Zingerman’s Deli Expansion Moves Ahead

Also, Windsong affordable housing project raises concerns

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (May 18, 2010): Two items with ties to Zingerman’s received approval from planning commissioners at their most recent meeting: The site plan for expansion of Zingerman’s Deli, and a special exemption use for the Westside Farmers Market, located next to Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Grace Singleton, Paul Saginaw

Grace Singleton, a managing partner of Zingerman's Deli, sits next to Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw as the planning commission deliberates on a proposed expansion of the deli, which was ultimately approved. Behind Saginaw is Michael Quinn of Quinn Evans Architects, who is working on the project. (Photos by the writer.)

The farmers market has no further steps to take – it opens on June 3, from 3-7 p.m. But the approval process for the deli expansion is far from over. After seeking approval from city council for its plans, deli partners will need to circle back to the city’s historic district commission – the site is located in the Old Fourth Ward historic district. The Chronicle has previously reported on their earlier efforts down this path: “Zingerman’s: Making It Right for the HDC.”

Pending approvals, Zingerman’s hopes to break ground on the project early next year.

Also at last week’s meeting, commissioners reviewed the site plan for the Windsong affordable housing project off of Stone School Road, north of Ellsworth. They ultimately approved plans for building 32 townhomes financed in part by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. But concerns were raised over problems that some residents in the site’s existing 12 townhomes are causing for their neighbors. Three of those neighbors spoke at a public hearing, saying they’d like a higher fence around the property, at the least, to deal better with harassment, fighting, graffiti and other issues.

Zingerman’s Deli Expansion

The owners of Zingerman’s Deli are seeking site plan approval for a major expansion at their Detroit Street location. The roughly $3.5 million project calls for tearing down a small fire-damaged house at 322 E. Kingsley – directly behind the brick deli building – and putting up a two-story, 10,340-square-foot addition that would be connected to the 5,107-square-foot deli building via a glass atrium. A six-foot-tall privacy fence would be built between the site and the neighboring residences.

At left is 322 E. Kingsley, next to the alley behind Zingerman's Deli. The house, which has been damaged by fire, would be torn down if the deli's site plan for expansion is approved by city council and permission is granted by the historic district commission. In the background is the "orange house" between the deli and Zingerman's Next Door. The site plan calls for it to be integrated into the new building's design.

The two-story “orange house” located at 420 Detroit, between the deli building and Zingerman’s Next Door, will be worked into the design, according to the proposal. A green roof will be added to the deli’s existing one-story wing.

The city’s planning staff recommended approval of the site plan and development agreement, with one issue related to loading zone access off of Kingsley yet to be resolved.  If Zingerman’s decides it needs a curb cut and driveway off of Kingsley, they’ll need a variance from the city’s zoning board of appeals to allow a one-way drive opening.

Zingerman’s Deli: Public Hearing

Ten people spoke during the public hearing, including neighbors who supported the project, though some had concerns. There were also several speakers with ties to Zingerman’s.

Grace Singleton, a managing partner for the deli, thanked commissioners for their time and noted that the expansion plans had been in the works for four years. She recounted the history of the deli, how it had been founded at that location – the corner of Kingsley and Detroit – in 1982 by Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig. They sold 2,000 sandwiches that first year, she said, compared with about 300,000 in 2009. They started with three employees, and now have 180. Over the years, they’ve added on in a piecemeal way – acquiring the building that houses Zingerman’s Next Door in the 1990s, for example.

The main goals for this expansion, Singleton said, include creating an efficient, unified design to take them through the next 25-50 years while preserving the key elements of the current campus. They’ll also be building a larger kitchen, receiving and storage area, as well as additional seating space, better ADA accessibility and a staff breakroom. Singleton said they’ve always been committed to Kerrytown and Ann Arbor, and want to give back to the community.

Both Christy Summers of Beckett & Raeder Inc. and Michael Quinn, a principal of Quinn Evans Architects, walked commissioners through highlights of the site plan and design. Summers noted several features, including better accessibility between buildings, a service alley to the east, some vertical landscaping elements mounted on the buildings, and the use of sustainable design techniques that could lead to LEED certification. Quinn said the expansion will be difficult to build, but will maintain the same “delightful feel” that customers now experience at the deli. He said they’ve met informally with the historic district commission to discuss aspects of the design, including removal of a building on Kingsley [one that's been gutted by fire]. He said he believes they have the HDC’s support.

Bernard Puroll was one of several neighbors who spoke. He described the expansion as an attractive, desirable plan intended to maximize profits, which was entirely appropriate. It would fit into the character of the neighborhood. He noted that the planning staff report indicates there are no nuisances created by the project, but he disagreed. He said his home overlooks the loading dock, and there are already significant nuisances created by noise and traffic from deliveries – that will only increase as the deli expands, he said.

Traffic management should be part of the site plan, Puroll added, especially at the intersection of Kingsley and Detroit. Large trucks often park in the loading zone along Kingsley east of Detroit, creating noise and traffic congestion. Also, noise abatement from the deli’s HVAC system isn’t addressed in the site plan, he noted. Hopefully as they build more storage, some of these problems will be diminished.

Jim Mogensen reminded commissioners that at their most recent working session, he’d talked to them about how processes can make people feel like processed cheese. He noted that the process for Zingerman’s had taken four years so far. The owners have strong roots in the community, he said, and have listened to residents and designed an expansion that is at least within the scale of other buildings in the neighborhood.

Mogensen asked commissioners to imagine how the Glen Ann Place development would have turned out if it had used the same process. [Glen Ann Place won approval from the planning commission and city council but was denied by the historic district commission. The situation ended in a lawsuit, settled in summer of 2007 in a way that allowed the project to move ahead. The lot just north of Ann Street on the west side of Glen Avenue is now denuded of the two houses that previously stood there, but nothing has yet been built.]

Zingerman's Deli, left, and Zingerman's Next Door. The proposed site plan calls for eliminating the curb cut between these two buildings.

Noting that he lived nearby on Detroit Street, Peter Pollack said he had spoken in favor of the Zingerman’s project in the past and he was there to do the same thing again. Historically, “this site has always been a bit adventuresome,” he said, bringing retail into a residential neighborhood. The proposed expansion is consistent with the site’s past. Pollack said he’s lived on Detroit Street since 1980, and the fact that it’s a busy location is part of the joy of living there. He said the issues of noise and traffic are being addressed, and he hoped that the planning commission would approve the site plan.

Chris Crockett identified herself as president of the Old Fourth Ward Neighborhood Association. She lives about a block and a half away from the deli, and was glad that the owners had worked with the historic district commission on this project. The size and scale seem appropriate, she said. However, she had two concerns: 1) that there will be an increased nuisance to the neighbors, and 2) that the project sets a precedent. Owners of houses on Kingsley east of Detroit are “chomping at the bit” to turn the houses from residential into commercial use, she said. Crockett asked that the approval be framed in such a way as to indicate clearly that it was a special exception, not a precedent.

Patrick Thompson said he was a neighbor directly to the north of Zingerman’s, on Kingsley. The loading zone and activity from the front of the business spills over into the residential area, he said. There’s an alley created when delivery trucks park on both sides of the street on Kingsley, creating a blind spot that pedestrians have to navigate – two people have been hit there, he said. Clarifying that he didn’t want to impede the project in any way, Thompson said he was asking for greater restrictions be put on the residential side of the street – perhaps additional signs, or painting the curb yellow. He said that he and Paul Saginaw are great neighbors, but they do need to address the issue of traffic.

Rick Strutz, who’s also a managing partner at the deli, said that they’ve been working on these issues with Thompson, and that nothing Thompson said is untrue. They also are concerned for Zingerman’s staff, who come through that intersection too, he said. There isn’t one simple solution, he added. Creating a new receiving area will help make deliveries faster, and having a bigger storage area means that they won’t need deliveries as frequently. In some cases, vendors make 3-4 deliveries a week, which could be reduced significantly.

Noting that he was a board member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Gary Boren said he was speaking as an individual in support of the expansion. He lives in a house on East Washington that was built in 1890 – he mentioned that to show he’s also concerned about historic preservation. He echoed Crockett’s concerns about setting precedent, but in this instance, it was a very clear case and not something that could be confused as a precedent. He cautioned that there’s only so much you can exact from Zingerman’s, and that a lot has to be taken on faith. They aren’t a franchiser putting down a building without worrying about local implications – they’ve chosen to invest their energy and money and heart into this community because they live here and want it to be a good place.

Boren said he believed they would put their best efforts into dealing with the traffic problems. He said he strongly supported the project, saying it would bring more jobs, more customers, more tourists and more of the good type of density.

Zingermans’ Deli: Commissioner Deliberations

Bonnie Bona, the commission’s chair, began by asking staff about concerns that had been raised regarding noise from the HVAC system. What assurances did they have that it wouldn’t be a nuisance? Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, said the building code covers mechanical equipment – it’s not a planning and zoning issue.

Bona noted that Glen Ann Place had been referenced during public commentary in regard to the approval process. She asked Jill Thacher of the planning staff to describe the approach that Zingerman’s is taking regarding the historic district issues. Thacher said that in 2008, Zingerman’s had asked the historic district commission for permission to demolish two buildings – at 322 E. Kingsley Street, which had been gutted by fire, and another at 420 Detroit Street, referred to by many people as the “orange house.”

The HDC determined that both houses are contributing structures in the historic district, Thacher said, which meant that the HDC couldn’t authorize the demolition via a “certificate of appropriateness” – the typical approval process. Instead, Zingerman’s is first seeking site plan approval from the planning commission and city council, and will then return to the HDC to seek a “notice to proceed.”

From the planning staff report on Zingerman’s site plan proposal:

There are only four circumstances under which a Notice to Proceed may be granted. Zingerman’s will apply under one that reads “The resource is a deterrent to a major improvement program that will be of substantial benefit to the community and the applicant proposing the work has obtained all necessary planning and zoning approvals, financing, and environmental clearances.” (From Section 8:416.) All approvals are required so that the HDC has as many assurances as possible that the applicant seriously intends to build the project and is in a position to do so. This is necessary since the Notice to Proceed will result in the permanent removal of historic resources.

In order to apply to the HDC for a notice to proceed, the project must have an approved site plan from City Council, have proof of financing, and have any other zoning or environmental approvals that may be necessary to build the project. In order for the HDC to grant the project a Notice to Proceed, Zingerman’s must prove that their project will be of substantial benefit to the community. How that benefit is defined and whether it is substantial enough to warrant the removal of contributing resources is determined by the HDC.

Picking up the discussion, Eric Mahler said Zingerman’s had a great site plan, fitting in with the character of the area. He appreciated their efforts at energy efficiency, and the wise use of space. He said everyone on the commission had likely traversed the intersection at Kingsley and Detroit, either by car or on foot, and knew about the issues there. He asked Zingerman’s owners to address in more detail how much deliveries would be decreased.

Grace Singleton said they hadn’t quantified the reduction in terms of percentages, but that off the top of her head she expected it could be as much as 30%. She said 60% of vendors deliver multiple times a week. The hope is that if vendors deliver three times now, they’ll reduce deliveries to twice a week. Those who deliver twice a week now would only come once. She said the 30% reduction was probably a conservative estimate.

Erica Briggs agreed with Mahler, and said she felt that Zingerman’s was doing everything it could to address the traffic concerns. Perhaps it was something the city or the Downtown Development Authority could help with too, she said.

Other commissioners also expressed support. Diane Giannola liked the green roof, saying it was a unique feature. Tony Derezinski said the site plan reflected an incredible use of space, packing a lot onto the site yet retaining a “homey” quality.

Jean Carlberg asked about the function of the alleyway behind the new building, on the east side of the site. Singleton explained that it would be a service alley, with an entrance to the kitchen. Currently, there’s overlap between the staff access and guest access, she said, and that’s a challenge. The new design would allow the staff to do its work more efficiently and behind the scenes.

In response to another question from Carlberg, Singleton said they plan to have a large portion of the new building’s second floor available for customer seating, both inside and on a deck.

Bona again raised the issue of mechanicals, saying that in the past the commission has required noise restrictions on rooftop mechanical systems. Michael Quinn of Quinn Evans Architects said that on the new addition, they’ll have a six-foot screen to create a visual and acoustic barrier. He also described design efforts aimed to reduce the need for intense heating and cooling. The building will be super insulated, he said, and they’ll use high-efficiency equipment. They’re considering a geothermal system as well. He also said they’d be relocating the HVAC system to a building that’s more remote from the residential neighbors, which should help improve noise issues.

Bona said she’d like to see something more specific in the plans, beyond what’s required by code.

Briggs wrapped up the discussion by praising Zingerman’s citizen participation report, saying they’d gone beyond what most petitioners do. [.pdf file of report from March 8, 2010 citizens participation meeting] In addition, during the meeting Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw distributed 13 letters of support from neighbors and business owners, including Timothy and Maureen Riley, who live in a home adjacent to the site; Elaine and Carl Johns, owners of Treasure Mart at 529 Detroit Street; Debra Kirk, owner of Emerald Dragonfly at 419 Detroit, directly across the street from the deli; Joe O’Neal, developer and chair of Kerrytown Market & Shops; and Jennifer Hein, dean of Community High School.

A letter from Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, describes how Zingerman’s is working with AAPS and Community High School to develop a program that would consolidate solid waste management and recycling on the two sites. He noted in the letter that Zingerman’s has offered to pay for all costs.

Outcome: Commissoners unanimously approved the site plan and development agreement for Zingerman’s Deli expansion. It will be voted on by city council at an upcoming meeting, and also require a “notice to proceed” from the city’s historic district commission.

Westside Farmers Market

Also on Tuesday’s planning commission agenda was another item with a Zingerman’s connection . The Westside Farmers Market, located next to Zingerman’s Roadhouse at the intersection of Jackson and Maple, has been operating for the past four years every Thursday during the summer and early fall. However, last year the city notified organizers that they were in violation of zoning codes. The issue was initially addressed during a July 20, 2009 city council meeting. From a Chronicle report of that meeting:

The council’s agenda included an item to allow temporary outdoor sales and displayed goods and services as a special exception use for C3 commercial zoning districts. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) thanked the city staff for moving the change along quickly. The impact of the change included the ability to hold a farmers market in the Westgate parking lot next to Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Council unanimously approved that change. The city allowed the market to be held last year without getting the special exemption use, and now market organizers are applying for their first one as they head into the 2010 season. This year, the market opens on June 3 and runs through Sept. 30. It’s open on Thursdays from 3-7 p.m.

Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff gave a report to commissioners, noting that the market would occupy 28 parking spaces and that Westgate Shopping Center, where the market is located, has 40 spaces above the number required by code.

A special exemption use is required because the primary building there – Zingerman’s Roadhouse – doesn’t sell fresh produce. If it did, then temporary outdoor sales would be allowed without approval of a special exemption use. The staff recommended approval of the application.

Westside Farmers Market: Public Hearing

Only one person spoke during the public hearing. Rodger Bowser, a founder of the market and a Zingerman’s Deli chef, said he represented the market’s steering committee. Going into their fifth season, they’ll have about two dozen vendors this year, he said, compared to 10 when they started. The idea was to have a new market for small and medium-sized vendors, and to provide customers on that side of town with fresh produce. They would appreciate the commission’s support, he said.

Westside Farmers Market: Commissioner Deliberations

There were no deliberations. Jean Carlberg observed that since the market had been operating for a few years, they knew what was intended on the site and had no questions. It was great to have a market on that side of town, she noted, especially since Fresh Seasons Market had closed last year.

After commissioners voted unanimously to approve the special exemption use, Carlberg quipped: “Now you’re legal.”

Windsong Affordable Housing Project

The planning commission considered site plan approval for a 32-unit affordable housing complex called Windsong, located off of Stone School Road, south of I-94 and north of Ellsworth.

The city had approved a site plan in 2005 at that location for a 44-unit project called The Oaks of Ann Arbor. However, only 12 townhouses were built and the site plan expired in 2008. The current proposal calls for the development to be financed in part by low-income housing tax credits administered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

Windsong: Public Hearing

Three residents of the surrounding neighborhood spoke during the public hearing. All expressed concerns over problems they’ve encountered with residents of the existing 12 townhouses.

Map showing location of Windsong townhome site

Map showing the location of the Windsong townhome site. (Links to larger image)

Audrey Lucas told commissioners she lived behind the current buildings on that site and has a “terrible time” with trespassers – people from the complex will jump a fence between the properties, or tear it down. It’s a disconcerting feeling to no longer have peace of mind in your home, she said. The developer has promised to build a new six-foot fence, but she hoped it would be 10 or 12 feet. Lucas described the situation as a “terrible nightmare” for neighbors, who frequently call police because of fights that break out.

Rob Finch identified himself as president of the nearby Stone School Townhomes condo association. Residents of his neighborhood have many complaints about the current situation, he said, including people from the 12 existing units yelling after midnight on school nights. There’s little to no supervision of children there, he said, and kids throw rocks into the parking lot, deface the area with graffiti and one time even turned off power to a building. Residents in his complex are frightened and intimidated – but they don’t want to start a war, he said. When one young mother questioned a boy who had come into her yard, he pulled a knife on her – she later moved out, he said.

Finch objected to expanding the number of units in Windsong and making them all Section 8 eligible. Many people in his condo complex had worked hard to better their lives, and they didn’t want to live in an unsafe environment. He said Windsong was known for drug trafficking, and he couldn’t believe the police were excited about expanding the development. At the very least, he said, make the developers put up an 8-foot fence on the south side of Windsong.

Stacey Vanwashenova said she lived in the nearby Stone School Circle development and had a young family. The neighborhood dynamics have changed since the 12 units were built – having more housing there would just add to the problem, she said. She echoed Finch’s remarks, saying at the least the developers should built a taller fence.

Windsong: Commissioner Deliberations

Peter Jobson, president of Excel Realty Group – the new lead developer in the project – was on hand to answer questions. Commissioner Jean Carlberg began by asking whether the new units would be rental or owned. Jobson said they were planned to be rental townhomes. He also clarified that his firm had been asked to take on the project by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) – his firm hadn’t been involved in the initial development.

Peter Jobson

Peter Jobson is president of Excel Realty, the new lead developer of the proposed Windsong townhome complex.

Carlberg asked – in light of what he’d heard from neighbors during the public hearing – how Jobson intended to select residents to live in the new units. Jobson replied that there’s nothing wrong with the existing property, but that people who are living there are causing disturbances.

The city’s planning staff had recently forwarded to him an extensive police log about incidents there, Jobson said, so he was now aware of the problems. It’s a matter of screening the residents, he said – if there are lease violations in those 12 units, then that needs to be dealt with. His firm had a long history of working with MSHDA, he said, and the state agency had confidence in their management and development skills.

With a 44-unit complex – the existing 12, plus the proposed 32 – it might be possible to have an on-site manager, Jobson said, which would help the situation. He also noted that the present owner was absentee, living in Florida. Jobson said his firm planned to take a strong role in managing the property.

Carlberg pointed out that Jobson’s firm was also out of state – it’s based in Ohio. How is that different, she asked, and when does the closer on-site management begin?

Jobson initially said it begins now, then modified that to say as soon as they started construction on the 32 new units. They don’t have ownership of the existing parcel at this point, he said. Eventually, however, they’ll take over asset management of the 12 units.

What does “asset management” mean? Carlberg asked – what will that enable them to do? Jobson replied that they know the existing owners well, and that they’ll be able to demand that the property be managed in ways that don’t create conflicts with residents of the 32 new townhomes.

At that point, Wendy Rampson – head of the city’s planning staff – asked Jobson to clarify his firm’s ownership status. They’ll be the managing general partner of the 32-unit phase, he replied. Rampson said she was perplexed, because that’s not how it had been presented to planning staff. Staff had been led to believe the entire site would be a single condo development, but now it seemed that the site would be divided into two parcels. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t meet the location’s R4B (multi-family) zoning, she said.

Jobson said that though the actual ownership of the 12-unit property isn’t theirs, if there’s one condo association and they control 32 of the 44 units, then they’ll have the majority vote in the association.

Tony Derezinski, a planning commissioner who also represents Ward 2 on city council, asked whether Jobson’s firm had ever worked with the owner of the 12-unit site, Epic Development Co. No, they hadn’t, Jobson replied. But they had developed several properties throughout Michigan, including the Armory Arts Village in Jackson, Mich. The important thing is to have strict residency rules, he said. They’d been brought in by MSHDA, which had made a loan to the previous developer, in order to finish developing the property and make a positive contribution to Ann Arbor, he said.

Evan Pratt asked if Jobson had met with public safety officials about the problems at the site. Rampson noted that the planning staff had just been made aware of the police reports the previous day, and had forwarded them to Jobson. She said they could also talk with the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, which administers the Section 8 voucher program for this region. When asked by Pratt if they should address this problem before voting on the site plan, Rampson suggested moving ahead. MSHDA was interested in moving the project forward, she said, and behavioral issues really were out of the planning commission’s purview.

Jobson assured commissioners that he’d be contacting Epic Development immediately. He would forward them the police reports, saying the last thing he wants is a chaotic situation.

Pratt wanted to include some of the behavioral issues in the development agreement with the city. When Rampson said those issues weren’t typically included in the development agreement, Pratt replied that they don’t typically encounter these concerns. He was worried that if there’s a change of ownership, it wouldn’t be addressed.

Erica Briggs pressed Jobson on his ability to manage the problems in the existing townhomes. She wondered why he hadn’t already picked up the phone to call the current property owners. It seemed like a recipe for disaster, she said, to build and fill an additional 32 units for Section 8 housing, before the situation was addressed. She added that it seemed to her like they should put the brakes on the project and deal with these issues.

Rampson said they’d just recently received the police report. MSHDA’s timeframe might be tied to financing issues, she said.

Eric Mahler

Eric Mahler expressed concern that the discussion of the Windsong development was stigmatizing people who used Section 8 vouchers. To the left is Jill Thacher of the city's planning staff.

Eric Mahler noted that a fence would not be an absolute deterrent to the problems on the site. However, he said he was concerned about the tone of the discussion, which he felt was possibly stigmatizing people in Section 8 housing. He didn’t want the public to think that everyone in Section 8 housing caused problems, or that MSHDA properties were inherently problematic. They shouldn’t have a “throw-the-bums-out mentality” toward everyone in the existing 12 units.

Jobson said he didn’t mean to suggest that they wanted to get rid of all the Section 8 tenants. He also noted that there’s no requirement that the housing complex be filled with Section 8 tenants. He noted that the owner of the 12-unit property is a partner in the new 32-unit phase, but doesn’t have a controlling interest. That’s why his company will have a lot of influence, Jobson said.

Diane Giannola asked whether they might postpone a vote until the city attorney looked at the issue of ownership. Jobson characterized the property as “fragile” in terms of closing the deal, and noted that KeyBank was a big player and wanted to move forward quickly.

Bonnie Bona said she had similar concerns to those cited by Briggs, and was uncomfortable feeling pressure to move forward, in light of the concerns that had been brought forward. She wanted the developer to come back with specific ways in which the problems would be addressed.

Saying he was glad another company had stepped in to take on the project, Derezinski noted that if the deal falls apart, nothing gets done. Though he had concerns, he was in favor of moving ahead with a project that provides affordable housing, which the community needs.

Carlberg pointed out that they were in a Catch-22 – they couldn’t get an on-site manager until the additional units were built. The site looks like a wasteland now, she said – the actual townhouses are nice, but the undeveloped property around them, which includes some foundations that are overgrown with weeds, looks abandoned. She wanted to add a contingency asking the developer to show concrete evidence that they were working on problems with the existing tenants.

It’s also important, Carlberg added, that the two councilmembers representing that area start working with police and neighbors to deal with the problems there. [The site is in Ward 3, represented by councilmembers Stephen Kunselman and Christopher Taylor.]

Briggs said she hadn’t been saying anything negative about Section 8 housing. Rather, it was unacceptable to her that people who had few housing choices – like those who used Section 8 vouchers – were forced to live in that type of situation. The city talks a lot about affordable housing, she said, but it’s unfair to locate that housing in areas where there are already problems.

After some further discussion, Pratt proposed three amendments stating that final site plan approval would be subject to: 1) review by the city attorney’s office regarding the project’s ownership structure, 2) recommendations from the city’s public safety department – incorporated into the development agreement, and 3) the owner of the existing 12 units and the new developer reaching an agreement about how to deal with the problems on the site.

Mahler objected, saying the commission was overstepping its bounds in trying to establish affordable housing policy. They can implore, but they can’t legally bind the new developer to work with the owner of the 12-unit site as a condition of site plan approval, he said. Derezinski agreed.

Briggs suggested putting together a memo outlining the commission’s concerns, so that council would be made aware of these issues. Bona noted that the minutes of the meeting would also reflect their discussion.

Mahler said he was quite uncomfortable with a public safety requirement. When Carlberg observed that it was standard in the past, Rampson clarified that years ago the site plans had been reviewed by the “crime prevention through environmental design” team, but those jobs had been eliminated.

Derezinski characterized the first amendment – regarding the ownership structure – as valid, but the others were “warm fuzzies.” He was concerned that their actions might discourage MSHDA and KeyBank from pursuing the project.

The amendments were voted on separately, with the amendment on reviewing the site’s ownership structure passing unanimously. The amendment requiring the development agreement to reflect recommendations from the city’s public safety department also passed, with dissent from Mahler and Derezinski. The third amendment – requiring a report from the new developer and current owner on efforts to address problems on the site – failed, with only Bona, Briggs, Carlberg and Pratt voting in favor of it.

Overall site plan outcome: The Windsong site plan was approved, with dissent from Mahler. Commissioners Westphal and Woods were absent.

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

Absent: Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods.

Next meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, June 1 at 7 p.m. in city hall council chambers, 150 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By Tom Whitaker
    May 25, 2010 at 11:50 am | permalink

    I don’t think the Zingerman’s vote was ever in doubt, so I’m a little disappointed that neither the Chronicle nor AnnArbor.com reported on what I think was the bigger story at this meeting.

    Currently, a city ordinance requires that all development plans subject to public hearings, currently under review, be displayed in city hall, in a location accessible to the public, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 7 days prior to those public hearings. At the above-reported meeting, the planning commission voted unanimously to severely restrict the public’s access to the complete and up-to-date plans after business hours by eliminating this requirement. It must now go to City Council where I hope they will immediately reject it.

    For those who’ve never been confronted with a controversial development issue in their neighborhood, this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Our neighborhood has successfully fought off two very inappropriate developments and are currently fighting a third. Time after time, we’ve watched developers and their architects stand up and thank the planning staff for the “countless hours” of work and meeting time they have put in on helping the developers/architects improve their proposals.

    The public’s time with staff is far more limited and is often rushed. The neighbors are treated courteously, but more like an obligation than a real stakeholder. If one wants unlimited access to the files and plans, then one must pay a fee for copies and wait for days while they are prepared. Many of my neighbors work full-time day jobs and are not free to come to city hall during the work day anyway.

    Secondly, since we are not experts, we have found that our best defense against these inappropriate developments is to hire consultants to help us navigate plans, city ordinances, and legal technicalities. Some of these experts have offices in Metro Detroit so they were unable to visit City Hall during the day unless we were to assume the financial burden and pay their travel time.

    This is an unfair burden to place on the public, when all staff has to do is keep the drawings current and make sure we can get to them after-hours.

    It’s really not that difficult to have a set of plans on a wheelchair-accessible table in the lobby of city hall. When revisions are received from the developer, take the elevator down there and put the new plans in the set. Simple.

    While I think the 24-hour requirement is perhaps a bit extreme, this amendment is so vague and weak that it only requires staff to make an attempt at putting plans somewhere in City Hall. It doesn’t even require that plans be up-to-date, merely rubber-stamped with a note that tells one to go to the planning office for the latest version (not open after 5pm). Citizens and their consultants should have after-hours access to the same plans that the developers and staff do.

    Online staff reports, often only posted a couple of days before hearings, are no substitute for physical access to actual drawings. For one thing, they are not scalable (architectural term meaning that an architect’s scale or ruler can be used to measure dimensions on the drawings).

    Further, the staff reports never include ALL documents submitted by developers, and often include computer-generated renderings or Photo-Shopped images (not required submittals) made by developers to sell positive features and hide negative ones. (Unfortunately, the planning commission often uses these unmeasured, and unvetted renderings to base their decisions–but that’s another matter entirely.) Full physical access to required drawings is imperative for the public, and restricting this access to business hours is only limiting the public’s ability to intelligently respond to proposals.

    An online file of all documents related to the development, scanned and posted as they arrive, would be a good tool for all sides, too, but as a welcome addition to public access, not a substitute for physical access to the architectural drawings.

    Many of the issues in R4C neighborhoods could have been addressed in the 18 YEARS since the Central Area Plan was adopted, yet the City has dragged its feet, or done nothing at all. Last year a committee was finally appointed to look into it, but it took 8 months to seat them. They met a few times, but it’s now been months since the last meeting. In the time since this committee was formed, and our recent battles have given substantial zoning deficiencies the light of day (thanks to our access to the plans), planning commission and council could have easily adopted some minor revisions to the ordinances that would close loopholes and clarify vague items. For example, they could have clarified building height measurement, defined dormers, reconciled dwelling unit and housekeeping unit definitions, and numerous other minor items.

    Instead, this zoning ordinance amendment is being pushed quickly through the system based on an procedural issue that only came to light (thanks to us) about 9 months ago. Eighteen years and counting to sort out the underlying zoning problems, but only 9 months to act to restrict the public’s access to information because staff simply failed to keep the plans up-to-date?

    I hope others will join me in asking city council to reject this ordinance amendment so as not to further impair the public’s access to information. We need more and better access, not less!

  2. By Marvin Face
    May 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm | permalink

    I’m going to put aside the fact that I believe all three developments Tom references are not only appropriate but improve that area of town, and I will agree with his central argument that access to drawings should be retained as they are now.