included in the claimed benefits of the project. He noted that it was a benefit to the residents, but not the public. De Parry responded by saying that it was his intent to have a public plaza with public art. If the supplemental regulations needed to be fine-tuned, he said, that’s fine: “Whatever I gotta do, we’ll do it.”

Hohnke said it felt like déjà vu all over again. He said he appreciated the effort on the part of the developer. A place of agreement Hohnke identified was that the city should tread lightly when rezoning a central part of a neighborhood. One-off exceptions, he said, should provide significant benefits, noting that the historic district study committee had indicated that the houses were historic resources. He noted that for the previous PUD, City Place, the staff report had warned that it would set a precedent that is attractive to targeting R4C zoned neighborhoods for development. The same things that were true of the previous report are also true of the current proposal, Hohnke said. The number of bedrooms had dropped from 164 to 163, he said, and the setbacks for the current project were smaller. For the previous project, Hohnke said, the staff recommendation against it and the council’s 10-0 vote against it showed that the benefits offered were not sufficient.

Hohnke contended that they were still left with a “benefit gap.” The number of parking spaces had dropped from 97 to 60; the affordable housing units offered in the previous project had been 52, as compared to 14 in the current project; the geothermal heating and cooling system had dropped to Energy Star buildings. The project offered reduced benefits with the same density, said Hohnke. The big difference, he allowed, was that the project no longer sought to demolish seven houses – that covered some but not all of the benefit gap.

Hohnke said he was surprised at how often density is quoted as a benefit. Most people are supportive of downtown density, he allowed, but by community consensus and by the city’s planning documents, Heritage Row is not a part of the downtown, Hohnke said. As you walk through the downtown into the residential neighborhoods, he said, it was clear that there’s a boundary, Hohnke said, and it’s fair to have a discussion about whether it’s a living boundary. But Hohnke contended that we haven’t had that discussion.

Hohnke expressed concern that the vote would be seen as a litmus test for supporting downtown residential density. [Hohnke Whoever wins the Ward 5 Democratic primary will likely face an independent challenge from real estate broker and DDA board member Newcombe Clark in November, based in part on a campaign that is more supportive of development than Hohnke has been during his first two years on the city council.] Hohnke’s defense of the council’s record on development included essentially the same list, with some additions, that he’d read aloud at a recent meeting between members of the DDA board and city councilmembers [Chronicle coverage: "Parking Deal Talks Open Between City, DDA"]

  • 14 stories at S. Forest & S. University [601 S. Forest]
  • 9 stories at Washington & Division [Metro 202]
  • 5 stories at Liberty & First
  • 10 stories S. University & E. University [Zaragon Place]
  • 9 stories at First & Washington [Village Green's City Apartments]
  • 4 stories at Liberty near Division
  • 5 stories on N. Main near Summit [Near North]
  • 9 stories at Kingsley & Ashley [Kingsley Lane]
  • 8 stories at Maynard & William [The Collegian]
  • 8 stories at State & Washington [411 Lofts]
  • 8 stories at Washington & Ashley [Tierra on Ashley]
  • 11 stories at Ashley & Huron [Ashley Terrace]
  • 11 stories on North Main near Catherine [The Gallery]
  • 12 stories at Main & William [William Street Station]
  • and probably 14 stories at William & Thompson [Zaragon Place 2]

Because of all those approved projects, Hohnke said, the community’s commitment to downtown residential density and change was not hanging in the balance.

He came to the conclusion that the Heritage Row PUD did not meet the threshold for benefits, especially at that location.

Derezinski said he’d come to the opposite conclusion from Hohnke’s. He noted that he’d gotten a double-dose of the project – it had been around since he’d been on council and he was appointed as the council’s representative to the planning commission. He said he felt that the project had been modified to accommodate criticisms. He then ticked through some of the history of how the matter-of-right project had been introduced and the historic district study committee had been appointed with an associated moratorium to prevent the demolition of the seven houses.

Derezinski echoed the sentiments of Bob Dascola during public commentary, and called it one of the most creative projects he’d seen. It had been fine-tuned in response to input from the neighborhood, like the Near North project, he said. He compared the situation to the Peanuts comic strip where Lucy is holding the football for Charlie Brown – at some point you have to let him kick the ball, he said. The distinction of downtown versus non-downtown was not one that Derezinski felt was valid with respect to density.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he wanted to join Hohnke in congratulating the people who had contributed to the dialogue during the long process. He noted that de Parry has maintained a strong sense of humor, and he applauded de Parry for that. Anglin put his comments in the context of “social capital” – a person’s home in the context of their social neighborhood are a part of that. It applies in particular to neighborhoods, Anglin said.

Anglin said he did not feel that the council would be protecting the public welfare with this project. He did not find a compelling justification, he said, for the project. He did not feel “dragged to” that decision. A hypothetical example of a compelling justification, he said, might be if there were an abandoned factory at the location and the owners did not want to take it down. If the owner came back and said that he wanted to demolish the factory and create a park, that would be a compelling reason for a change. Heritage Row, however, did not provide for a change that he was “absolutely thrilled with.”

Anglin speculated that the places where zoning would be challenged were the older parts of the city first – in 50 years he figured there might be debate over what should happen to Briarwood Mall. Maybe the affordable housing for the city would be built outside of downtown. He stated that people were obsessed with the idea that the downtown had to become a “major place.” Maybe that’s a place where affordable housing can be built, he said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) alluding to the lengthy speaking turns of those who’d already spoken, asked mayor John Hieftje to enforce the time limits on councilmember speaking turns – five minutes for their first turn on an item and three minutes for their second turn.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) began by describing PUDs as a tool – it allows something to happen that doesn’t quite fit into existing zoning. With R4C, she said, it was somewhat problematic, because what actually fit is not always pleasing. They tend to be big blocky buildings with six-bedroom units. She stated that she did not want it to be the case that the city’s development strategy tended towards having only a wealthy downtown. She said she was for a diversity of housing stock and different levels of affordability.

Smith said she did not want it to be the case that only the wealthy could live downtown. She echoed Derezinski’s points. She also pointed out that Heritage Row offered an opportunity to preserve the houses, and she did not see any other way for that to happen. Restoration of the houses could proceed only by someone purchasing each of them and deciding to renovate them – that would set up an elite neighborhood, she said. She concluded that she was willing to support the project – neither side was particularly happy, she said.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) characterized her thinking on the project as a “back-and-forth struggle.” Addressing Hohnke’s benefit gap, she said she felt that the gap had been crossed. She indicated that there was a high emotional attachment to the houses across the city – she found the restoration of the houses to be a benefit. She called the underground parking “terrific.” Alluding to the parking lots currently behind the houses where the new buildings would be constructed, she observed that living in an area where backyards are graveled is not a benefit. She allowed that Zaragon Place 2 was in the right place, but that it would not be cheap to live there, which is something that Heritage Row might offer. She concluded that she would support Heritage Row.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he would be supporting the project and that he adopted the planning staff’s review of benefits. He cited specifically the use of the backyard space as innovative, the use of the existing buildings, and the introduction of additional open space. He said he took very seriously the objections of those who had addressed the council.

In his view, Taylor indicated that some of the things he’d heard that night suggested that the project was not so far from the character of the existing neighborhood. Specifically, he alluded to a comment from someone [from Beverly Strassmann] who had suggested that the project would be acceptable if it had one story lopped off the rear buildings. That indicated to Taylor, he said, that “we’re pretty close with this thing.”

The current matter-of-right R4C project allows 144 beds, and the 163 beds offered by Heritage Row was very close to “where R4C lands us,” he said. He also noted the presence of the Washtenaw Building on William Street. All of these factors, Taylor said, suggested to him that the project was “not out of the heartland of the neighborhood” and that the neighborhood could “bear it.” The neighborhood was a “contradictory” neighborhood on the edge and takes elements of downtown and residential and marries them together in a useful and innovative way, concluded Taylor. He said he’d be supporting the project.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) began by saying he would not be supporting the project. He referenced Hohnke’s argument about the failure to meet the standard of benefit. Kunselman observed that the project offered housing – but housing is built all across the city. Just because the buildings are in the backyards of some historic houses doesn’t make it a public benefit. He expressed dismay that the project had made its way all the way through the planning commission and to the council table without the public easement being included in the supplemental regulations.


During a recess that was called so that he could review the site plan for the matter-of-right City Place project, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) got a visit from Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

Kunselman expressed concern at hearing de Parry talk about buying the parcels since the 1970s, as if it was part of a plan to tear the houses down and build an apartment building. He suggested that the houses could be rehabilitated by having their old additions torn off and have new additions added – as opposed to constructing new buildings in the backyard.

One of the awards handed out by the historic district commission that evening, said Kunselman, was for a duplex that had been converted back to a single-family home. That was still possible, he said. The houses would not be torn down because of the temporary moratorium and if a historic district is established they will also not be torn down.

Kunselman said that a city that destroys its character by putting houses behind houses doesn’t always realize its density goals.

Note: During his election campaign, Kunselman had stated that he was against “backyard development.” From The Chronicle’s report of the July 11, 2009 city Democratic Party candidate forum:

The big thing for me about density of our community is that our downtown can obtain some greater density, but our neighborhoods need to be protected. And I think my record is pretty clear on that. I have fought hard for the changes to prevent backyard development – or make it much more difficult, I should say – to do backyard development in our neighborhoods. Particularly, in the neighborhood where I grew up, where we had three-quarter acre lots and developers could then come in and buy it and start building houses behind houses. Those are subdivisions, those areas need to be protected, and I understand the great concern that neighborhoods have, especially in our urban ring, are feeling about this idea of what density means.

Kunselman noted that many of the projects that Hohnke had listed off he was proud to say he’d voted for – so he was not concerned about achieving downtown density. He also questioned how affordable the units would be in Heritage Row, noting that they’d just heard someone from the developer’s team [John Dziurman] say that it was very expensive to renovate houses and to build underground parking. Maybe 14 of the units might be cheap, Kunselman said, but what about the rest?

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) began by saying she would not support the project. She said that the PUD was something that allowed the city and developers some flexibility to accomplish projects that were not otherwise possible. She noted that the report from the downtown residential task force – which several supporters of the project had cited – was one of several planning documents used by the city. The study area included a 1/4 mile band around the DDA area. She read aloud a passage from page 10:

The Task Force spent a great deal of time discussing the importance of adjacent neighborhoods to the downtown. The task force felt that adjacent neighborhoods should be preserved and supported. Although these neighborhoods are outside of the DDA district, many residents of these neighborhoods consider themselves to be “living downtown.”

As one strategy for increasing density, the task force report goes on to suggest that the city council consider a revision to the city’s accessory dwelling unit ordinance. That was the way the task force’s report suggested increasing density in the near downtown neighborhoods, Briere said, not through PUD rezoning like Heritage Row.

On page 16 of the report, she said, the task force identifies zoning as a possible barrier to density:

[...] zoning changes and development must be undertaken carefully to reaffirm the Downtown Plan goals of protecting the near-downtown neighborhoods and recognizing the transition in intensity, building scale and height on neighborhood edges, the Task Force recommends some change to almost every existing zoning district within the near downtown area.

But Briere pointed out that the task force pointedly recommended leaving R4C alone. And the areas near downtown where the task force had identified as possibly supporting greater density – the North Main corridor and commercial nodes like Packard & State – did not include the Heritage Row site, she said.

Examining the PUD ordinance language, Briere observed that the land itself was not difficult to build on. She noted that the public plaza was not actually available to the public.

Hewing to Higgins’ earlier request that time limits be enforced, Hieftje informed Briere that her five minutes were up – but suggested she might continue, using her second speaking turn of three minutes. To that, Briere declared cheerily, “Oh, no, that would be so wrong, and I would hate to disappoint councilmember Higgins.”

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he found himself in agreement with the planning staff report. It strikes a balance between the look and charm that people want to maintain in the area, while providing a diversity of housing stock. He supported the addition of workforce-type housing, which is needed near downtown. The underground parking is also a plus, he said. He was struck by the fact that R4C would allow for more square footage to be built on those parcels, which he said nobody wants to see.

For his part, Hieftje first confirmed with the Kevin McDonald, assistant city attorney, that if the Heritage Row project were approved, it would no longer be possible to build the matter-of-right City Place project.

Hieftje characterized Heritage Row as “more palatable” than the matter-of-right project. If a historic district were not enacted, he said, de Parry could build that project. Hieftje said he was largely in agreement with Hohnke’s list of approved developments. He said he was torn, but would support the project based on the idea that the matter-of-right project would be built if no historic district is established.

Taking his second speaking turn, Hohnke said he feared it would set a precedent for other developers – building something would be okay as long as the houses are not demolished. He also noted that the amount of affordable housing that’s offered is only 14 units and that it’s located in an area that has not been identified as in need of additional affordable housing.

Kunselman then raised some doubt as to how he’d vote – a switch to yes from no by Kunselman would have given Heritage Row the eight votes it needed for approval.

He noted that he was the only councilmember who was not serving when the matter-of-right project was approved, so he wanted some description of it. Hieftje told him that it was “blockish” in nature and that it would replace the seven houses instead of restoring them.

While Kunselman mulled the matter-of-right, Briere noted that the developer for The Moravian had studied previous PUDs in the city – and that meant that future developers would look at the council’s words and actions on this decision. Is the accumulation of lots and building buildings behind buildings appropriate for infill development to increase density? Is that our intent? she asked. There were seven individual lots that were likely not appropriately zoned R4C, but were accumulated – not through a legal prescription, but merely for the purposes of this development. The lots have to be combined for the development to work, but they’re not legally one lot today. It was a question of whether we want to do that, she said.

In response to Briere’s hinting that a decision about a PUD represented a precedent of some kind, Hieftje elicited from McDonald the explanation that a decision on a PUD was a legislative decision, and did not have “precedential value.”

Responding to earlier points that only 14 units would be affordable, Smith pointed out that there was a difference between workforce housing and elite housing. She said she wanted to see a diversity in housing options. She noted that she was able to count and realized that it would have to be sent back to the drawing board. She encouraged the developer to come back with fewer units and it would fit the R4C zoning and would not require rezoning approval.

Taylor said he differed from Briere and Hohnke in that the city currently has a site plan on the books that’s ready to go that has aggregated parcels. Whether that’s something that should be changed going forward is an “open and good question,” he allowed, but at this point, the parcels are capable of aggregation.

Kunselman asked McDonald what would prevent the council from postponing the vote. McDonald indicated that it would be appropriate to postpone if the council felt there needed to be additional work done on the project, or if there are additional questions that need to be answered, or for some other reasonable reason. Kunselman said he appreciated the mayor’s concern about the matter-of-right project and asked his colleagues to postpone the vote until the next council meeting. He said that because he didn’t have intimate knowledge of the matter-of-right project, he’d like two weeks to look at it and perhaps change his vote.

Briere noted that a two-week postponement would put Heritage Row on the same agenda as the final historic district vote. Hieftje suggested that Kunselman request that the postponement be placed on the agenda after the historic district decision.

Hohnke, though he seconded the motion to postpone, said he would not support the postponement, saying that it would not be fair to everyone to delay. As far as the concern about the matter-of-right project, Hohnke noted that there was still a moratorium in place and that if a historic district were established, the matter-of-right would have to be reviewed by the historic district commission.

Smith suggested that the meeting be recessed so that Kunselman could be informed enough to be comfortable.

Outcome: After the recess, the roll call vote on the postponement had in favor: Kunselman, Taylor, Hieftje, Smith and Briere. The postponement thus failed with just five out of 11 votes.

Outcome: Heritage Row was rejected on a 7-4 vote in favor. It needed eight votes for approval. On the PUD itself, the four councilmembers voting against it were Kunselman, Anglin, Briere and Hohnke.

Fourth/Fifth Avenue Historic District (First Reading)

Before the council was a recommendation to establish a historic district along Fourth and Fifth avenues that can be described roughly as between William Street on the north and Packard Street on the south. The council had rejected the idea of establishing a study committee in late 2008, but changed its mind in mid-2009, when the matter-of-right City Place development project was moving through the city’s approval process. The council gave the study committee appointed in 2009 a smaller area to study than had been suggested in 2008. Chronicle coverage includes:

Historic District: Public Commentary

Beverly Strassmann introduced herself as a resident on South Fifth Avenue. She lives south of Packard Street and spoke on behalf of other residents who live south of Packard on South Fifth, which is an area not included in the area recommended as a historic district by the study committee. She said they opposed the historic district as currently configured, with a southern border at Packard Street. She characterized it as created “on the fly” – set up to prevent developer Alex de Parry from demolishing houses for a new development. She said the way the committee and the proposed district had been set up was not lawful. She said they supported a historic district, and that it was important to include the one intact block of South Fifth – south of Packard – in the whole neighborhood. The 500 block of South Fifth, she said, is the center of the district, the area with the greatest density of historic resources.

There were also historically important people who lived south of Packard, among them the Manns and the Allmendingers, she said.

Claudius Vincenz told the council he’d try to pick up where his wife, Beverly Strassmann, had left off. He pointed to the relationship between the Mann family – who still own a house in the neighborhood south of Packard, who had married with the Schmids, who lived north of Packard. Packard Street, he concluded, was not any real boundary in the neighborhood.

Vincenz said he was against the historic district as proposed. There is a lot of value in protecting historical houses, he said, but this historic district had been “conceived in a hurry,” because of the fear that the seven houses on Fifth Avenue would be destroyed. The study committee, he continued, faced an impossible task of completing the study. It was a case, he said, of the city council wanting to use the study committee’s expertise as “cover,” but defining the boundary of the historic district itself as the council. He characterized the way the council had proceeded as “circular” – the kind of reasoning that would crash a computer, but is common to the council, he said.

Historic District: Council Deliberations

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) led off the deliberations on the establishment of a historic district by noting that the council had just witnessed a lot of history and he wanted to go back to the time when the study committee had first been proposed. The boundaries had been substantially larger, he said, and the council had voted it down. He’d voted against it then, he said, because he felt that such study committees were self-fulfilling prophecies. From The Chronicle’s Dec. 15, 2008 meeting report:

[Higgins] also noted that the supporters of the study committee came from a two-block square, much smaller than the area of proposed study. She said she would like to see a bigger dialogue.

Councilmember Tony Derezinski reiterated Higgins’ points. He also said that in his work as the council’s representative to the planning commission that there was a lot of comprehensive planning work going on citywide, and that this neighborhood needed to be considered in that context. He expressed concern about the short time frame from Friday to Monday that council had for consideration of the resolution. He also expressed concern about the possibility that the appointment of a study committee would result in a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

He’d also objected when the historic district, with an accompanying moratorium on demolition, was introduced in August 2009, he said. From The Chronicle’s report of the Aug. 6, 2009 city council meeting deliberations for a smaller study area:

Derezinski said that while he was glad that some councilmembers had had a chance to consider the proposal, he had not, because it had been sprung the same night. He contrasted the process for the moratorium on development in R4C areas, which had stretched over four meetings. Here, the council was being asked to make a decision in 10 minutes. He said he wanted to hear staff input. “I’m asking for 12 days [until the next meeting],” he said. Derezinski noted that while it was a similar proposal to the one council had considered in December 2008, it was not the same one.

That had passed, Derezinski reminded the council. And now, one of the recommendations of the study committee on the size of the district was, “Guess what? To expand it again!” One of the speakers during the public commentary [Beverly Strassmann], Derezinski said, was right when she characterized it as proposed at the last minute to block a project. That was a very candid assessment, Derezinski said, while allowing that the speaker was making the point to argue that the district should include another block of buildings. He then read a chunk of a letter sent to the council from one of the members of the study committee, Rebecca Lopez Kriss:

The committee was not tasked with analyzing economic effects that may result from this designation, nor the feasibility of its historic rejuvenation. We were not asked to analyze how a historic area would fit into long-term planning and land use for the City of Ann Arbor, nor how historic designation would fit into the current review of the R4C/R2A areas. We did not study how the area would affect long-term revenues for the city based on alternative uses. The reality is that our committee members are not experts in economics, urban planning, or urban finance. Our committee was made up of dedicated historians answering a single question.

Derezinski said that the letter provided a cogent argument against establishing the district and urged his colleagues to vote against it.

Mayor Johnn Hieftje reminded councilmembers that the proposal was receiving only its first reading. [It's somewhat unusual for councilmembers to vote against a proposal on first reading.]

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated that he would support the proposal at the first reading “as is the custom.” He noted that the fact that the committee didn’t take into account the economic impact was not an argument against a district. Those factors needed to be taken into account – as well as the challenges that homeowners would face. He also noted that there could be significant benefits to the community. He thanked Derezinski for the reminder that there are other things to think about.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he’d read the letter. He noted that there were enough local historic districts that it would be worth it for staff to prepare an analysis of property values and taxes collected in the city’s historic districts to determine if the districts played a vital role in economic development.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he guessed he hadn’t received the letter, but noted that the writer had spoken at the public hearing on The Moravian project. His recollection was that her comments were quite disturbing with respect to the characteristics of the neighborhood. He felt the letter should be viewed in the context of those remarks. The commentary that Kriss gave on The Moravian is summarized this way in The Chronicle’s report of the April 5, 2010 council meeting:

Introducing herself as a member of the board of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Fourth/Fifth Avenue historic district study committee, Rebecca Lopez Kriss urged the council to vote yes [on The Moravian]. As a young professional and graduate student, she said, she did not want to live in a dilapidated old house or in a “white box” out by Briarwood Mall. She questioned the criticism that The Moravian would be out of character with the neighborhood, pointing to the Perry School, the university building and the light industrial uses across the street. She described The Moravian as functioning as a buffer between those uses and the neighborhood to the north. She encouraged people to read Jonathan Levine’s book, “Zoned Out,” which discusses zoning as a tool of exclusion.

Outcome: The council voted at first reading to approve the historic district with dissent from Derezinski, Higgins, and Rapundalo.

Development Approval Process: Display of Plans

Before the council for its first reading was an ordinance revision affecting the availability of site plans for public inspection.

Currently, the city’s code on the approval process requires that up-to-date drawings for site plans be available in the lobby of the city hall 24/7 for a week before public hearings. The proposal recommended by the planning commission would relax the code by deleting the 24/7 requirement and by making clear that there’s not an obligation to continually update the material with any changes that might be made. Material recommended to be deleted is struck through, with proposed added language in italics.

5:135. Public information and hearings.

(2) Area plans, site plans, site plans for Planning Commission approval, PUD site plans, and preliminary plats and land divisions under review shall be displayed in a publicly accessible location in City Hall open to the public 24 hours per day, 7 days each week, for at least 1 week prior to the City Council and Planning Commission public hearings. Plans shall be current at the time of placement and subsequent revisions, if any, shall be available in the planning offices.

Back in the summer of 2009, City Place came before the city council, but was remanded back to the planning commission, due in part to errors the city had acknowledged involving the public information requirements of the city code.

The city’s planning commission has recommended approval of the ordinance change along with other technical revisions. [Chronicle coverage: "Planning Commission: A Matter of Timing"]

During the deliberations on the ordinance revision, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the issue was of interest to many people in the community – she wished for a more creative solution than simply not requiring plans to be available 24 hours a day. The solution was more restrictive, not more open, and she lamented the fact that the city planning commission had not discussed it at their meeting.

Briere asked Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, to clarify the thought behind the ordinance change. He deferred to planning staff. Head of planning, Wendy Rampson, took the podium and said she could answer specific questions. Briere noted there are so many technological opportunities available besides making paper copies of blueprints available – for example, making them available on touch screens. The ordinance change means that you have to go to the sixth floor of city hall during business hours. It makes the information less accessible.

Briere wondered why more time had not been invested in coming up with something more cutting edge, instead of just adding a restriction. Rampson said she believed that the lobby display of plans had become somewhat outdated – up until a few years ago, it was the only way to see the plans. But now, she said, all the plans are included as .pdf files as a part of the Legistar system available on the web. So for those who have computers, they can access the information that way. For those who don’t have computers, the public library has public computers available, she said.

Part of the challenge, Rampson said, is that they cannot necessarily guarantee access to the lobby due to security concerns. As far as touch screens, she said, due to budget constraints, the staff had not explored that as an option.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated he shared Briere’s concerns. He asked city administrator Roger Fraser about access to the lobby of the new municipal center, but Fraser said that the details had not yet been worked out.

Outcome: At first reading, the ordinance revision for display of plans passed. To be enacted, the council will need to approve it at a second reading.

Development: Village Green Option Extension

Before the council on June 21 was a resolution to give a brief extension on Village Green’s option to purchase on the First & Washington property. The company has site plan approval to develop the City Apartments project on that city-owned site. City Apartments is a planned unit development (PUD) featuring 156 dwelling units and 244 public parking spaces. The extension goes through Aug. 5, 2010, which is the date of the council’s first meeting in August.

Village Green: DDA Connection

The extension of the purchase option has been part of the discussions between the Downtown Development Authority and the city about the parking agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system. DDA board member Newcombe Clark has pushed for a sunset on the DDA’s commitment to support the City Apartments project as part of the consideration that the city would offer to the DDA in exchange for a $2 million payment that the DDA has already made. The DDA has made a $9 million commitment for the City Apartments project in connection with a public parking deck that is a part of the building.

The council’s meeting featured an update from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) on the meetings between the city council and the DDA board. Taylor gave a report on the activity of the council’s mutually beneficial committee, which met with the corresponding committee of the DDA to discuss a renegotiation of the parking agreement. He reported that the DDA had revealed a distaste for the idea of taking responsibility for code enforcement beyond the rules that apply to the parking system.

There would be further conversations, reported Taylor, about the DDA taking responsibility for enforcement of parking regulations. The DDA had expressed enthusiasm for serving as the development engine for downtown city-owned lots, and would be developing a more complete proposal for how that would be implemented. Later in the meeting during an additional communications slot on the agenda, Taylor indicated to his council colleagues that there would be a working session on the topic of the city-DDA discussions just before the council’s next regular meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, July 6.

Village Green: More Background

The cover memo to the resolution on Village Green that was considered by the council on Monday cited the overall economic climate and the difficulty in obtaining financing as the reason for Village Green’s inability to move forward. The fact that Village Green has named financial partners on the deal is cited as part of the reason for granting the extension.

From Village Green’s letter, included in the council information packet:

We have selected a joint venture equity partner, LaSalle Investment Management, a national institutional investor based in downtown Chicago with an extensive portfolio of real estate and a strong financial standing in the industry. Like many institutional investors, they were reluctant to invest in real estate over the past 18 months due to the turmoil in the economy. Now that they are ready to get back into investing in apartments, they are excited about the opportunity to complete a transaction in the City of Ann Arbor with Village Green. LaSalle has full discretion of a fund that has over $400MM of equity to invest, so they have the ability to execute in an expeditious and streamlined manner. [...]

As it relates to construction financing, we now have a term sheet from U.S. Bank with whom Village Green has completed 4 other new construction projects in the past eight years. We work with their downtown Chicago office where they understand the Midwest and Ann Arbor markets. Also, we now have a source to provide gap financing in the event that the primary construction lender cannot provide sufficient proceeds. That source is the general contractor, Skanska.

Village Green: Council Deliberations

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked for more of an update than what’s in the packet. What exactly was the short extension for? Tom Crawford, chief financial officer for the city, indicated that the short extension was to be used to establish a timeline of events – a reasonable timeframe for the next steps to occur. There would be a more comprehensive document, Crawford said, by the time the item reappeared on the council’s agenda. Smith wanted to know if there was an anticipated start date for the project. Crawford said that a start date was a little too soon to talk about at this point. In response to Smith’s desire to know some ballpark idea, Crawford asked Jonathan Holtzman of Village Green to come to the podium to answer questions.

Jonathon Holtzman

Jonathon Holtzman of Village Green appeared before the council to answer questions about the extension for the purchase option Village Green has on the city-owned property at First & Washington.

Holtzman indicated that Village Green’s delay on the project was a function of the financial markets and not any lack of commitment to doing the project. Their financial partners seemed now open to receive letters of inquiry to talk about transactions. At the end of last year, he said, Village Green had done a project in Minneapolis – the only new apartment construction in the entire Midwest.

A project Village Green expects to start in Chicago, he said, could be the only new apartment construction for this year. Ann Arbor, he said, would be in excellent company. He noted that Village Green had been an owner-operator of apartments in Ann Arbor since the early 1970s. The request for an extension, he said, was to be able to work directly with the city staff to re-engage the fire department, the building department, the architects and engineers, to create a very specific timeline so that they can respond with a detailed list of milestones.

The problems from this point, Holtzman said, were not expected to be financial, but rather the normal problems between a developer and a city. Holtzman said the list of milestones would be the way of measuring whether Village Green deserved an extension.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that for him it was déjà vu – it reminded him of the project on the old YMCA site [William Street Station]. That developer had had milestones, too, said Kunselman. And at that time the economy was supposedly in good shape. [The city council eventually pulled the plug on William Street Station when the developer missed milestones. It is now the subject of a lawsuit that the developer brought against the city, although major elements of that suit have already been dismissed.]

Kunselman said he wouldn’t be supporting the short extension – it would require staff time. That planning staff time would wind up being charged as overhead under the municipal service charge. And that was important, he said, because the council was not amending the budget to accommodate the staff work. It was different from the residential parking permit program the council was considering that evening, which required amendment of the budget so that city staff could work on that project.

Kunselman stated that under an option agreement, typically a developer would put some money down as a down payment. “Would you be willing to pay … so that the taxpayers aren’t paying for this effort of ours to continue this charade of a partnership?” Kunselman asked Holtzman. Mayor John Hieftje interceded and suggested that Tom Crawford might be able to address the question. Kunselman stated that the council had been down this road before and it had not come to fruition – they need to go in a different direction. He suggested that new direction was to take the design specifications for the project and put them into a deed restriction on the city-owned property, then put it up for sale with those restrictions. Now is the time to try that, Kunselman said.

It was city administrator Roger Fraser who eventually addressed Kunselman’s question. Fraser said that the city would not be providing anything beyond what they’d provide any developer at this point, which would be a review of the pending approvals that would be necessary once the construction plans were submitted, and what timelines would be in connection with those plans. There would be no extraordinary efforts, said Fraser – it would simply be a normal plan review and estimation of what it would take to get this job done. The city would not expect an developer to pay extra for that, said Fraser, to take what is an already-approved project from a planning phase to a construction project.

Kunselman wanted to know what has happened during the last three years. Fraser said that Village Green had been waiting for the financial markets to open up so that they could go forward with the project. He reminded Kunselman that this was one of those rare projects that had received support from the neighborhood. The project meets the objectives of the community, said Fraser, and is a project the DDA is partnering on. Rather than asking for a longer extension, Fraser said, it was only a short-term extension in order to develop a more comprehensive plan with milestones. The idea is that the city would not have to do this again – this would be the last shot, said Fraser.

Kunselman asked if that meant that in August the council would be approving another extension. Kunselman also questioned whether the development of milestones was actually typical of staff efforts with regard to developers in general. Reviewing construction plans is one thing, Kunselman said, but review of construction plans for construction permits does not entail establishing a series of milestones. Fraser indicated that what Village Green was asking for was estimates for time required to perform the various stages of review.

Outcome: The council approved the extension of the option to purchase for Village Green, with dissent from Kunselman.

Public Commentary, Council Responses, Communications

A number of speakers addressed the council at the start of the meeting during public commentary reserved time, and councilmembers had several communications they conveyed.

Communications on Parking Permit Programs

During her communications time, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) indicated that the agenda item that evening would be for a residential parking permit program for the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. At the council’s next meeting, she hoped, on the council’s agenda would be a residential parking program for the South University neighborhood. [Note: The residential parking permit program was approved, but is not covered in detail in this meeting report.]

Communication on Civil Rights

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) told her colleagues that there was a bill that some legislators were contemplating for Michigan that would be similar to the law Arizona had passed, making it legal for police to ask for IDs. She informed her council colleagues that she would likely be bringing forward a resolution stating the council’s opposition such a law.

Communications from the City Administrator

Roger Fraser, during his communications time, told the council that as the elections were drawing nigh, the absentee ballots were being sent out. [See Chronicle coverage: "Column: A Pitch for Absentee Voting"]

Fraser also indicated that the summer tax bills were being sent out the following week, which are, he quipped, “another joy of summer.” He reminded councilmembers that tax bills could be paid online.

Fraser reported that on June 10 the Center for Independent Living had hosted a picnic in Gallup Park and that over 200 people had attended – they’d taken out canoes and kayaks, he said.

Fraser’s update on the ongoing construction of the municipal center was that work continues on electrical, plumbing, drywall, and bathroom tiling. A lot of work was being done in the basement of the Larcom Building as well, he reported. The streetscape contractor for the Fifth and Division project was working its way past the municipal center work site on Fifth, he said.

The structural steel work is complete for the elevator tower. A barrier had been removed from the third floor, where the administrator and mayor’s offices are located, he said – adding that it is possible now to jump, if the mayor ever felt the need to do so after a council meeting.

The mayor confirmed with Fraser that the construction was still on schedule to be completed and for the city to be out of the leased facility with the county by Jan. 1, 2011.

Comment on Local Ordinances: Vegetation

Tom Petiet introduced himself as the landlord at a property on Arch Street. He suggested to the council that they consider a revision to the city’s ordinance that prohibits vegetation on lawn extensions – the area between the sidewalk and the road – higher than 3 feet. Last year, he said, they’d received notice that a bush at their rental property was four feet tall. They had not been able to act in time, and the city had then cut the bush down to 3 feet tall. They’d gone to court about it, he said, but the court had no latitude in the matter due to the vagueness of the ordinance language, he said, that prohibited any vegetation from being taller than 3 feet. He distributed some photographs of different properties in the general area of the property.

Petiet noted that several cultivated plantings in the area were all in violation of the city’s ordinance, but that they contributed to the beauty of the city and were ecologically sound. He said they do no harm, so he wondered why the ordinance condemns the plantings. As it stands, the police have no alternative but to cite these plantings. Exceptions to the 3 foot height shall be granted in cases where decorative bushes and flowers are maintained which do not hinder automobile sightlines at corners and do not impinge on walkways and roadways. He also suggested that the warning and notification methods be changed – he said they’ve only been given 24 hours from the time they were notified to the time they needed to remediate the situation. In the case of rental properties, he said, the notification should go to the owner of the property, not the address of the property itself.

Later during the council meeting, during her communications time, Margie Teall (Ward 4) indicated that she felt the ordinance needed to be re-examined.

Comment on Local Ordinances: Pedestrian Safety

Kathy Griswold reminded the council that she’d spoken to them in the past about the need to move a crosswalk in front of the King Elementary School from a mid-block location to an intersection. A related issue, she said, was a press release issued by the city of Ann Arbor on June 10 about a program to promote pedestrian safety. However, she said, what sounded like good news actually revealed a superficial understanding of pedestrian safety issues and laws. Three conditions contributed the problem, she said. First is city officials who micromanaged things. Second is an autocratic city administrator, and third is traffic engineers who are required to make decisions based on what is politically popular, she said. Alluding to Petiet’s comments about his experience with the vegetation ordinance, she said the requirements make the professional police force and traffic engineers look stupid – the laws were not being applied consistently and nothing but political games were being played, she said.

At the point where a child is injured or killed due to the political game-playing, she predicted, city officials would then form a task force to make sure this issue is addressed. She therefore wanted to make sure it was a part of the public record that political gamesmanship had been going on for years and that it was wrong. There is a state law that prohibits parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk, she said, but the city itself had configured a crosswalk located next to parking spaces near city hall, then placed a flashing warning sign there to warn motorists.

Act 300 of 1949

257.674 Prohibited parking; exceptions; bus loading zone; violation as civil infraction. Sec. 674.

(1) A vehicle shall not be parked, except if necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the law or the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device, in any of the following places:
(a) On a sidewalk.
(b) In front of a public or private driveway.
(c) Within an intersection.
(d) Within 15 feet of a fire hydrant.
(e) On a crosswalk.
(f) Within 20 feet of a crosswalk, or if there is not a crosswalk, then within 15 feet of the intersection of property lines at an intersection of highways.

Returning to the issue of the King Elementary crosswalk, Griswold indicated that Hieftje had recently suggested to her a holistic approach. She said that the city had had a holistic and comprehensive approach in place since the late 1960s in the form of a transportation safety committee and that the committee had recommended the crosswalk be moved, but on Oct. 30, 2010 the city administrator had vetoed a decision to move the crosswalk, instead opting for a “good old boys” approach of studying the problem for maybe another year or two, she said.

During his communications time, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) told his council colleagues there was a targeted enforcement campaign for crosswalks going on, with flashing signs at Seventh & Washington and at Fifth & Ann. The signs indicate that it’s local law to require motorists to yield to pedestrians. There would be additional steps taken soon, Hohnke said. [An agenda item proposing an ordinance revision had been stricken from the agenda.]

Comment on Allen Creek Study

Vince Caruso spoke on behalf of the Allen Creek Watershed Group, which he said had produced a watershed management plan for Allen Creek in 2001 that had been accepted by the Washtenaw County drain commissioner’s office, the city of Ann Arbor and the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. He called for a scientific study of the Allen Creek watershed and a remapping of the floodplain. All major watersheds in the Ann Arbor area had been scientifically studied, he said, except for Allen Creek. There was a great desire by some to develop in the floodway, he said, citing the arts community interest in developing the 415 W. Washington property, which has an entrance in the floodway. But he noted that a letter of map revisions from FEMA showed a 33% increase in the floodway, and said the MDEQ did not support building on stilts in the floodway. Southern Michigan had seen several 100-year rains in the last three years, he said, as well as a 500-year rain. After a recent rainfall, Caruso said, there had been 4.5 feet of standing water behind Virginia Park. Scientific groups, he said, had attributed this change in rain patterns to global warming. There are 1,500 homes at risk in the Old West Side, he said.

During his communications time, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) picked up on comments made by Caruso about the Allen Creek watershed. Anglin said it was the largest, yet least studied watershed in the area. He said it was important to understand how much water flows through it – at what points and in what intensities. He acknowledged that there had been a lot of money spent on two projects to address issues in the Allen Creek watershed – at Pioneer High School and in West Park – and the city had been moving forward. But he also stressed the importance of having a scientific study of Allen Creek like the city had for the other watersheds.

Communications on Fuller Road Station

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) gave an update from the park advisory commission (PAC), on which he serves as an ex officio member as a representative of the city council.

He described how PAC had passed a resolution on the Fuller Road Station after a long discussion, which would be forwarded to the council. He indicated that PAC had expressed a measure of concern that PAC’s role as an advisory body had not been recognized to its satisfaction and would like there to be appropriate consultation with it. The PAC resolution Taylor summarized urged that the complete plans for the station be made public, that there be hearings on the project and that PAC be held harmless with respect to revenue plans. [Chronicle coverage of that PAC discussion: "Park Commission Asks for Transparency"]

Following up on Taylor’s remarks, Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who also serves as an ex officio member of PAC representing the city council, reported that PAC had spent six hours discussing the resolution related to Fuller Road Station. He said that the way the city had proceeded had “upset the stewards of the park system.” Anglin indicated that the mayor had presented his view of the situation directly to PAC. [Chronicle coverage: "Hieftje Urges Unity on Fuller Road Station"]

If Fuller Road Station were not proposed on land designated as a park, Anglin said, they wouldn’t be hearing about it. PAC had indicated that it was not pleased with the terms of the memorandum of understanding signed between the city and the University of Michigan, but that the mayor had indicated it could be renegotiated. The concept had merit, Anglin said, but the vision for the station should have been conveyed to PAC earlier. If there are plans like these, he said, it is important to make them public way in advance.

Later during an additional communications slot, Anglin noted that the city had launched a survey on the PROS plan and had received around 600 responses so far – he said they were hoping for 1,000 responses.

Hieftje clarified that the proposed location for the Fuller Road Station was not on the same side of the street as the swimming pool at Fuller Park. He also said it had not been stressed enough that the university’s contribution to the project would be enough to satisfy the local match requirement for various federal grants. He allowed that the timetable was a “little fluid” depending on when the transportation bill moves through the Congress.

Comment from State Senate Candidate

Thomas Partridge noted that the country had entered the second year of President Obama’s administration, as he introduced himself as a Washtenaw County resident living in Scio Township. He told the council that he was running for the 18th state Senate seat to represent senior citizens, the disabled and veterans – all those without a voice. He called the various awards handed out for local preservation efforts at the start of the meeting “worthy” and said that there were other sites worthy of recognition as well. Those other sites were places where civil rights demonstrations and peace protests had been held. He noted the importance of providing affordable housing, affordable transportation, health care and education to everyone.

Comment on Homelessness

Lilly Au asked the council to consider issues from a balanced point of view. She contended that the historical designation for the houses in the Heritage Row project was not appropriate because there was nothing historically remarkable about them. She asked the city council to consider the supply and demand for affordable housing units – mentioning in particular the loss of 100 units of affordable housing in connection with the demolition of the old YMCA building several years ago. She then described basic conditions of life at Camp Take Notice, a tent city now located west of town near Wagner Road on a public right-of-way. She described in mildly graphic detail how residents made accommodations for going to the bathroom.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead Wed, 18 Nov 2009 05:13:50 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 16, 2009) Part I: The Ann Arbor city council’s Monday night meeting, which started at its usual 7 p.m. time, stretched to almost 1 a.m. before it concluded. In this part of the meeting report, we focus on planning and development issues, which contributed to the unusually long meeting.

a ball of yarn on somebody's lap

A ball of yarn on the lap of an audience member at city council’s Monday meeting. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) compared his colleagues’ proposed amendments on the A2D2 zoning package to unwinding a tightly-wound ball of string. (Photo by the writer)

On the main planning question before the council – the A2D2 rezoning package for downtown Ann Arbor – the council approved the zoning package with its two basic categories of D1 (core) and D2 (interface) zones.

Neither the effort to postpone consideration of the zoning ordinance – led by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – nor the attempt to reduce maximum height limits in the South University area – led by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – met with any success.

The maximum building height for the majority of D1 areas is thus 180 feet, with the exception of a swatch along East Huron and in South University, which have maximums of 150 feet. D2 areas have a maximum  building height of 60 feet.

There were also no amendments passed to accommodate the request to change the proposed zoning of an individual parcel at 1320 S. University from D2 (interface) to D1 (core), or to change the proposed zoning of an area along East Huron Street from D1 to D2.

A public hearing was held on the design guidelines, which are also a part of the A2D2 effort, though no vote was scheduled or taken at Monday’s meeting. It did emerge during deliberations on the zoning that it’s estimated to take another 8-12 months of planning staff work, in order to establish a mandatory review process that goes along with the design guidelines.

In response to councilmember questions, Wendy Rampson, who’s interim director of planning and development services, said that with approval of the new downtown zoning – based on staff conversations with developers – there are two projects that would now likely be submitted.

Three public hearings were held that related to downtown planning. The first related to design guidelines for Ann Arbor’s  downtown buildings and open spaces. The second was for the proposed A2D2 zoning for downtown. And the final public hearing concerned the rezoning of 1320 S. University – a hearing granted to the property owner under Michigan state law.

Design Guidelines

For an overview of some history of the downtown design guidelines process, see Chronicle coverage: “Another Draft of Downtown Design Guides” and “Downtown Design Guides: Must vs. Should

woman looking at printed material

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) flips through the design guidelines document. Next to her is Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). (Photo by the writer.)

A central focus of prior community criticism has been the lack of a defined mandatory review process that accompanies the design guidelines. Among those advocating for a mandatory review process, there is somewhat less consensus on whether the compliance with the guidelines themselves should be mandatory.

On its agenda, the city council had only a public hearing, but no vote on design guidelines. We include in this section any council deliberations on a zoning amendment vote that related specifically to the design guidelines.

We also include a summary of public commentary from the zoning public hearing, to the extent that it was pertinent to the design guidelines.

Public Comment on Design Guidelines

Much of the commentary at the city council’s public hearing reflected similar sentiments to those that had been expressed at the previous night’s caucus. [Chronicle coverage: "Zoning, Design Guides on Council's Agenda"]

During the public hearing, Peter Nagourney spoke on behalf of a committee of citizens that was preparing an annotated copy of the proposed guidelines to forward to the council and to planning staff. Nagourney said that their main request was to extend the time for consideration. [The council heard from city staff during their deliberations on the zoning package that an 8-12 month delay would be necessary, if the council wished to include a mandatory review process with the design guidelines.]

Some key points identified by the volunteer citizen committee included:

  • Coordination between new zoning codes, design guidelines and the Downtown Plan. [Link to the city's master plans website, which includes information about the Downtown Plan.]
  • Specification of a design review process; the city’s new public participation ordinance helps define a “schedule” for a project approval process – where does the design review process fit into this schedule?
  • Elimination of the checklist, because “checking all the boxes doesn’t mean good design.”
  • Context of new construction in terms of respecting surrounding buildings.
  • Use of example projects on which to test-run the guidelines before they’re formally adopted.
  • Use of premiums for additional floor area ratios (i.e., taller buildings) only when a project is approved by a design review panel; this would be a way to leverage compliance.
  • Improvement of photographs and graphics in the design guidelines document.
  • Sustainability should be included in the design guidelines document not just in the context of new buildings, but also in the context of rehabbing older buildings.
  • Character districts are not completely articulated and in some cases seem rather “open ended.”

An advocate for walkers and bicyclists appeared at the public hearing to echo the sentiment that while the design guidelines themselves did in part promote a green and sustainable future, they “lacked teeth,” and did not reflect a mandate, but rather just a “wish list.”

Bob Snyder, president  of the South University Neighborhood Association, focused on Nagourney’s third point: context. He suggested that the Calthorpe report, with its recommendation of buildings no taller than 3-8 stories, was more suggestive of D2 (interface) zoning than D1 (core) zoning. The previous night at council’s Sunday caucus, he’d read from the character district guidelines for South University, saying that they sounded more like D2 than D1. Snyder concluded that the design guidelines for South University should be changed to reflect D1, or else the zoning changed to D2 to match the design guidelines. [Snyder's clear preference is to change the zoning of South University to D2.]

Ray Detter spoke on behalf of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council – which, he reminded city councilmembers, had been involved in the A2D2 process since the very beginning. Detter stressed that a mandatory review process needed to be provided for the design guidelines.

Christine Crockett, who served on the A2D2 design review committee, also stressed that zoning dovetails with design review. She pointed out that increasing density is not the sole purpose of the zoning and design changes – it’s one of many principles at play.

Thomas Partridge called for the tabling of any resolution until the plan was clearly written with a provision for affordable housing.

Council Deliberations on Zoning that Related to Design Guidelines

While the city council did not have a resolution before it on the design guidelines, the guidelines did factor into the deliberations on the A2D2 zoning package. They played a significant role in the arguments concerning the merits of a motion, brought forward by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), to postpone the consideration of the zoning package until council’s first meeting in December.

Mayor John Hieftje said that he had come to the council meeting prepared to support a postponement in order to sync up the design guidelines with the zoning package so that they could be approved together. In wanting to see them passed together, he was supporting a similar sentiment to that which Ethel Potts had expressed during the public hearing on zoning – zoning can’t stand alone without design guidelines, she said.

During deliberations on the zoning package, Hieftje asked Wendy Rampson, interim director of planning services for the city, what the projected timeline would be for developing a mandatory process for the design guidelines. She explained that it would be 8-12 months before such a mandatory process could be developed. Why so long? Rampson said that planning staff had a pretty “full plate” with several other projects that the council had asked for: a review of R4C zoning, an historic district review, master planning consolidation, and a zoning ordinance legal review.

It would take even longer, Rampson said, if it was council’s direction to develop not just a mandatory process, but also a way to enforce mandatory compliance.

Hieftje wound up voting for the failed motion to postpone anyway, but said that obviously it was not feasible to try to sync up the zoning with the design guidelines.

Asked by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) what the risks were of waiting for design guidelines to be approved before approving the zoning ordinance, Rampson reported that two projects were expected to be brought before the city for site plan review, once the new A2D2 zoning ordinance was approved. So waiting the 8-12 months to pass the zoning package until a mandatory review process was written by planning staff, then approved by council, would mean delaying the submission of those two projects, Rampson said.

Without the design guidelines or any process in place, Rampson said, those projects would go through the normal review channels. However, she allowed that planning staff would fully apprise the developers of those projects about the intent and content of the guidelines as they currently stood, as a reflection of community sentiment.

Outcome: There was no vote on the design guidelines. The A2D2 oversight committee is scheduled to meet at a date to be determined, to make a recommendation as to how to proceed in light of Rampson’s estimated 8-12 months that would be needed to write up a mandatory design review process.

A2D2 Zoning

The majority of speakers at the public hearing addressed the specific geographic regions of East Huron Street or South University, but some spoke to the overall proposal.

Public Comment on Zoning: East Huron

The First Baptist Church is located on East Washington Street between Division and State in an area that’s proposed as D1 (core) zoning in the A2D2 proposal. Members of the First Baptist Church, along with the church’s co-pastor Stacey Simpson Duke, spoke against the idea of D1 zoning for their block. Their concerns were based on the shadow cast on the church that could result from any tall building constructed immediately to the west of the church.

Residents of Sloan Plaza on Huron Street weighed in against a D1 zoning designation for East Huron, saying that D2 was more appropriate. One Sloan Plaza resident pointed to the University of Michigan’s new North Quad dormitory, which has now begun to take definite shape on the southeast corner of Huron and State streets. Buildings constructed according to the D1 zoning standards could rise almost twice as tall as North Quad, she said.

Bruce Thomson, who owns property along Huron Street, acknowledged that it was a tough issue for the council to weigh the interests of residents of adjoining property against the rights of property owners. He noted, however, that East Huron is already zoned for high density, and appropriately so, as it was the main drive through the city. He said he felt that the planning commission did a great job of finding a compromise that afforded a D1 designation, with a slightly lower height (150 feet versus 180 feet) compared to other D1 districts, as well as greater setbacks.

Public Comment on Zoning: South University – Including 1320 S. University

Some of the public commentary and much of the subsequent council deliberations focused on the South University area.

Susan Friedlaender represented the owner of the property at 1320 S. University, who had requested a separate public hearing on the rezoning of the parcel to D2. She contended that a D2 designation for the parcel conflicted with the state zoning enabling legislation, because it went against the emerging trend of building and population development. A D2 designation, she said, defeated the goals of the city’s downtown plan, transportation plan, and affordable housing plan.

Barbara Copi praised the new Downtown Development Authority wayfinding signs that have been installed, but criticized those that have been placed on Washtenaw Avenue near South University, which indicate “Downtown.” If anything, she said, they should say “Campus.” It wasn’t possible to change reality by putting a sign on it, she said.

Eleanor Linn supported the D2 zoning of 1320 S. University, which abuts the property she owns. She pointed to the hard work that had gone into finding a way to allow development yet provide a buffer.

Public Comment on Zoning: General

Roger Hewitt – who serves on the DDA board and is a member of the A2D2 steering committee, along with Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Evan Pratt of the planning commission – introduced himself as a downtown business owner. He cautioned that the currently proposed zoning would be damaging to downtown, because the residential premiums for additional floor area ratios (FAR) were not high enough. He also expressed concern that the construction of on-site parking was penalized by the proposed zoning package in the way it factored into floor area ratios (FAR).

Council Deliberations: South University Height

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) led off deliberations, with a proposed amendment to clean up the language on the side and rear setbacks in the East Huron character district – the base of buildings needed to be included, as well as the tower.

people sitting at city council table

Left: Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). Right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).  In the distant background is DDA board member Roger Hewitt. (Photo by the writer.)

Then Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – attending his first council meeting since being elected on Nov. 3 – re-opened the question of the height limit in the South University area. He proposed an amendment that would have changed the maximum building height in the South University area from 150 feet to 60 feet. Even though in general, the maximum building height limit for D1 districts was proposed to be 180 feet, in the South University area it is proposed to be 150 feet.

At 60 feet, Kunselman’s amendment would have made South University’s D1 maximum building height the same as the standard maximum building height in D2 districts. This was a point that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered about. Kunselman clarified that he was simply suggesting a height limit that was “in keeping with what we’ve been telling the community it should be.”

Kunselman went on to explain that he was in part trying to make amends for missing a planning commission meeting back in 2006 when the parcel at 1320 S. University, along with several others, were recommended by planning commission to be rezoned from R4C (multi-family dwelling) to C2A (Central Business District), which is an up-zoning. [Kunselman served on the planning commission at the time. The city council subsequently approved that rezoning. The current C2A designations have been pointed to as part of the justification for designating the South University area as D1.]

From the Aug. 15, 2006 planning commission meeting minutes:

Borum and Lipson both expressed concern about the rezoning of the Park Plaza apartment complex.

Moved by Potts, seconded by D’Amour, to amend the main motion by removing the Park Plaza apartment complex at 1320 South University.

A vote on the amendment showed:
YEAS: Borum, D’Amour, Lipson, Potts
NAYS: Bona, Carlberg, Emaus
ABSENT: Kunselman, Pratt

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), picking up on an allusion to “six stories” by Kunselman and its apparent equation with 60 feet, expressed her confusion: Sixty feet doesn’t make six stories, she said. Kunselman replied that as a student of urban planning, he was actually against setting height limits in terms of feet, and preferred stories. He noted that he did not wish to send the whole A2D2 zoning proposal back to the drawing board, but said that he would stand firm on South University.

Mayor John Hieftje weighed in, saying that he had difficulty supporting a 60-foot height limit, because at that height nothing would change on South University – an area he said he visited twice daily. At that height, he said, a developer could not eke out the necessary economic advantage to undertake a project.

Briere then noted that a 60-foot height limit is really a four-story height limit, and observed that whoever came up with a 60-foot height limit for D2 didn’t talk to people who actually built things. She concluded that 9-10 story buildings are what they’d like to see in the South University area. At 150 feet and a D1 zoning designation, however, Briere cautioned that there was an incentive to pile lots together and build big. The message to property owners, she said, was they could sell their land to people who will amass lots and build something.

people standing around looking at a map

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Roger Hewitt (DDA board member), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). (Photo by the writer.)

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) then expressed support for Kunselman’s overarching point, saying that he concurred that the South University area, as then proposed, “admits of too much height.” But he suggested that 60 feet was too restrictive. However, 120 feet, said Taylor, is a mass that would allow for “commercial exploitation – in the best sense.”

Taylor noted that he would like to bring 120 feet as an amendment as the conversation progressed.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) was unambiguous in saying that he would not support the amendment to change the maximum building height in the South University area to 60 feet, or even 120 feet, saying that there was an economic tipping point, and that there’d be no economic redevelopment at 60 feet.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) then adduced an analogy to which he’d return later in the deliberations: The zoning ordinance as proposed was tightly wound, and if they began picking it apart, it would unravel.

Kunselman tried to give some assurance to his colleagues that economic redevelopment could still happen at 60 feet, pointing out that the “ace in the hole” for a developer is the PUD (planned unit development).

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) addressed Kunselman’s PUD strategy, suggesting that there’s community concern about the frequency with which PUDs are deployed. It was important, said Hohnke, that they not be surprised by requests for the kind of rezoning allowed by PUDs. A PUD should be a rare circumstance, he continued, and should provide a significant and bold benefit to the community, not be a standard redevelopment strategy.

On his 60-foot height limit amendment for South University, Kunselman was the lone vote in favor.

The deliberations then took a detour from South University, when Hieftje did not call on Taylor, who had his hand raised to speak – presumably to offer the 120-foot alternative he’d mentioned he’d like to bring forward.

That detour involved the role of design guidelines in the timing of the zoning approval – which is already explicated in the Design Guidelines section above.

When Taylor was eventually recognized to speak, he turned the conversation back to South University. He first clarified with senior assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald what the procedural implications would be if a 120-foot height limit for South University were to be adopted. [In the spring of 2009, the council had previously approved amendments to the A2D2 zoning ordinance that had required revision of the Downtown Plan, which then had to be referred back to the city's planning commission. The planning commission and the city council must adopt the same Downtown Plan.]

Taylor wanted to know from McDonald if a change to 120 feet would require referral back to the planning commission, or another “first reading” before the city council, or neither of those. McDonald clarified that the height change would not cause a conflict between the zoning and the Downtown Plan. He suggested that an additional reading before the council would be in order, but that it would not necessarily need to be referred to the planning commission.

With that understanding, and understanding also that it would require an additional subsequent reading before the city council if passed, which would incur the costs of providing official notice, Taylor moved an amendment to change the South University height limit to 120 feet. [Subsequent deliberations by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) would draw out the fact that the cost of providing notice to everyone inside the district to be rezoned and those who live within 1,000 feet is $8,000-$10,000.]

In arguing for the amendment, Taylor adduced the principle of “like should be treated as like, and unlike should be treated as unlike.” South University, Taylor contended, was unlike Huron Street, and therefore should be treated unlike Huron, with its D1 zoning and 150-foot height limits. As far as the contention that establishing a different height limit for South University would diminish the clarity of the zoning, Taylor’s response was straightforward: You consult the table, he said, referring to a table in the zoning code that lays out the height limits. “That is entirely clear,” he concluded.

Briere offered her support for Taylor’s 120-foot height limit in South University, saying that a 10-story building in that area was rational.

Hohnke acknowledged that the height change did not explicitly conflict with the D1-D2 boundaries drawn on the Downtown Plan. But he wanted to know if the floor area ratios (FAR) associated with D1 premiums could actually be achieved at a height of 120 feet. If they could not, then that would have implications as to the D1 zoning, which would implicitly conflict with the Downtown Plan. Noting that Kunselman’s previously proposed 60-foot maximum seemed to conflict with the idea that it was zoned D1, Hohnke wanted to know where the line was between 60 feet and 12o feet that constituted a “material change,” and that would entail referring the ordinance back to planning commission.

man sitting a table with microphones

Senior assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald. (Photo by the writer)

McDonald replied that the proposed ordinance before the city council definitely fit the Downtown Plan and that the city attorney staff – before they could determine whether there was still a good fit – were waiting and listening to hear what the council would recommend. At that point, Hohnke interjected: “120 feet!” McDonald replied that the city attorney’s office would need to do a review.

Derezinski then expressed some frustration in saying, “We’re back here unraveling the ball!”

Rapundalo concurred with Derezinski, saying that they were beginning to disrespect the work of those in the community who had worked so hard through the whole process. He cautioned that a height of 120 feet might now allow a developer to realize an affordable housing premium – when affordable housing was a community goal. Characterizing the proposed amendment, Rapundalo said, “It’s totally irrational, quite frankly.”

At that point, Briere suggested a postponement until Dec. 7. But with Taylor’s amendment on the floor for discussion, it needed to be withdrawn, if the council was to consider the postponement. After establishing that he could bring back the 120-foot amendment if the postponement failed, Taylor withdrew the amendment.

The postponement did fail – deliberations on Briere’s motion to postpone are detailed below.

After the postponement failed, Taylor re-introduced the amendment to reduce the maximum building height in the South University area from 150 feet to 120 feet. Deliberations were now brief. The amendment failed.

Voting for the 120-foot height limit for South University: Kunselman, Taylor, Anglin, Hieftje, Briere. Voting to leave the proposed height limit at 150 feet for South University: Derezinski, Rapundalo, Teall, Higgins, Hohnke, Smith.

Council Deliberations: Postponement?

In moving for a postponement, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) had suggested that everyone who had an amendment to make put them in writing well before the Dec. 7 meeting so that they could be looked over and evaluated by councilmembers as well as the city attorney’s office. That way, the implications of various amendments would be clear, she said.

Mayor John Hieftje suggested that the choice was between postponing and making changes before approving the zoning package versus approving it now and making any required adjustments in the future.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) suggested to those who wished to bring amendments that they should simply vote the zoning package down and start over. “This is ludicrous!” she exclaimed. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) agreed with Higgins: “We’ve got to get a move on this,” he said.

For her part, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) felt like any amendments should entail that the package be referred back to the planning commission, whether or not the city attorney’s office felt like they were on the right side of the fine line that defined a material change. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) declared: “It’s time to act.” He recalled how in the spring of 2009 there’d been a raft of amendments put into writing before the council’s vote – as Briere was suggesting they do now – and that he had a sense of deja vu.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she agreed with the intent of the postponement, but could ultimately not support it.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) made a final attempt to persuade his colleagues by arguing that the community voice will not feel offended by the postponement.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Wendy Rampson, interim director of planning and development services, what recourse citizens might have to overturn the zoning. Rampson deferred to Kevin McDonald, a senior assistant city attorney. McDonald wanted no part of the question: “It’s not part of my job duties to advise on recourse against the city!”

Kunselman then indicated that he would heed Higgins’ advice to vote the proposed ordinance down when the vote came on the main motion. The motion to postpone failed.

Voting for the postponement: Kunselman, Taylor, Anglin, Hieftje, Briere. Voting against the postponement: Derezinski, Rapundalo, Teall, Higgins, Hohnke, Smith.

Council Deliberations: The Final Vote

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) moved to add a “Resolved” clause to the main motion that would direct planning staff to take up recommendations from an Aug. 18 memo they had prepared, and to bring back the ordinance for review in January of 2011.

With that resolved clause added, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) expressed her thanks to Higgins for all her work, and then called the question – a parliamentary way of saying, “Let’s vote now.” The vote on calling the question came out on the same 6-5 split as the vote on the 120-foot height limit and the postponement.

Outcome: The Ann Arbor city council approved the A2D2 zoning amendments, with dissent only from Kunselman.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: Monday, Dec. 7, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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Downtown Design Guides: Must vs. Should Wed, 16 Sep 2009 13:50:04 +0000 Dave Askins man sits at table with palms in up-turned gesture

Eric Mahler, city of Ann Arbor planning commissioner, questioned whether the downtown design guidelines, as currently drafted, would pass legal muster, if they were implemented in a mandatory-compliance system. (Photo by the writer.)

Almost every child learns in school that a haiku is a short poem with three lines – lines that adhere to a 5-7-5 syllable count pattern.

But only some children learn that not all poems conforming to that 5-7-5 rule are good haikus. For example:

I saw a tower/Looming, stretching really tall/
Is it ever high!

Many readers will recognize those lines as a generally failed poem. But what specifically makes it a bad haiku, even though it follows the rule? The first-person narrative, the lack of seasonal referent, the lack of any kind of “aha!” moment – there are any number of ways in which that poetic effort fails to meet basic haiku design guidelines.

Similarly, a proposed new downtown Ann Arbor building that follows a basic height rule of “180 feet maximum” – specified in the zoning regulations – might still be generally recognizable as a poorly-designed building. 

Knowing it’s poorly designed is one thing. But it’s another thing for someone to say what exactly makes a building poorly-designed, or in a happier case, well-designed. That requires some knowledge of building design principles – just as critiquing a haiku requires some knowledge of haiku design principles. Perhaps the building’s entrance can’t be easily spotted, or its walls rise in a sheer, windowless face from the sidewalk to its full height.

When the members of Ann Arbor’s city council, planning commission and Downtown Development Authority board met in a joint work session on Monday night, they did not attempt poetry. Rather, they convened in the studios of Community Television Network to contemplate design guidelines for future downtown Ann Arbor buildings. In their questions for the consultant and city staff, they wound up focusing not on what the guidelines themselves said, but rather on this question: What role should the A2D2 design guidelines play in the city’s project approval process?

Brief Background on A2D2

In September 2006, the Ann Arbor city council approved A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) as the next step in the Downtown Development Strategies Project. That project already had a three-year history dating from October 2003. Two of the five priority actions for A2D2 were (i) to overhaul the downtown zoning, and (ii) to establish design guidelines.

man in jacket and tie sits at table speaking with upturned palms gesture

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked, "How do you legislate design?" Seated to Rapundalo's left is Mike Anglin (Ward 5). (Photo by the writer.)

In the spring of 2009, the city council appeared ready to approve the zoning package. However, a back-and-forth between the planning commission and the city council, which was driven largely by questions about the appropriate zoning designation of the South University area – caused a delay.

That delay meant that the original plan – to wrap up the zoning package in late spring, leaving the summer to focus on design guidelines – had to be altered. The revised approach was to allow the design guidelines to “catch up” to the zoning package, with final approval of each to come roughly around the same time: fall 2009.

The re-alignment of the scheduled approvals for those two priority actions – zoning overhaul and development of design guidelines – had to have been welcome to those in the community who had advocated persistently against their chronological separation. The council gave its first reading approval to the zoning package at its Sept. 8 meeting.

And with the leaves now beginning to turn, the city council, the city’s planning commission, and the Downtown Development Authority board convened its triple-joint session on Monday night, to focus on the design guidelines.

Design Guideline Content

Monday’s meeting of the three public bodies mirrored the mood of the public open house on design guidelines held two weeks earlier (Sept. 2) at the Kerrytown Concert House – people were more interested in issues of implementation than in content.

woman, left, and man, right, seated at table; the man is talking

Alexis DiLeo, city planner, and Abe Barge of Winter & Company, a consulting firm. (Photo by the writer.)

But what is it that people are so concerned about implementing? Abe Barge of Winter & Company, which is consulting on the project, gave essentially the same presentation at both events. He walked both audiences through the main features of the Aug. 28 draft of the design guidelines document.

Chapter One covers general urban design principles – massing (how big is a building), frontage (how a building is experienced at the sidewalk), and other miscellaneous principles. The section on massing discusses, for example, how the perception of the overall height of a building is affected by its front. Consider a building with a front that rises from the sidewalk to a height of two stories then steps back slightly, before rising to a greater overall building height of six stories. That building will feel different to a pedestrian than one that rises to six stories straight up from the sidewalk.

Chapter Two becomes somewhat more focused on the idiosyncratic properties of Ann Arbor’s downtown. The principles themselves are not peculiar to downtown Ann Arbor, but the particular set of principles reflects a priority selection out of general design principles. They’re grouped into three categories: how buildings fit into the context of other buildings, the overall shape of buildings themselves, and the specific parts of buildings. In the vocabulary of design, these translate into: site planning, building massing, and building elements.

Number one on the list for site planning in downtown Ann Arbor are pedestrian connections, followed by open space. For building massing, it’s height and articulation that are top priority. It’s not just a matter of how tall a building is. It’s important to break up the mass of a building visually – both horizontally and vertically, according to the guidelines. And finally for building elements, it’s those parts of the building at the street edge that are most important, including where entrances are located and how they’re highlighted.

woman and man standing facing each other, both have upturned palms

DDA board members Leah Gunn and Roger Hewitt before the work session. Despite appearances, they were not checking for rain inside the CTN studios. (Photo by the writer.)

In Chapter Three, the specific recommendations are laid out that are specific to each of eight different character districts within downtown Ann Arbor: South University, State Street, Liberty/Division, East Huron, Midtown, Main Street, Kerrytown, and First Street.

By way of example, for the South University area, it’s a top priority to provide a variety of building heights.


Barge sketched out the range of possible implementation systems for the design guidelines – from completely voluntary compliance, to a system that could result in denial of a project that did not achieve the intent of the guidelines. There are a variety of systems within that range.

The Chronicle discussed that range by phone with Alexis DiLeo, who’s been the city planner in charge of A2D2 since mid-summer, after Wendy Rampson began serving as interim director of planning development in the wake of Mark Lloyd’s departure. We also followed up by phone with Barge.

The document containing the guidelines – which would be adopted by city council resolution – would essentially be separate from the specification of how they would be implemented. Here’s our understanding of some of the options in the range of possible implementations:

  • Completely voluntary: Design guidelines exist as a resource for developers. Developers are free to look at the guidelines or not. They’re free to incorporate the guidelines into their downtown projects or not.
  • Obligatory process, voluntary compliance – a checklist: As a part of the site plan approval process, developers must submit a statement evaluating their project against a checklist of design guidelines. The statement would explain how a project does and does not meet the intent of the design guidelines. Regardless of how the project stacks up based on the developer’s self-evaluation or planning staff’s evaluation and feedback, the developer would not be legally compelled to change the project based on the design guidelines alone.
  • Obligatory process, voluntary compliance – a design review board/panel: As part of the site plan approval process, a design review panel/board reviews the proposal independently of city planning staff with respect to meeting the intent of relevant design guidelines. The panel/board would issue a written opinion of their evaluation, but the developer would not be legally compelled to change the project based on that opinion.
  • Obligatory process, obligatory compliance: As part of the site plan approval process, a design review panel/board reviews the proposal independently of city planning staff with respect to meeting the intent of relevant design guidelines. The panel/board would issue a written opinion of their evaluation and that opinion would be legally binding. Otherwise put, a project could be denied based on a design review board’s assessment.

The most recent direction given to Winter & Company was by the A2D2 oversight committee in a conference call over the summer. The oversight committee consists of Marcia Higgins (city council), Roger Hewitt (DDA board) and Evan Pratt (planning commission). Their direction is reflected in the introduction to the design guidelines:

[Aug. 28, 2009 Draft] Compliance with the design guidelines is voluntary but applications for site plan approval in the D1 and D2 zoning districts must include a Design Guidelines Statement describing how the proposed project relates to the priority guidelines in Chapter 2: General Design Guidelines and any priority guidelines for the relevant character district in Chapter 3: Design Guidelines for Character Districts. Refer to the Land Development regulations within Chapter 57 of the City Code for specific requirements.

This most recent draft does not introduce the concept of a design review panel.

That contrasts somewhat with the approach of an earlier draft, which explicitly mentions such a panel and its role in the process:

[April 30, 2008 Draft] Design Advisory Panel. A special design advisory panel will be established as a resource for the decision-making process. Their role will be advisory only. Staff may draw upon the expertise of this panel for interpreting the design guidelines. Applicants may also request the assistance of the panel as part of the review.

At Monday’s joint work session, planning commissioner Kirk Westphal referenced a report from even earlier – in October 2007 – which articulated an expectation that there would be some kind of independent review body:

Design Advisory Resource Panel. A special panel will be established to provide advice to staff in making design review decisions. The majority of this group shall be design professionals, but it should also include some downtown property owners and community advocates. The panel will meet on an as-needed basis. Since their actions will only be advisory, no formal hearing will be required. All meetings will be open to the public and advance notice will be given in order to give the public an opportunity to attend their meetings. The panel will provide their advice to staff on the interpretation of the design guidelines as needed/requested.

At the Kerrytown Concert House meeting on Sept. 2, Ray Detter, who’s president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, had expressed his long-standing expectation “that the design guidelines would be enforced with a mandatory design review process that included some form of peer group or planning staff review board.”

Following up by phone with Detter, he clarified for The Chronicle that he was not advocating for mandatory compliance with the finding of such a board. While the community was still learning what these guidelines actually are, he said, it would be premature to take that step.

Deliberations at the Work Session

Attendees at the work session in CTN studios had various clarificational questions for staff and the consultant. For example, city councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted to know what the advantages of a staff versus an external board review would be. Answer: Ease – staff are already in place. They also had additional requests of the consultant. For example, city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked if it were possible to take some potential downtown development sites and mock up the biggest, ugliest buildings possible within the zoning constraints, then look at the impact that the design guidelines would have on such buildings if they were followed.

group seated at long tables configured in an L

From left to right: (planning commissioners) Eric Mahler, Erica Briggs, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Bonnie Bona; (city councilmembers) Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Christopher Taylor; (DDA boardmembers) Joan Lowenstein, Leah Gunn, Roger Hewitt; (staff) Jayne Miller, director of community services with the city of Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

Stephen Rapundalo seemed to express some skepticism of a mandatory compliance system, asking, “How do you legislate design?” And planning commissioner Eric Mahler expressed some doubts about whether the malleable concepts in the guidelines – like “visual interest” – would pass legal muster if implemented as part of a mandatory compliance system. Queried by Mahler, Barge said that in his view, the language of the guidelines was ready to go for mandatory compliance, if that’s the direction the city of Ann Arbor decided it wanted to pursue.

But as far as back-and-forth among the members of the three public bodies – city council, planning commission, and DDA board – not much was on offer on Monday night. The seating configuration – an “L” that put 11 people on one side and another 7 people on the other leg – was perhaps an inhibitor to dialogue.

At some point there will need to be specific direction given by the city council to staff with respect to the desired implementation of the design guidelines. Unless the direction is to make the design guidelines an optional informational resource – with no formal role at all in the application process – then in addition to adoption of the guidelines by city council resolution, Chapter 57 of the city code would also need some kind of amendment.

The current game plan is for city council to vote on design guidelines in mid-October.

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Zoning 101: Area, Height, Placement Mon, 27 Jul 2009 00:48:51 +0000 Dave Askins contrast between pedestrian-oriented development and sprawl Ann Arbor public meeting

City planner Jeff Kahan shows a slide demonstrating the contrast between sprawl and pedestrian-oriented development – the top and bottom images are of the same corridor. (Photo by the writer.)

At Cobblestone Farm on Thursday evening, planning staff from the city of Ann Arbor presented proposed changes in the area, height, and placement specifications for various zoning districts throughout Ann Arbor.

The proposal is not a “rezoning” of all the area outside of Ann Arbor’s downtown – it’s a proposal to adjust the density, height, and setback requirements of existing zoning districts. There are no parcels designated for rezoning as a part of the AHP project. The project is thus different in character from the A2D2 project, which will result in a rezoning of the downtown.

The AHP proposal was actually intended to come before city council for approval in the fall of 2008, but on direction from the council, city planning staff were asked to get more community input.

About two dozen people attended Thursday’s meeting, the fifth in a series of at least seven public meetings to be held over the summer months – one meeting for each of five wards, bookended by community-wide meetings. Though divided by ward, anyone from any ward can attend any of the meetings, including the Ward 5 meeting to be held from 6:30-8 p.m. on July 30 at Forsythe Middle School Media Center.

So what is the AHP proposal? It’s not simply meant to clean up ordinance language in a way that has no material impact on future development. The proposal is meant to have an impact on how land gets used throughout Ann Arbor. What specifically is being proposed? What’s the zoning for where you live and work? What is zoning, anyhow? More after the break.

Zoning Basics: No Printing in My Backyard

All other things being equal, it is expected in the U.S. tradition that property owners have the right to use land in whatever way they see fit. Zoning is one way in which not all other things are equal. The basic idea of zoning is that property owners cede certain rights to use of their property, in exchange for a certain orderliness in the evolution and use of the land – that’s considered to be for the public good.

For example, The Chronicle owns a parcel measuring 40 x 90 feet in the Old West Side of Ann Arbor. We might contemplate the possibility of operating a small iron smelting operation in the backyard. Or perhaps more plausibly, we could contemplate operating a printing press somewhere on the lot for the not-yet-real printed edition of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

In any case, it’s reasonable to think that large-scale printing is not in the public interest in our current location – in the middle of a neighborhood where the primary activity here is just people living: eating, sleeping, walking around, falling in love, and the like. Through their clatter and vibrations, not to mention the semi-trailer deliveries of ink and paper, large-scale printing on big presses would impose an unreasonable  burden on adjoining property owners, who’ve chosen to do no more than just live on their property.

So what’s to stop us? Zoning. How specifically does zoning stop us from printing The Chronicle in our backyard on gigantic printing presses?

The city code of Ann Arbor specifies that:

Ann Arbor shall be, and hereby is, divided into zoning districts as enumerated in the schedule of use regulations and schedule of area, height and placement regulations.

What’s our zoning district? The city of Ann Arbor’s property tax portal allows access to a wealth of information about properties in the city – no need to be the owner of a parcel to check its taxable value, owner information, purchase price of the property, acreage, photograph from the street, or zoning district.

According to that online source, The Chronicle’s parcel is zoned as an R2A district.

What uses are allowed for a parcel that’s been zoned R2A? One place to check what an R2A district allows is the city code, accessible through the Ann Arbor city code gateway.

Chapter 55 Article 2 Use Regulations

5:10.3. R2A two-family dwelling district.
(1) Intent. This district is intended to provide residential areas in the City which are suitable for 2 single-family attached dwellings occupying 1 lot. The district is intended to create areas of essentially single family residential character utilizing 2 single-family dwelling units which are attached either side to side or vertically. The district is intended to be similar to the R1D district, except for the different type and slightly higher density of dwelling units. Locational criteria for the application of this district should include the availability or provision of adequate services to serve such higher densities. It may be used as a transition zone between single-family areas and other areas.
(2) Permitted principal uses.
(a) Any permitted principal use or special exception use allowed in the R1 districts, subject to all the regulations that apply in that district.
(b) Two-family dwelling.
(3) Permitted accessory uses.
(a) Those allowed in the R1 districts.

The permitted principal use for The Chronicle’s R2A parcel thus includes living in (up to) a two-family kind of way, which is what we currently use it for. What the city code doesn’t say, however, is that we can’t use the land to operate presses for printing The Chronicle by including, for example, language like: “No use shall be made of an R2A area for commercial or industrial purposes.” There is no statement expressly prohibiting that commercial or industrial use. However, the “it doesn’t say I can’t” argument founders on this line from the city’s zoning code:

Uses not expressly permitted are prohibited.

Otherwise put, the permitted uses for zoning districts that are specified in the code should be understood as meaning: “Here’s the only things for which the land in this kind of zoning district can be used.”

Jeff Kahan showing the Armory in downtown Ann Arbor

Jeff Kahan illustrating the idea of redevelopment of existing structures, with the example of the Armory condo building on Ann Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

What’s AHP?

In addition to the “use regulations” for each zoning district, the zoning code specifies “area, height, and placement” standards for each zoning district. That’s what the AHP project is intended to address for the area outside of downtown – the part of the city not covered by the A2D2 project for the city’s downtown. Around a year ago, it was common to hear the AHP project described as addressing the city’s “donut” corresponding to the A2D2 “hole,” but that description seems to have fallen out of favor.


For AHP, “area” is a measure of density, specifically floor area ratio (FAR). FAR 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%. It’s worth resisting the inclination to think of FAR percentages as corresponding to stories – as in 100% is one story, 200% is two stories, 300% is three stories, etc. For example, imagine a building constructed on a footprint covering just one-quarter of the lot. If it were built four stories tall, such a building would have an FAR of only 100%.


If the “area” in AHP is an indirect measure of a building’s height, then the “height” in AHP is a direct measurement. Instead of the percentages specified in the “area” regulations, the height regulations are expressed in terms of feet. The interpretation of those height limits has come under close scrutiny over the last several months in connection with the “matter of right” version of the City Place project proposed for South Fifth Avenue.

The height definition for a perfectly rectangular building with a flat roof is straightforward: measure from the ground to the top of the roof. For a structure with a pitched roof, the “top of the roof” is by code definition not the peak of the roof, but rather the midpoint between the eave of the roof and its peak. Critics of the City Place project – located in an R4C zoning (multi-family dwelling) district – have argued that the correct interpretation of that proposed building’s eave corresponds to a “dormer’s” eave, which is higher than the building element identified by staff as the building’s eave.


For a given piece of land and a given permitted use, it’s reasonable to think that adjoining property owners might care about where a structure is built on that land right next to them. It’s one thing to have a printing plant located in the middle of the piece of land next door, with nice buffer areas all around, but it’s quite another to have a printing plant right on the lot line next door.

It is the “placement” regulations of the zoning code that govern where a building can be constructed within a particular lot. Placement regulations are expressed in terms of “setbacks.” For example, a 25-foot minimum front setback would mean that a building needs to have a 25-foot buffer between it and the front lot line.

Goal of the AHP project, Jeff Kahan standing in front of a slide

City planner Jeff Kahan presents the goals of the AHP project. (Photo by the writer.)

What’s the Goal of the AHP Project?

The idea behind the update of area, height, and placement standards is not just to “freshen” them up with new planning vocabulary, but rather to create development standards that accurately reflect current values for land use, instead of the prevailing values at the time the area, height, and placement standards were established – some 50 years ago.

What were the development values of the 1950s and ’60s? They’re summarized by the city of Ann Arbor as: “… segregated land uses, wide streets, large parking lots, large setbacks, single-story buildings, auto-oriented retail centers, and low-intensity employment centers.”

So one stated goal of the AHP project is to establish area, height, and placement standards more consistent with transit-oriented development – which encourages new development, including residential uses, along major transportation routes. After Thursday’s meeting, Jeff Kahan, a city of Ann Arbor planner and manager of the AHP project, told The Chronicle that he’d coordinated the AHP project with Ann Arbor’s recent Transportation Plan Update. In public presentations of the TPU, Eli Cooper, the city’s transporation program manager, consistently emphasized that  transit-oriented development was crucial to the TPU’s success.

Another stated goal of the AHP project is to improve access to facilities by non-motorized transportation and to encourage more efficient land use – providing an environmental benefit.

How Are Current Values Reflected in Proposed Changes?

In broad strokes, the changes to area, height, and placement regulations across various districts can be summarized as follows:

  • Area: Allow increased floor area ratios (FAR) – i.e., increased density – for office, research, local business, fringe commercial, and limited industrial districts. Summarizing the proposed changes across all those zoning districts, they would increase FAR from 40-60% currently, to 75-200% as proposed. To the extent that these districts are located along major transportation routes, it’s straightforward to see how proposed changes fit the notion of transit-oriented development.
  • Height: Allow increased height in order that a given density can be “captured vertically” – resulting in more open space – or allowing for parking of cars under a structure, which results in less impervious surface, compared to an ordinary surface parking lot. The proposed height increases range from a 5-foot increase (from 30 to 35 feet ) in some residential districts, to an 80-foot increase (from 40 feet to 120 feet) in hotel districts. There is no height increase proposed for R4C – worth noting for the controversy over the height of the City Place project, which is located in an R4C district.
  • Placement: Allow decreased minimum setbacks and/or introduce maximum setbacks across a wide range of residential and other districts. For example, under the AHP proposal, the R2A district would keep its minimum front setback of 25 feet, but add a maximum front setback of 40 feet. For local business districts and community convenience center districts, their 25-foot minimum front setbacks would be eliminated. Moving buildings closer to sidewalks would mean that pedestrians would have easier access to them.

We refer readers to a comprehensive summary all proposed AHP changes for details of each zoning district. Note: At Thursday’s Cobblestone Farm meeting, Kahan indicated that the proposed uncapped heights for office and research districts had already been revised, based on public input from the first four AHP meetings – the uncapped height would likely be scrapped in favor of some specific height limit. More revisions to the proposal could be undertaken, said Kahan, depending on public feedback.

notes taken by planning staff at the Cobblestone Farm meeting

Notes taken by planning staff at the Cobblestone Farm meeting. (Photo by the writer. Photo links to higher resolution image.)

Meeting Feedback

Meeting format

Several of the comments from the public focused on the meeting format. One resident suggested that questions be allowed during the staff presentation so that residents did not have to refer back to previous slides. At the conclusion of the meeting, some residents expressed frustration that time had run out for questions – as it had at previous meetings.

One resident requested contact information for the citizen representatives from each ward to the AHP committee.

Marcia Higgins, one of Ward 4′s city councilmembers, noted that the entire process of the AHP project could always be extended – it wasn’t just a matter of possibly extending individual meetings.

One critique of the meeting was that although there’d been a presentation and time for question and statements, there had been no time allotted for a discussion among the community members.

City planner Connie Pulcipher, who along with Kahan facilitated the AHP presentation, noted that the final community-wide meeting had not yet been scheduled, so perhaps changes to the format could be considered for that meeting.

Some residents questioned whether there had been adequate efforts to really engage the community – given the time of year when many people are away.

Some attendees were unclear about the origins of the project. Kahan explained that the initial draft of the proposal had been developed by planning staff working with the planning commission. The draft had been reviewed by a technical advisory committee with representatives from various stakeholder communities – environmental, design and development. The planning commission’s ordinance review committee had then reviewed the draft and made changes. The revised draft was then reviewed at two meetings of a wider group of stakeholders.

That  proposal had been presented to the city council at a work session in September of 2008. The council directed the planning staff to take it back to the public at large for a greater amount of citizen involvement.

This inclusion of stakeholder groups, but without the engagement of the public at large, was a point critiqued at Thursday’s Cobblestone Farm meeting.

R4D and Implications for Other Districts

The proposed changes for area, height, and placement in the R4D district – which is a multi-family residential district – includes an increase in the existing maximum height from 60 feet to 120 feet. Staff were asked to explain where these districts are located throughout the city. There are three sites citywide that are zoned are R4D, Kahan said. One of them, along Traver, is vacant. Kahan explained that there was no proposed increase in density for those districts, but the idea was to capture the current level of density in a possibly greater height, which would increase the amount of open space.

Noting that R4D is proposed to have its maximum height limit increased from 60 feet to 120 feet, one resident asked what would prevent a different district – say for example, R4B – from being rezoned to R4D, so that the parcel could benefit from the increased height limit. Kahan noted that in any actual rezoning decision, the first question to ask was: Is there any justification for the rezoning? He also pointed out that any rezoning required a planning commission process and permission from the city council, stressing that a rezoning decision was “not a backdoor decision.”

Comparisons to Other Communities

One resident wanted to know if there was an optimal ratio of residential/office/commercial zoning districts that seemed to present itself after city of Ann Arbor staff had studied comparable communities. Kahan rejected the idea that there was some kind of “magic formula,” saying that each city pursues its own path. What was important, Kahan said, was to move away from an automobile-centric model to a pedestrian/transit-based model. Key to that move, he continued, was increasing the floor area ratios along transit corridors.


Connie Pulcipher, a planner with the city of Ann Arbor, sketches a mid-block cut-through in response to a question. (Photo by the writer.)

Mid-block Cut-throughs

One attendee wanted to know if there were any incentives for creating mid-block cut-throughs – ways to get through what would otherwise be a solid frontage of buildings across an entire block. The context of the question related to the idea of moving retail buildings very close to the street and locating parking for those retail establishments behind the buildings.

A mid-block cut-through, suggested the attendee, might facilitate easier access from the parking to the retail establishments. Kahan replied that there was no specific incentive for that within the AHP project. He characterized the issue of establishing incentives for mid-block cut-throughs as relating to a second phase of master planning that would eventually be undertaken by the city.

Dicken Woods

One resident expressed concern about the impact of the proposal on Dicken Woods. Present at Thursday’s Cobblestone Farm meeting was Jack Eaton, president of the Friends of Dicken Woods, who clarified that Dicken Woods was currently still a township island. Marcia Higgins, a Ward 4 city councilmember, added that the area still needs to be annexed to the city. Connie Pulcipher, senior planner with the city, confirmed that the only thing that would change with respect to Dicken Woods is that it would be annexed – it would not be rezoned by the AHP project.

What Will Ensure Mixed Use?

One resident had concerns about situations where a residential zoning district abutted a commercial zoning district – which was slated under the AHP proposal to be allowed a greater floor area ratio. His question: What keeps a developer from simply building a bigger gas station with bigger lights instead of a nice mixed-use building with residential units? Kahan noted that it was impossible to dictate to developers exactly what they built, but that the zoning code helped enforce reasonableness through its list of principal permitted uses.

Given where the questioner lived, the conversation focused on the intersection of Packard and Stadium and the four corners of that intersection. What would happen if the owners of those parcels simply started “packing stuff in”? Kahan noted that there were various practical considerations that mitigated against the “packing of stuff into the parcel.” Among those practical considerations was the requirement of stormwater detention on site for new development. In addition, “conflicting land use buffers” would help ensure a certain protection for adjoining residential parcels. [See Chapter 62 of the city code for discussion of conflicting land use buffers.]

On hearing “conflicting use buffer,” the resident allowed that this made him feel a little bit better that the new proposal would not lead to the creation of an “Über-gas-station.” Pulcipher, for her part, sought to elicit from the resident his views of a facility next door that would not be an “Über-gas-station,” but that would include parking underneath the building, some retail, and residential. That was something that the resident seemed not prepared to express a view on, given the hypothetical nature of the question.

Truth in Advertising?

One resident said she liked the images included in the presentation of the kind of development that these regulations were meant to promote, but asked how the city could ensure that the final built product matched up to what was approved as a part of a developer’s site plan. Kahan said that many of the elements that had caused frustration in the past were now made explicit in the development agreement.

The questioner was possibly alluding to the case of the Corner House Lofts building – also known commonly as the Buffalo Wild Wings building – in which the final built product did not measure up to expectations by some, based on drawings and site plans. One notable feature that is frequently cited anecdotally as missing are balconies on the building. Kahan noted that developers were now required to show elevation drawings that included proposed vegetation and drawings that excluded it for greater ease in evaluating what exactly was being indicated in the site plan.

One Size Fits All?

One resident expressed concern that two parcels with the same zoning district classification might exist in completely different contexts, so that “one size fits all zoning” might not be appropriate. For example, the M1 zoning district along North Main and the Huron River is a different context from the M1 zoning districts that exist south of town.

Parking Area In Exchange for Bus Stops?

One resident suggested that in the interest of transit-oriented development one could perhaps imagine allowing developers to retain surface parking lots if they would guarantee that the parking spots could be used as park-and-ride lots for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. This suggestion relates specifically to AATA’s recent eviction from the Arborland shopping plaza.

Timeline for Impact?

In response to Kahan’s expressed expectation that there would not be a rush of development as a result of the proposed changes to area, height, and placement, one resident expressed skepticism. “Developers are constantly sniffing around,” he said. In an allusion to the City Place project, the resident noted that the result of the “sniffing around” was that all of a sudden seven houses on one block are owned by one person. If not developers, continued the resident, then the University of Michigan is sniffing around. Responding to the quality of the kind of development shown in the slides, the resident suggested that the proposal would result in the “Southfield-ization” of Ann Arbor.

Easing the Process for Developers?

One resident expressed shock and dismay that these proposals would be undertaken, contending it would make things easier for developers. After hearing the frequently-repeated principle that if a project met the code, that made it a “matter of right project,” for which the city council could not deny approval, she concluded the AHP proposal would make it more difficult for the council to say no to a new development.

How Many Unrelated People Can Live Together?

Regulations on residential occupancy in the city code specify that:

(2) A dwelling unit may not be occupied by more persons than 1 of the following family living arrangements:
(a) One or more persons related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship living as a single housekeeping unit, in all districts.
(b) Four persons plus their offspring living as a single housekeeping unit, in all districts.
(c) Six persons living as a single housekeeping unit in R4 districts. [Emphasis added]
(d) A functional family living as a single housekeeping unit which has received a special exception use permit pursuant to section 5:104.

This part of the code has often led to controversy in the case of projects proposed that essentially target the student rental market. Crtitics contend that the six people occupying the dwelling units of such a private dorm do not in fact constitute a housekeeping unit.

On Thursday, one attendee wanted to know when and how the six-person rule came about. Kahan said he wasn’t sure. The attendee suggested that this part of the code should simply be revised downward to four people, which would have the effect of preventing the creation of “mini-dorms.”


Heading home along Packard, Hatim Elhady – an independent candidate for Ward 4 city council representative who’d attended the AHP meeting – gave The Chronicle a friendly beep on the horn as he drove past. Chalk one up in the positive car-bicycle interaction column.

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Unscripted Deliberations on Library Lot Thu, 09 Jul 2009 22:09:26 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2009): The word “public” covered much of the ground of this past Monday’s meeting: public art, public land, public input.
closeup of printout of Anglin's amendment with edits by Briere

Mike Anglin’s (Ward 5) amendment with edits made by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) at the council table.

The council got an annual report from the Public Art Commission highlighted by a reminder that Herbert Dreiseitl will be visiting Ann Arbor on July 20 to introduce plans for the storm water art he’s been commissioned to design for the new municipal center. The designs have not yet been accepted.

The council also heard a report from the Greenbelt Advisory Commission on a slight strategy shift in the use of $10 million of public money so far to protect 1,321 acres of land. The  council also approved a resolution to preserve the First & William parking lot as public land.

The discussion of another parcel of public land, the library lot, led to long deliberations on the wording of a resolution to establish an RFP (request for proposals) process for development of the site – below which an underground parking structure is planned. At issue was the timing of the RFP and the explicit inclusion of a public participation component in the process. The deliberations provided some insight into how councilmembers work together when the outcome of their conversations at the table is not scripted or pre-planned.

Planning in the sense of “land use” was also a topic addressed in multiple agenda items by the council. Councilmembers passed a resolution establishing a study committee to review the R4C and the R2A residential zoning districts – a bid by the Ward 3 council contingent to eliminate R2A from the purview of the committee got no support from others.

Having received a recommendation from the Downtown Development Authority board on the A2D2 zoning package that they wanted to examine more closely, the council postponed for two weeks the first reading of the A2D2 zoning package. The site plan for Walgreen on Jackson Road, near Maple Road, was approved with permits contingent on an easement for ingress and egress.

The November city council campaign in Ward 4 began to take shape when independent candidate Hatim Elhady took a turn at public commentary, and he took the occasion to ask some questions of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), the incumbent he’s challenging.

Site Development Committee and RFP for the Library Lot



The planned underground parking garage along Fifth Avenue has generated discussion about the “What goes on top?” question. In March, the DDA passed a resolution in support of making DDA resources available for facilitating a public process. From The Chronicle’s meeting report:

Community Vision for 300 Block of South Fifth Avenue: What Goes on Top? [Sandi] Smith introduced the resolution, which states support of a process to develop a community vision for the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue. She said that it was prompted by the dialogue about the undergound parking garage, which had prompted the frequent question from residents: What goes on top? The idea, said Smith, was to begin a community conversation that was vague, free from preconception, and not steering towards some pre-set notion.

[John] Hieftje said he was happy to begin the discusison and that the reason it hasn’t come before is that it’s not a good economic environment to start a project. People needed to understand, he said, that it would be a few years before that climate would change.

[John] Mouat said it was an interesting urban planning exercise involving potentially a lot of different groups. “Are we really prepared to take it on?” he wondered.

John Splitt stressed that the DDA would just be offering resources: “We’re not trying to steer it into any direction; we’re there to help.” [Jennifer] Hall said she supported it, and pointed out that the discussion would include the whole block, not just the library lot. “Somebody needs to get out the door,” she said. “It should have been done ages ago.”

Public Commentary on Library Lot Site Development

During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Alan Haber and Hatim Elhady addressed the council, speaking on the topic of the library lot site development.

Alan Haber: Haber began, “By the time questions get here, the fix is in and the deal is done and this is ceremonial democracy so that the people will think that we had something to do with this.” Haber sketched a scene of an America that is owned by banks, and the local landscape dominated physically by the “elite monumentalism” of the university. He gave the newly renovated Michigan Stadium as an example. He expressed the hope that sometimes people can actually change their minds and let the people’s voices come in. Haber proposed that the council dedicate the parcel as public land, dedicated to the culture of peace and nonviolence for the children of the world. “Build a park on the Commons, on the public land. Build it all-season, make it solar, geothermal, a place for community, embrace the vision of The Commons, a place for people to come together to sustain themselves and each other.”

Hatim Elhady: [Councilmember Marcia Higgins will be unchallenged in her August Democratic primary, but will face Hatim Elhady, who's running as an independent, in the fall.] Elhady began with a point blank question: “I would like to ask councilmember Higgins just what the rush is to build atop a nonexistent parking lot a project threatened with a lawsuit from an environmental group – when the Stadium bridge has gone unrepaired since you and George W. Bush were elected into office?”

Elhady noted that there were emails from the mayor and other councilmembers to constituents saying there were no plans to build anything on top of the library lot and that it could be years before anything is built, but that soon after the emails were sent it had been declared there must be something built. He focused on two clauses in the resolution. [The first of these was eventually taken up during council deliberations by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).] The first clause that Elhady highlighted specifies that the the site must bring financial return to the city. The second says that the city administration shall incorporate a design committee with residents. From that Elhady reasoned that residents can have whatever they want – as long as it brings revenue. This immediately tosses out the idea, he contended, that a park should be made with swings in it. The citizens of Ann Arbor deserve honest and open answers to their questions and an inclusive and thoroughly deliberate discussion about what gets built in their city before council votes to issue RFPs, he concluded.

Deliberations by Council on the Library Lot Process

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) introduced the resolution by acknowledging that it had morphed a little bit based on input from the public and from the council. At the immediately previous council meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had moved successfully for a postponement of the resolution to establish a committee on site development of the library lot.

The general context described by Smith in which the resolution was being brought forward was one in which the council had received an unsolicited proposal from a developer. Drawings had been provided to councilmembers at their January 2009 budget retreat. The idea, said Smith, was to throw the door open wide to any and all other proposals to see what they get.

Mike Anglin then offered amendments to the resolution, couching them in terms of the council’s commitment to public participation in development decisions. He said that the same requirement for public participation should apply to city projects as well as private developments. Anglin circulated printed copies of the amendment language to all of his council colleagues. Anglin noted that there was a feeling in the community that the space itself was very special and that it has the potential to become something spectacular. Anglin’s amendment:

RESOLVED: That the city conduct a series of public meetings to determine citizen opinion on the desired use of the site before the RFP is prepared.

Anglin’s amendment also proposed to strike the date-related resolved clauses specifying an RFP issuance on Aug. 3 and a 60-day time frame for submissions.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) began deliberations on the amendment by saying that he appreciated Anglin’s motives, saying that they were “well served.” But he reminded his colleagues that this was an RFP process and that removing the dates reflected a non-standard way of moving forward. Having dates certain ensured that everyone had the same amount of time to respond to the proposal, Rapundalo said. He echoed Smith’s view that the process really did open the door wide to anything and everything that someone might propose. He said that once the RFP process was finished that it was reasonable to expect that there would be some kind of public review of proposals. He characterized the RFP processes that he’d been a part of over the years as “very deliberate.” Rapundalo concluded that he would not be supporting the amendment.

Anglin then challenged his fellow councilmembers to describe what the public input to date had been on the subject. A longish pause ensued.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) responded to Anglin by saying that the community had been talking about the downtown for six years. Over the years, she said, they’d talked about what might happen to the parcel if it were ever developed: There’d been ideas about selling the parcel, and they’d heard from groups about making it into a park; they’d heard a proposal to put an ice rink there; and it’d had been discussed as a possible location for the municipal center. During that whole period, Higgins said, they’d heard many different ideas about what should happen on the lot.

What they had not yet heard, she allowed, was council saying that they would like to hear from everybody, and that’s what this RFP process was about.

[Analysis: Here Higgins acknowledged that there'd been a lot of talk by a lot of people, but never a specific directed process meant to achieve some specific design proposal. It could have been used as a common ground gambit, but was mostly missed in subsequent deliberations by Anglin, Rapundalo and Leigh Greden. Higgins' characterization allowed that there'd been a lot of discussion up to now (which occupied subsequent focus by Greden and Rapundalo) but none as specifically directed and as wide open as this one they were about to contemplate – the only part that Anglin focused on.]

“We are not saying that it is a done deal,” Higgins stressed. She allowed that people had heard there was a group who had convinced the council that the parcel should be used for a conference center. She’d also heard from greenway advocates that the parcel could become another park area. She’d heard the mayor advocate for a very long time that he would like to see an ice skating rink downtown as a part of any project that might be done there.

Part of this proposed process, Higgins emphasized, was to say that there were no particular criteria that they were looking for. She said she was hoping for lots of different ideas to be proposed. The proposals would all go forward for review by the committee, she said, which would include citizens. That, she declared, would start the public process. She concluded that it was the most wide-open RFP process that she had ever seen the city council do.

Higgins said that if, after 60 days, the city administrator reported that they had received no proposals, then the council could easily extend the time frame.

Tony Derezinski reading papers at council table, Sabra Briere in background

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) read through an amendment by Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) weighed in by saying that it was not a question of whether to have public participation but rather when. Once council had a series of proposals, he said – with different themes and with different uses for that property – then it was appropriate to have public input as to which one might be picked. Restricting the process of beginning, he said, would simply choke off the flow of potential alternatives. He stressed that council should wait and see what proposals they received, noting that the public input on the proposals was going to be incredible in any case. “It’s a question of what you choose from,” Derezinski concluded.

Leigh Greden (Ward 3) said he agreed with the idea of some additional public process associated with the site, and that the question was when and in what form. He allowed that he did not know if he had a position on the “when” question– is it after the bids come in, or is it earlier in the process?

Greden said he wanted to point out that there had been extensive public process already to date on this particular site. Greden appealed to the historical record of a resolution passed in November of 2007 in which council had talked about the development of the area above what could eventually become the future underground parking garage.

The language of that resolution, which authorized the DDA to design and construct the underground parking garage, was quoted subsequently in deliberations by Stephen Rapundalo:

… Whereas, The land above an underground parking garage on the South Fifth Avenue lot could be used in the near future to support new residential, retail, and/or office development and open space for public use, thus increasing the number of downtown residents, employees, and visitors, increasing the tax base, creating jobs, and enhancing the experience of being downtown; and …

… Be it further resolved … the underground parking garage shall be designed to support above ground, in the short-term, surface public parking, and in the long-term, development which could include, but is not limited to, a residential, retail, and/or office building(s) and a public plaza;

Citizens had come and spoken at public comment on that, Greden said. In the process of the DDA designing the garage, Greden noted that the DDA had coordinated public activities to help design the underground garage itself and also to explore the question of what might go above the site. A second resolution, Greden said, had been passed in early 2008 that shows similar conversations were conducted.

While he agreed with the idea that there should be additional public input, Greden said that the language of the amendment was “too vague.” “Public meetings – what does that mean? How many?” he asked. Greden also allowed that the dates and times proposed in the original resolution (Aug. 3 and 60 days) might be too strict, but agreed with Rapundalo that there should be dates of some kind. He said he’d be open to an amendment of the dates but would not support eliminating them completely. He concluded that he would not support the amendment as written.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said that over the years there had been a significant amount of input from the public that had been specific to the site. However, he felt that some additional public input would be useful. Having no deadline, he cautioned, was not constructive for the process. Hohnke wanted to know what was meant by having “a financial return to the city,” but he was advised by Mayor John Hieftje that he needed to focus the amendment – which did not include that phrase.

Anglin, advised by Hieftje that this would be his last speaking turn without a suspension of council rules, contended that there had been no public input specifically on the library lot. The DDA, he said, had done “invite only” meetings. He then said he believed that the financing was not yet in place for what was to go below or on top, saying that it was not a done deal. And he then introduced a phrase that caused momentary confusion by saying that he would be calling for a “voice vote” on the issue – subsequently Hieftje would clarify that the intended term was “roll call vote.”

Anglin then admonished his colleagues that voting no on the amendment meant that they didn’t want the public to say anything more about this. Zeroing in on a previous mention of public process on the library lot as having begun with the Calthorpe process, Anglin declared: “And this nonsense of saying that we started this at Calthorpe, that is erroneous.” Anglin then contended that the cost of the underground parking structure was 25% greater than it needed to be, because the city council had already planned to put something on top of it. “The public has not been consulted. So tell the public that you don’t want them to vote on something that is so important to them.”

Anglin said that he was certainly happy to change the dates and that conversation could happen once it was determined there would be public input.

If Anglin had been blunt, then Rapundalo was equally so: “With all due respect to councilmember Anglin, I think a lot of what you allude to is, quite frankly, in your own words, ‘nonsense.’” Rapundalo stated that the Calthorpe process had been fully open to anybody and everybody and not limited to select groups. He noted the example that Greden had previously cited was a resolution that passed on the public record. Based on that resolution, Rapundalo concluded: “We are in no way limiting what could be there.”

Stephen Rapundalo at city council table with Tony Derezinski in background

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) explaining that before asking the public to weigh in he felt  there needed to be something “in hand” to show them.

Rapundalo related the timing of the solicitation of public input to having something specific for the public to evaluate: “I don’t have a problem going out to the public for their input. I’d like to have something in hand, and right now we have nothing.” Rapundalo reiterated that timelines are fairly standard for RFPs, then concluded with: “If you’re not up to speed on this, go back and do some homework on what has transpired at this body for years on end.”

Higgins then asked the city administrator, Roger Fraser, if the timelines were too restrictive. Fraser replied that he had provided input on the resolution and that he felt that it was doable to prepare the RFP by Aug. 3. Fraser characterized the 60 days as “tight but doable.”

Margie Teall (Ward 4) reported that at the last partnerships committee meeting of the DDA there had been discussion of putting the RFP out more widely, possibly on a national level. A longer timeframe, she said, might allow for something like that.

Greden analyzed Anglin’s reference to a roll call vote as an implication that councilmembers should be ashamed to vote no on the amendment. Greden said that he thought the amendment was a “poor proposal.” “It’s vague,” he said. Anglin’s proposal didn’t have any parameters for time, Greden said, but he allowed that Aug. 3 and 60 days were probably too strict – he would entertain some alternative proposal. He said he agreed that a proposal for some kind of specific public process might be useful before the RFP is issued – that was a fair debate, he allowed. Because the amendment lacked sufficient detail, he said, “I look forward to casting my vote on the record against this amendment and would happily entertain any alternatives that someone else at the table has to address those issues.”

[Link to a column: "How a Skilled Politician Plays Chess"]

Councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) identified the points of commonality around the table, focusing on the willingness of several people to discuss different dates as well as an agreement that there should be a public process. Councilmembers then thrashed through amendments to Anglin’s amendment at the level of wording differences like “determining public opinion” versus “soliciting public opinion.” There was constructive input from many around the table. One example was from Higgins, who warned that the explicit inclusion of a provision for public input might imply that the usual practice was not to have public input. The final draft reconstructed by The Chronicle:

RESOLVED: That the committee conduct a public meeting to solicit public input, consistent with usual practice.

At this point, the Aug. 3 date had been left intact, and the 60-day window was extended to 90 days.

The roll call vote on Anglin’s amended amendment resulted in unanimous approval.

Greden then proposed delaying the date for issuance of the RFP by a month. Subsequent deliberations, which included an invitation by Smith to Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, to offer her perspective, resulted in an Aug. 14 date for the issuance of the RFP.

Hohnke then returned to the issue of the phrasing “financial return to the city.” He asked if the intention was that it required there to be a profit or rather that any proposal be at least revenue neutral. Higgins indicated that a proposal yielding profit was fine but that a revenue-neutral proposal would also be fine.

In summing up the deliberations, Hieftje said that a challenge facing the city council was the question of when public input should be solicited. On the one hand, he said, council strived to get public input as early as possible. On the other hand, in his experience, the public generally wanted something to react to, and that without something concrete for the public to consider, there was the risk that some members of the public would feel like their time is being wasted.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously as amended.

Planning: A2D2 Rezoning Package


Public Commentary on A2D2 Rezoning

Bruce Thomson: Thomson owns property on the north side of East Huron Street. He noted that it had long been zoned as C2AR, so the idea that it was being “changed” to D1 was not accurate, he said. He noted that the currently proposed zoning as a part of A2D2 included a height limit that was 30 feet lower than the rest of downtown [150 compared to 180 feet], plus had a requirement of increased setbacks. He said he felt the proposal was a good compromise and reflected some good hard work. [Thomson's remarks came in the context of a relatively recent effort by residents of nearby tall buildings to see Thomson's property zoned D2 under the new ordinance, which would limit future building heights to 60 feet.]

Jerald Lax: Lax introduced himself as Thomson’s attorney and offered comment on a communication from a Michigan Department of Transportation employee that had been sent to the city related to the proposed D1 zoning on Huron Street. He cautioned that the letter had been elicited by the residents of a nearby tall building who did not wish to see another tall building built on Thompson’s property. He noted that the zoning designation that had been in place for decades – C2AR – allowed for unlimited height. He also noted that the property already had curb cuts.

John Etter: Etter said that he was the one who had provided information to MDOT and it had come as a surprise to him that MDOT had not been consulted in the context of the rezoning effort in Ann Arbor.

Bob Snyder: Snyder reminded councilmembers that they had received communications from a variety of sources and neighborhood groups recently on the subject of the A2D2 zoning ordinance that was on their agenda. He said there was overall support for the effort, which had included a lot of hard effort over several years. However, Snyder reported a certain anxiety over last-minute compromises that might take place without going back the citizens. He stressed that after five years of involvement in public process, the groups he’s involved with generally approved of the Downtown Plan, the Central Area Plan, and the DDA Renewal Plan of 2003. They supported the new zoning ordinances, but only in the context of the Downtown Plan plus a context-based design process. “Consistency is what we looking for,” he said. Snyder was critical of a last-minute attempt to increase the mass of buildings in the downtown.

Council Deliberations on A2D2

In response to the question raised during public commentary, Wendy Rampson, the city’s interim director for planning services, was asked to explain what the nature of the consultation had been with MDOT. Rampson noted that the communication conveyed to city council had come via MDOT’s Brighton service area. She noted that in addition to the Brighton office, the city of Ann Arbor dealt with MDOT via the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS). She indicated that she had given a presentation to that group in December of 2008 and in January of this year.

Rampson noted that the current zoning is similar to the zoning that is now proposed. She indicated that traffic would be addressed on a site-by-site basis.

The effort to increase building mass – to which Bob Snyder had referred in his public commentary – was rooted in a resolution passed by the DDA at its June 3 meeting. In relevant part, that resolution reads:

Given that City Council has resolved to impose building height limits in D1 and D2, the DDA respectfully recommends that if 33% or more of a floor of structured parking required by the zoning ordinance is being constructed within a development, the remaining parking needed to complete a floor of parking should not be calculated as part of the building’s FAR.

  • We recommend that the ratio for residential premiums be restored to a 1 to 1 proportion as is current zoning.
  • Now that a height limit has been established in the D1, we recommend that the by right zoning in the D1 be increased to 500%.
  • Further, to increase the community benefits of new buildings, we recommend that the FAR with
    premiums be increased to 900%, and with affordable housing to 1,100%.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated he didn’t have enough information on the interpretation of the suggestions that had been made by the DDA regarding building mass. He therefore asked for a two-week postponement in order to query staff. After confirming that the postponement would be to a date certain in two weeks, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said that council would still be able to take care of rezoning in time for the Sept. 14 joint working session with the planning commission on design guidelines.

Outcome: The first reading of the A2D2 zoning ordinance package was postponed until the July 20, 2009 meeting.

More Planning: R4C/R2 Zoning District Study Committee

As an amendment to the resolution to appoint an R4C and R2A zoning district study advisory committee, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) moved that the R2A district be eliminated from consideration, saying that it unnecessarily burdened the committee members and city staff.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who serves as city council’s representative to the planning commmission, appealed to a resolution from October 15, 2007 that specifically referenced the need to review both the R2A and the R4C districts. The idea, he said, was to do the review comprehensively: “Here’s the thing: Get it done!”

Higgins elicited from Jayne Miller, director of community services for the city, some of the rationale for consideration of the two districts together. First, these two districts represented the last classifications that planning staff needed to review in order to complete their comprehensive look at zoning for the whole city. R4C is more dense than R2A – R4C is multi-family housing, which also includes group housing, she explained. R2A is single- and two-family dwellings.

The idea, Miller said, was not to replace one zoning district with the other. The idea was that they should be considered together because there are many places, especially in the central area, where the two zoning classifications abutted each other. Higgins concluded that it would not be prudent to look at the zoning classifications separately, given their close geographic proximity, especially in this area.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he could appreciate the view of geographic primacy, but he felt that the designations were sufficiently distinct that they could be teased apart analytically. Sabra Briere acknowledged that it was important to analyze the two districts separately. But she noted that she herself lived in an R2A district, whereas her neighbors lived in R4C. She noted that her street was not unique in that the two districts were interwoven. She concluded the two kinds of district should both be within the purview of the study committee.

Outcome: The resolution to appoint the review committee passed with dissent from both Ward 3 councilmembers, Greden and Taylor.

More and More Planning: Possible Moratorium in R4C

During Mike Anglin’s (Ward 5) communications to council, he announced that he would be bringing forward at the council’s next meeting, on July 20, a resolution to establish a moratorium on all demolitions, rezoning, and all new developments that require site plan approval within the R4C and R2A districts, effective immediately.

Anglin indicated that the city attorney’s office was working on the language of such a resolution. The moratorium, said Anglin, would extend for a period of six months in conjunction with the study and possible revision of zoning ordinances pertaining to those districts. Anglin said that one of the goals was to bring the zoning ordinances in line with the Central Area Plan, which was adopted in 1992.

It was supposed to be ready in draft form by Thursday (July 9). In his report to the planning commission on Tuesday, July 6, Tony Derezinski – the council’s representative to that body – alerted the planning commission to Anglin’s intended resolution, concluding: “I don’t know how much support he’ll get.”

Even More Planning: Preserving First & William as Open Space


Public Commentary on First & William

Margaret Wong: Wong said that although she was affiliated with the Greenway Conservancy and the Friends of The Greenway, she was there to speak as a citizen. She said that she was encouraged by the resolution on the council’s agenda that would establish the First & William parking lot as open space, but noted that it was just the first step. She noted that there were specific concrete actions that need to be completed, which included seeking funds for the remediation, revising the mutually beneficial parking agreement with the DDA, and rezoning the land. She noted, however, that there was a crucial need to classify the parcel as parkland. She encouraged council to expedite all of these concrete steps.

Rita Mitchell: Mitchell said that she’d been working with Margaret Wong on the Greenway for a long time and she welcomed Mayor Hieftje and councilmember Hohnke to the effort. Mitchell echoed Wong’s sentiment that it is a first step. She noted the benefits deriving from turning the parcel into a park: flood risk mediation, and improvement of water quality. She stressed the need to make sure that this parcel becomes the first in a chain and to make sure that it is more than just a green space on a piece of paper.

Council Deliberations on First & William

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began deliberations with a friendly amendment of the resolution he co-sponsored with John Hieftje, which confirmed Margaret Wong’s view – reported previously in The Chronicle’s analysis and expressed during public commentary – that the Park Advisory Commission needed to designate the parcel as parkland in its Parks, Recreation & Open Space (PROS) plan. The amendment directed the commission to add the parcel to its PROS plan.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

Yep, More Planning: Walgreen Site Plan Approval

Dave Prueter: Prueter, with Agree Realty, appeared at the podium to indicate that he was present and available to answer any questions along with Marc Levy, the owner of the property.

John Lagos: Lagos, who is an adjoining property owner, asked the council to maintain the requirement that an easement be granted to allow ingress and egress. The easement, he said, should be granted prior to the issuance of any permits.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge told the council that any site plan should require the consideration of access for people with disabilities. In particular he cited the need to require access to public transportation riders. He cited the case of the recent eviction of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority from the Arborland shopping plaza as an example illustrating why a necessary requirement of any site plan should include such access.

During deliberations, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) clarified with staff that the easements mentioned by Lagos were in place to be granted in a manner that seemed acceptable to all sides.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

Fee Adjustments for Historic District Commission

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave the background for the resolution, which included the fact that application fees for a historic district permit had increased from $50 to $500 as a part of the recently passed budget by the city council. Briere noted that the fee increase had not been a part of the budget book circulated to councilmembers. Instead, she said that it had been provided in a packet that had been sent the day before they had voted.

The resolution changed the rules so that all application fees would be $40 until September, and directed city staff to develop a sliding fee schedule. Briere noted that it made little sense to charge a $500 application fee to someone who wanted to install a new door that might cost $100-$150. The fee schedule, Briere said, should not encourage residents to avoid going before the Historic District Commission.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Revised Park Advisory Commission Bylaws

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) thanked the city attorney’s office, in particular Kevin McDonald, for assistance in “getting into the weeds” with the review of PAC bylaws. There was a brief discussion about the fact that city council representatives to the Park Advisory Commission were non-voting members. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) noted that a similar situation applied in the case of the housing commission and the cable commission. Anglin said that he was surprised at the last Park Advisory Commission meeting that some members said they did not want councilmembers to have a vote on the commission.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Greenbelt Advisory Commission

Laura Rubin, who is chair of the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, gave a presentation outlining progress to date on land protection activity and provided an update on some changes in their strategic plan. Rubin said that 12 deals had been closed that protected 1,321 acres of land. The city itself, she said, had invested around $10 million, which had been matched by almost $9 million – in federal funds, funds from surrounding townships that had also passed a similar greenbelt millage, Washtenaw County, as well as landowner donations.

She reported the fund balance at around $6 million. Each year the millage generates around $1 million, she said. The focus to date on land protection had been in the area north of the city. Rubin, who is also executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, said that no land had yet been acquired on the Huron River itself, but that land on its tributaries had been protected with millage funds.

Rubin said there had been a change in the commission’s approach due to the overall economy. Whereas the commission previously had a real sense of urgency with the need possibly to pay top dollar to protect land, the market has slowed so there’s less need to act quickly.

In terms of general strategy, Rubin reported that the commission was placing a new priority on local food markets. Previously, land parcels greater than 40 acres had enjoyed a higher score on the metric used by the commission to evaluate parcels. Now, however, Rubin said that the commission had lightened its emphasis on matching funds when it came to smaller parcels that could be used for growing local food.

Leigh Greden (Ward 3) confirmed with Rubin that the dollars invested by the city had so far been matched on a roughly 1-1 ratio with other funds. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Rubin to speak to the new strategy of a local food focus, asking if it was related to the scale or if the emphasis was on organic food production.

Rubin clarified that it is the scale of the operation that is at issue. She said the new strategy is intended to provide that parcels of 5-10 acres were also suitable candidates for protection under the greenbelt millage. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked Rubin to clarify how easements are being handled for the smaller parcels. Rubin clarified that some of the easement language is more restrictive for investments that are matched by federal grants.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted to know whether the new emphasis on local food production amounted to a material change in scoring outcomes for parcels. Rubin clarified that there are still many other factors in the scoring metric used to assess suitability of protecting a particular parcel. But she said that the 40-acre threshold used to get quite a bit of weight. Rubin allowed that it amounted to an expansion of eligible properties.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was curious about what Rubin had meant by “going it alone” in the case of protecting some of the smaller parcels. Rubin clarified that it might well be that the city of Ann Arbor could be the only purchaser of development rights for some of the smaller parcels. If a parcel is less than 40 acres, she said, then the federal government cannot be a partner.

Higgins noted that this represented a policy shift, saying that it had always been the intended policy that the city of Ann Arbor would never be the sole purchaser. She stated, “I’ll have a conversation with you off-line.” Higgins explained that she was not sure if there had been a public enough discussion on this shift in policy.

Public Art Commission Annual Report: Dreiseitl

Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, gave an annual report to the Ann Arbor city council during the agenda’s introductions section. Parker said that in the commission’s first year it had designated the new municipal center as the focus for public art projects and had convened a task force to identify such projects in connection with the center’s construction. That work had begun in August of 2008, she said.

In February of 2009 the commission had hired a half-time administrator, Parker reported. She noted that the DDA had set up its own Percent for Art program and that the Fourth & William parking structure addition had generated funds that could be spent on public art. The DDA had designated the Public Art Commission as the body to allocate those funds but had not included any funds for administration, Parker said. She characterized the coordination between the two bodies – the city’s public art commission and the DDA – as “still being determined.”

Parker said that one half-time person would be able to accomplish not more than one major project per year. She announced that on July 20 Herbert Dreiseitl would be visiting Ann Arbor and that from 4-5 p.m. on that day he’d be presenting proposed designs for the storm water art to be installed at the new municipal center. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) inquired of Parker where the commission was currently getting its administrative help.Parker said that 8% of the money generated through the Percent for Art program goes to fund administration. She said that the city attorney’s office had been very helpful with legal concerns and that Sue McCormick, who is director of public services with the city, had also provided support.

Any arrangement with the DDA, Parker said, still needed to be clarified. “The DDA has their own way of doing things,” she concluded.

Airport Runway Expansion

Since the beginning of the year, public commentary at most, if not all, Ann Arbor city council meetings has included remarks on the proposed runway expansion at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.

Kathe Wunderlich: Wunderlich spoke against the proposed runway extension at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. She said that she wanted to correct some errors that had appeared in an Ann Arbor News article about a plane that had landed on the Stonebridge golf course recently. She stressed that the runway would be lengthened by 950 feet and that planes taking off from an airport took off directly over Stonebridge. She warned that the citizens advisory committee appointed in connection with the environmental review was loaded with Ann Arbor citizens and was therefore biased. She told city council that they would be asked to approve the runway extension without a safety study by the city, the state, or the Federal Aviation Administration. She noted that the Willow Run airport is just 6 miles away.

Miscellaneous Roundup

Two concerns leftover from the adoption of the FY 2010 budget were addressed formally: a Senior Center task force was appointed, and a task force to create a self-sustaining financial plan for Mack Pool was created.

Finally, a liquor license for the new Tios location on Liberty Street was approved.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, John Hieftje.

Absent: none.

Next Council Meeting: Monday, July 20, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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