Stories indexed with the term ‘R4C advisory committee’

R4C/R2A Zoning Proposals Reviewed

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Dec. 10, 2013): Continuing a years-long effort to overhaul the R4C/R2A residential zoning ordinance, planning commissioners were briefed about revised recommendations from an advisory committee that has now completed its work.

Julie Weatherbee, Wendy Carman, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Julie Weatherbee and Wendy Carman of the R4C/R2A advisory committee briefed Ann Arbor planning commissioners on the group’s report. (Photos by the writer.)

An advisory committee was originally established by the Ann Arbor city council in 2009. Its purpose was to give input as the planning commission developed recommendations for what some city staff have called a “broken” zoning district. The committee’s original recommendations were delivered to the commission in 2012, and planning commissioners adopted their own set of recommendations for the council in April of 2013.

Although there was considerable overlap, the planning commission’s recommendations diverged from the advisory committee in some significant ways. Some advisory committee members felt their work had been cut short and that the final report presented to the planning commission on behalf of the committee did not fully reflect the committee’s consensus. They also wanted to weigh in on some of the commission’s recommendations, including a proposed “group housing” overlay district.

So the city council reconstituted the advisory committee in the summer of 2013, with slightly different membership. The group met four times, then created a new report for the planning commission to consider. [.pdf of December 2013 advisory committee recommendations]

The committee’s chair, Julie Weatherbee, and committee member Wendy Carman – who also serves on the city’s zoning board of appeals – briefed commissioners on the main issues that differed from the planning commission’s own recommendations. Those differences related to group housing/overlay zoning, maximum lot size, side setbacks, parking, and lot combinations.

On Dec. 10, much of the discussion focused on the issue of a “group housing” overlay district that the planning commission has proposed, which was not part of the advisory committee’s recommendations. Committee members had concerns and uncertainty about what the planning commission intended, and the discussion focused on trying to clarify the purpose of a group housing overlay district. The point is not to specifically encourage group housing, commissioners said, noting that the term was taken from the city’s master plan. Rather, the goal to provide more flexible options for improving in that area, located near the University of Michigan’s central campus. One commissioner characterized the intent as ”trying to clean up the student slums.”

Regarding lot size and lot combinations, the advisory committee recommends changing the city’s zoning ordinance to create a maximum lot size of 6,525 square feet within R4C districts. Existing lot sizes would be grandfathered in – that is, this new maximum size would only apply to lots created after the ordinance changes are passed. The committee thought that this approach would be a way to limit lot combinations, which are considered problematic when a large parcel is formed for developments that change the character of the streetscape.

In contrast, the planning commission has recommended no maximum lot size, believing that a limit would be too restrictive. The commission’s recommendation calls for requiring planning commission approval for lot combinations in R4C districts, as part of a project’s site plan review.

The advisory committee has also recommended creating a new committee to look at parking issues, including off-site parking, shared services such as Zipcars, shared parking with other units, and mandatory residential parking permits. Planning commissioners were receptive to that suggestion – their recommendations had called for a parking study. Currently, the city requires that new developments in R4C districts include 1.5 parking spaces per dwelling unit.

The next step will be for the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee to look at all of the recommendations for the R4C/R2A zoning, and decide how to move forward. It’s possible that a new set of recommendations would be brought forward to the full planning commission. Ultimately, the city council would need to give direction on how the planning commission should proceed in developing actual revisions to the zoning ordinances. [Full Story]

R4C/R2A Committee Focuses Its Work

Ann Arbor R4C/R2A advisory committee meeting (Aug. 28, 2013): At its second of four meetings since being reconstituted by the city council this summer, the committee tasked with giving advice on possible changes to the R4C/R2A residential zoning districts moved closer to prioritizing final recommendations to deliver to the planning commission and city council.

Julie Weatherbee, R4C, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Julie Weatherbee is chair of the R4C/R2A advisory committee, which met most recently on Aug. 28, 2013. The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11. (Photos by the writer.)

Two main priorities have emerged as areas of concern: lot combinations, and a proposed “group housing” overlay district. Parking is also a concern, but several committee members noted that there isn’t time to reach consensus about parking recommendations. Only two more two-hour meetings are scheduled – on Sept. 11 and Sept. 25.

The committee’s original report had recommended imposing a maximum lot size of 6,525 square feet. This would limit the ability of a developer to combine lots in order to build larger structures. It would be a way to limit the size of developments within R4C districts.

The planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee made a different recommendation, however, which was adopted by the full commission. Rather than requiring a specific lot size limit, lot combinations would be approved on a case-by-case basis. Review standards would be developed, as well as standards for design and massing, to ensure that new development is compatible with the neighborhood. The planning commission has not yet developed details of how what standards would be used. Advisory committee members didn’t like this approach, saying that it seemed too arbitrary.

There are even fewer details at this point about a proposed group housing district, which planning commissioners envision as a future phase of R4C ordinance revisions. The planning commission recommendations call for a new zoning overlay district, located south and west of the University of Michigan’s central campus. It would be roughly an area outlined in the city’s Central Area Plan, but with final boundaries to be determined. [.pdf of Central Area Plan] The idea is to address issues that are somewhat unique to neighborhoods with a large amount of student housing.

In general, the new district would be intended to allow for flexibility by putting limits on density, but with premiums provided in exchange for community benefits such as pedestrian-friendly character and conformance with architectural design standards. For example, parking might be based on a building’s total floor-area ratio (FAR), independent of the number of units in a structure. The commission’s recommendations call for details of this new district to be fleshed out in a second phase, after other ordinance changes are made that are seen as more straightforward.

Advisory committee members were extremely skeptical of this approach, which one member characterized as “redlining.” Targeting housing for a particular type of resident – in this case, students – made many members uncomfortable. There was also uncertainty about the exact intention behind the recommendation.

Committee members have invited planning commissioner Bonnie Bona, who also serves on the commission’s ordinance revisions committee, to attend their Sept. 11 meeting. Their hope is to get clarity about the commission’s recommendations, as well as the intent behind those recommendations.

Several committee members stated that their overarching goal is to protect the character and integrity of existing neighborhoods, and to prevent older houses from being demolished. That’s the scenario that unfolded when seven houses were torn down along South Fifth Avenue to make way for the City Place apartments – a controversial development that was part of the impetus for the R4C/R2A review. [Full Story]

R4C/R2A Advisory Committee Meetings Set

The first meeting of the re-established R4C/R2A advisory committee, with slightly different membership from its original iteration, has been scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 14 from 7-9 p.m. in the basement conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to reconstitute the citizens committee, which had previously worked to provide input on possible changes to zoning in the R4C/R2A (multi-family) zoning districts. That action followed the planning commission’s vote at its April 16, 2013 meeting to send recommendations to the city council for revisions to the R4C zoning areas – but without the actual wording of the ordinance changes. Those recommendations, which were crafted with input from the original … [Full Story]