Heritage Row Redux: Process Clarified

No additional citizen participation meeting required

At a neighborhood meeting held last Monday evening on the Heritage Row Apartments project (formerly City Place) on South Fifth Avenue, a question was raised concerning compliance with Ann Arbor’s citizen participation ordinance for new developments. [Chronicle coverage: "Fifth Avenue Project to Meet Historic Standards"]

That previous article left a possibly confusing impression about how Ann Arbor’s public participation ordinance now applies to the Heritage Row project. The Chronicle followed up by reviewing the history of the Heritage Row project against the specific language of the ordinance – which had been cited at the meeting by resident Tom Whitaker to support his contention that an additional meeting would be required under the ordinance.

That review establishes that no additional meeting is required for the project under the public participation ordinance. This conclusion was confirmed by Wendy Rampson, interim director of planning and development services for the city.

Ann Arbor’s Citizen Participation Ordinance

In September of 2008, the Ann Arbor enacted an ordinance intended to promote greater cooperation between developers and neighbors of sites to be developed. Developers are required to engage citizens early in the planning process.

The centerpiece of the ordinance is a required meeting with citizens before a project is formally submitted to city planning staff. Developers are not required to modify their projects based on input from citizens at their meeting. However, it’s hoped that developers would accommodate that input to the extent that it did not work to the detriment of the project and that it reduced any resistance that citizens might have to the development.

From the ordinance, which we’ve abbreviated [indicated with ellipses], here’s where the required meeting with citizens fits into the planning process:

Before the Planning and Development Services Unit may accept a petition for a new or amended planned project, a new or amended planned unit development zoning district, or amendments to the zoning map, the following requirements shall be completed by the petitioner:
(a) Preliminary meeting with the planning and development services unit. The petitioner shall meet with the planning and development services unit to review the requirements set forth in this section.
(b) Required notice. The petitioner shall mail written information about citizen participation to all property owners, addresses and registered neighborhood groups within 1,000 feet of the proposed petition site, …
(c) Citizen participation meeting. The petitioner shall hold at least one citizen participation meeting at least 10 business days prior to the established petition submittal deadline …
(d) Final citizen participation report. The petitioner shall provide a written report in a format provided by the Planning and Development Services Unit on the results of its citizen participation activities along with the required petition …

In italics is the specific part of the citizen participation ordinance (CPO) to which Tom Whitaker appealed in making a case that an additional meeting would be required – the Heritage Row project had changed in significant ways since the initial meeting that was held under the CPO requirement.

History of Heritage Row and the CPO

The meeting held on Dec. 14 – which was not formally noticed through the mailing to addresses within 1,000 feet of the project site – had been preceded by a meeting that had been held, on Aug. 12, 2009, to meet the requirement of the CPO. In relevant part, here’s the timeline of the project included in our earlier report:

  • Aug. 11, 2009: “Streetscape PUD,” a revised version of de Parry’s project, receives planning staff initial review.
  • Aug. 12, 2009: “Streetscape PUD” introduced to neighbors to comply with the neighbor participation ordinance.
  • Aug. 30, 2009: Application for “Streetscape PUD” was not accepted by city planning staff.
  • Sept 21, 2009: City council approves MOR (matter of right) project, but it cannot move forward because of the moratorium on demolition passed together with the historic district study committee.
  • Oct. 12, 2009: Update given by de Parry on “Streetscape PUD” at Conor O’Neill’s.
  • Dec. 14, 2009: Update given on “Streetscape PUD” – now called “Heritage Row” – at Ann Arbor District Library.

Because the application for the “Streetscape PUD” (aka Heritage Row) was not allowed to be submitted on Aug. 30, 2009, when its submittal was attempted, the project has never been accepted as a site plan petition by the city of Ann Arbor.

In terms of the CPO, then, Heritage Row has completed step (c). Under step (d) de Parry will owe the city a report of the meeting held on Aug. 12 when the petition is submitted, but no additional meeting with citizens is required under the CPO.

The fact that the project has been altered since the initial CPO is not an “amendment” in the sense that projects require a meeting under the CPO. If the city had allowed the project to be submitted, and the project had then been subsequently altered, then that would be an “amendment” in the sense of the ordinance.

We confirmed via email with Wendy Rampson, interim director for planning and development services for the city, that our analysis of the Heritage Row project’s status is consistent with how the city views it.

Also in response to our query about why the city refused to allow submittal of the site plan petition on Aug. 30, Rampson clarified that it’s not possible to have more than one active development proposal under consideration for a single site, absent a resolution from the city council. In this case, it was de Parry’s matter of right (MOR) proposal that was already under consideration.

So the city’s refusal to allow submittal of the site plan petition had nothing to do with the establishment of the historic district study committee and the associated moratorium on demolition and other work in the area of study – which includes the site of Heritage Row.