Council’s A2D2 Discussion Tips Off

Council to play zone defense?

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (April 5, 2009): Like the Michigan State Spartans basketball team practicing  a fast break, Ann Arbor city councilmembers quickly handled their caucus discussion of possible amendments to the planning commission’s A2D2 zoning recommendations, which could be brought forward at their Monday night meeting.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) called for the ball to address a repaving contract on the agenda, as well as to float the idea of a parliamentary alternative to formal discussions –  ideas that are still rattling around the rim.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) arrived just as the 20-minute session concluded; he was not asked to run punishment laps around council chambers. An informal shoot-around, in the form of conversational pods among some councilmembers and members of the public, persisted until nearly 8 p.m.

Council’s Monday meeting starts at 7 p.m. on CTN’s Channel 16, which allows at least 2 hours and 21 minutes of council viewing before the NCAA finals begin.

After the break, we provide viewers with a playbook of sorts to follow the action in council chambers. It’s a set of 12 possible amendments to the zoning recommendations passed by planning commission that have been compiled by city staff.

Possible Amendments to A2D2 Zoning

The following are excerpted from a compilation by Ann Arbor city staff of requests for amendments to the A2D2 zoning proposal by councilmembers. The complete .pdf of possible amendments can be downloaded here.  Planning commission’s recommendations can be downloaded here.

Caveats include the fact that some amendments are not necessarily in their complete or final form. Further, not all amendments in this list will necessarily be brought forth. And finally, nothing rules out other possible amendments being brought forward.

Sponsors of amendments are indicated in parenthesis. The list of considerations include both the rationale for the amendment, plus possible downsides identified by staff. We’ve labeled Chronicle commentary as such.

Amendment 1 (Higgins): Eliminate Character Overlay Zoning Districts.

  • Reduces complexity in administration of zoning ordinance.
  • Removes massing requirements (i.e., upper story offset, diagonal, setbacks from residential) from downtown zoning districts.
  • Inconsistent with Vision and Policy Framework and Design Guidelines Advisory Committee. recommendations for identifying overlay districts for areas of differing character.
  • Would require amendment of the Downtown Plan (Future Land Use map and Zoning Plan), which was adopted by Planning Commission on Feb. 19, 2009.

Chronicle commentary: At the point when the design guidelines were split off from the zoning package, the thought behind inclusion of the character districts in the zoning, along with the massing requirements, was to put the quantifiable elements of the design guideline committee’s work  into the zoning. We interpret Marcia Higgin’s comments at the most recent DDA board meeting, when she discussed the prospect that design guidelines could be ready by fall with hard work over the summer, to mean that massing requirements would find their way into city planning code via these design guidelines – which would presumably also include character districts. Higgins serves with Roger Hewitt (DDA) and Evan Pratt (planning commission) on the A2D2 oversight committee.

At caucus, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) said he did not support the amendment eliminating character areas.

The DDA board passed a resolution at its last meeting recommending elimination of character districts from the zoning package.

The need to amend the Downtown Plan is not inconsequential. State law requires that master plans be adopted by planning commission and council. Otherwise put, if council changes an element to the zoning package that doesn’t affect master plans (like, for example, whether the height limit in a particular area is 60 feet, 120 feet, 170 feet, etc.) then council has the final say. However, if council amends the zoning package in a way that affects the master plan, then the master plan would need to be send back to planning commission, which could elect to modify its adopted plan, or not.

Amendment 2 (Greden, Taylor, Teall): Rezone properties in the South University commercial district that are outside of the DDA boundary to D2, rather than D1.

  • Reflects “interface” area between South University retail core and adjacent residential.
  • Inconsistent with Vision and Policy Framework and Downtown Zoning Advisory Committee recommendations.
  • Represents a “downzoning” from the current C2A floor area ratio (by-right from 400% to 200% and premiums from 660% to 400%).
  • Would require amendment of the Downtown Plan (Future Land Use map and Zoning Plan), which was adopted by Planning Commission on Feb. 19, 2009.
  • Forest Street parking structure would not conform with D2 height, coverage and open space requirements.
  • For consistency, should be linked with separate character area district (see Amendment 4).

Chronicle commentary: At caucus, this amendment received the support of two neighbors of the South University area. Amendment of the Downtown Plan, as noted in commentary on Amendment 1, would require reconsideration by planning commission. Here’s a map of the proposed D1-D2 split.

At caucus, Carsten Hohnke asked for clarification about the current zoning of the parcels that are outside the DDA boundary. Those present indicated that some were C2A, while others were R4C.

Christopher Taylor has indicated in an email to The Chronicle that the compiled memo does not reflect a 40-foot setback where D2 abuts residential properties, but this would be added before Monday’s meeting.

Amendment 3 (Greden, Taylor): Revise building frontage designations on Washtenaw Avenue and Forest Street.

  • Reflects existing character along the street frontage segments.
  • Will make buildings at 1338 Washtenaw and 1335 South University non-conforming due to insufficient building frontage (i.e., buildings have less than 15 foot front setback).

Chronicle commentary: Frontage requirements (which would remain, even if Higgins’ amendment 1 were to pass) are intended to support pedestrian scale character. There are three types of frontage:

1. Primary Street: Lot frontage where placement of buildings at the front property line is desired.

2. Secondary Street: Lot frontage where a range of building setbacks from the front property line is acceptable.

3. Front Yard Street: Lot frontage where a setback from the front property line is desired.

The proposed frontage changes in the amendment would make a section of Washtenaw Avenue a “front yard street” and section of South Forest a “primary street.” Here’s a map of the proposed frontage designation changes.

Amendment 4 (Briere): Subdivide the South University Character Overlay Zoning District into two separate districts with different massing standards, including a revised height limit and tower diagonal requirement in the proposed South University 1 character district.

  • For consistency, should be linked with D2 rezoning (see Amendment 2).
  • South University 2 side setbacks from residential may be insufficient, given potential 60 foot height in the D2 district.

Chronicle commentary: On comparison with the D1-D2 split proposed in Amendment 2, the proposed character district split appears to follow the same boundary. Here’s a map of the proposed D1-D2 split. And here’s a map of the proposed South University 1-2 split.

For the D1 part of the South University character district, the absolute building height limit (which planning commission recommended at 170 feet) is suggested by Briere to be reduced to 120 feet (here the compilation by staff is not accurate).

Amendment 5 (Briere): Subdivide the East Huron Character Overlay Zoning District into two separate districts with different massing standards, including a  height limit in the proposed East Huron 1 character district.

  • Reflects unique massing requirements of D1 zoning adjacent to residential.
  • May prevent parcels from fully using premium floor area bonuses if diagonal requirements in Character Overlay Districts are retained.

Chronicle commentary: The amendment would create another character district from North Thayer Street to Division Street along the north side of Huron Street and establish a maximum height limit of 120 feet for that area. At the public comment session held two  weeks ago on the proposed zoning revisions, some of the commentary focused on the area. Property owners in the area asked council to respect the compromise worked out by planning commission, which proposed D1 zoning. Neighbors in the historic area abutting the district asked for D2 zoning. The proposed amendment retains planning commission’s recommended D1 zoning, but adds a 120-foot absolute building height limit. Here’s a map of the proposed split of the East Huron character district into two character districts.

Amendment 6 (Higgins, Hohnke ): Eliminate “active use” requirements for retail streets in D1.

  • Addresses concern about creating non-conforming uses for existing businesses.
  • Removes tool for retaining pedestrian-attracting uses on retail streets.

Chronicle commentary: It’s a gross over-simplification, but “active use” can be roughly understood as “not an office and especially not a bank.” In public commentary and discussion to date, concern has been expressed that a non-active use – while less desirable than an active use – would be preferable to a space remaining unrented.

Amendment 7 (Greden, Higgins, Taylor, and Teall): Add and revise height limits in D1 districts.

  • Provides clear direction for building design.
  • May prevent larger parcels from fully using premium floor area bonuses if diagonal requirements in Character Overlay Districts are retained.
  • Inconsistent with Downtown Zoning Advisory Committee recommendation.

Chronicle commentary: The proposed absolute building height limit for the D1 district would be 180 feet except for the South University overlay district, which would be 120 feet.

Amendment 8 (Greden, Taylor, Teall): Add and revise height limits in Character Overlay Zoning Districts.

  • Provides clear direction for building design.
  • May prevent larger parcels from fully using premium floor area bonuses if diagonal requirements in Character Overlay Districts are retained.
  • Inconsistent with Downtown Zoning Advisory Committee recommendation.

Chronicle commentary: Amendments 7 and 8 have essentially the same effect, but differ in terms of how the absolute building height limits are expressed – in terms of the D1 district versus in terms of  character areas within that zoning district. Leigh Greden (Ward 3) explained at caucus that one or the other of the amendments would be brought forward, depending on whether Amendment 1 passed, which would eliminate character districts from the zoning package.

Amendment 9 (Higgins, Hohnke): Remove diagonal requirements from Character Overlay Zoning District massing standards.

  • Provides maximum flexibility for building design.
  • Inconsistent with Design Guidelines Advisory Committee recommendations.

Chronicle commentary: The “diagonal” is the measurement from corner to corner of a building floor plate. In the planning commission’s recommended zoning package, maximum diagonals are used on tower elements – parts of the building above the base – to try to encourage slender design allowing light and air. At its last meeting, the DDA board passed a resolution asking for the elimination of the maximum diagonal, partly on the grounds that it encourages square (not rectangular) floor plates, which are not the most conducive to residential development, which is one of the goals of the rezoning.

Amendment 10 (Briere): Revise Affordable Housing Premium to state that cash-in-lieu of units is not permitted.

  • Reinforces that the purpose of the premium is to provide on-site affordable units.
  • May not be necessary, since section refers specifically to providing on-site units.

Chronicle commentary: Related also to affordable housing premiums was speculation at caucus that Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) might propose an amendment related to the minimum square foot area for an affordable unit, which is currently set at 600 square feet. In the brief discussion among council members attending caucus, Carsten Hohnke said when he’d lived in Manhattan, he’d lived in a 400-square-foot apartment.

Amendment 11 (Taylor) : Increase penalty for failure to meet premium LEED commitment proportional to the benefit gained by the premium.

  • Formula reflects increased penalty with increasing scale of premium.
  • Formula is complex and may be difficult to explain.

Chronicle commentary: One concern that has been expressed is about additional square footage that a developer can be allowed to build based on satisfying various criteria. These are expressed in terms of premiums. Planning commission’s recommendation is for a variety of premiums: residential use, affordable housing, green building, historic preservation, pedestrian amenities, public parking.

What happens if a developer is not able to achieve certification of the green building (LEED) requirements that allowed construction of additional square footage?  The short answer is that there’s a penalty. Taylor’s amendment related the amount of the penalty directly to the amount of additional square footage that a developer was allowed to build because of the green building premium. Here’s the formula:

P = [(LC-CE) /LC] x CV x GPUP

P is the penalty; LC is the minimum number of credits to earn the requested LEED certification; CE is the number of credits earned as documented by the U.S. Green Building Council report; CV is the construction value, as set forth on the building permit for the new structure; and GPUP, the green premium utilization percentage, is the greater of (i) .075; or (ii) a fraction, the numerator of which is LEED FAR, the denominator of which is TFAR. LEED FAR is the minimum amount of floor area proposed that is attributable to the Green Building Premium; TFAR is the total floor area proposed.

Taylor has provided an Excel Spreadsheet that can be used to see how the formula reflects the interplay between the different variables by plugging in different values.

Worth pointing out is that the definition of LEED FAR, by specifying “minimum amount,” clarifies how situations might be handled when a developer has accumulated the right to build additional square footage through a variety of different premiums, but does not actually build all of the additional area. How does one assess how much of the actually-built area is attributable to the green building premium? The definition provides the implicit direction that all other premiums besides the green building are taken into account for as much of the actually-built additional square footage as possible, to measure the LEED FAR.

Amendment 12 (Briere): Add Small Business Premium.

  • Currently no definition of “small business” in zoning ordinance.
  • Standards for affordability would need to be developed.

Chronicle commentary: The idea is to extend the notion of “affordability” – typically associated with residential units – to small business use.

Repaving Maiden Lane

There’s a paving contract on Monday’s agenda, which drew Sabra Briere’s attention, because it includes Maiden Lane. She noted at caucus that the University of Michigan has plans for that area, which would make sense to integrate into any repaving schedule. Briere lives in that neighborhood.

Rule of Discourse

Briere also floated the idea of using a provision in Robert’s Rules of Order – which governs parliamentary procedures of the council – to allow for informal discussion, as opposed to the formal discussions that require, among other things, that councilmembers be recognized by the chair of the meeting before speaking and that their speaking turns are limited to two per councilmember on any item. Mayor Hieftje responded by pointing out that the two-turn limit applied to each item individually – including each amendment to any main resolution – so that on any resolution, a councilmember might well be able to speak far more than just two times. He said that a mechanism that could be used to allow for more speaking turns was to suspend the speaking rules by voting to do so. [This is not uncommonly used at council to provide members with an opportunity to speak again.]

Briere followed up by saying that within Robert’s Rules itself, there was a provision for informal discussion. Hieftje said that council speaking rules were somewhat different from Robert’s Rules, noting that in Robert’s Rules there is no provision for “calling the question.”

Chronicle commentary: According to the rules of the council, discussion is governed by Rule 8:

RULE 8 - Conduct of Discussion and Debate
• No member shall speak until recognized for that purpose by the Chair.
• The member shall confine comments to the question at hand and avoid personality.
• A member shall not speak more than two times on a given question, five minutes the first time, three minutes the second time, except with the concurring vote of 3/4 of the members present.
• A motion to call the previous question (call for cloture) immediately ends all discussion and shall be out of order until all members have had an opportunity to speak twice to the question on the floor, and shall require a concurring vote of 3/4 of the members present.
• A motion to lay on the table shall be out of order until all members have had an opportunity to speak once to the question on the floor.

Robert’s Rules factor in to cover issues not addressed in Rule 8:

RULE 18 - What Other Rules Shall Govern
The rules of parliamentary practice, comprised in Robert’s Rules of Order, shall govern the Council in all cases to which they are applicable, provided they are not in conflict with these rules or with the charter of the City.

Some rules of order allowed by Robert’s Rules, which allow for informal discussion, are described here.  However, it appears that Rule 8 supercedes Rule 18.