Heritage Row Vote Likely Delayed

Public notice issue also affects Glacier Hills site plan

On the published agenda for Monday’s June 7 council meeting are public hearings on two different site plans – Heritage Row and a planned project at Glacier Hills. Public hearings such as these are required to be published in a newspaper of general circulation one week before they take place.


From the June 3, 2010 edition of the Washtenaw Legal News, the published notice of the June 7, 2010 Glacier Hills and Heritage Row site plan public hearings. (Image links to wider view and higher resolution file.)

In a phone interview on Friday, city clerk Jackie Beaudry confirmed for The Chronicle that an email sent by the Ann Arbor city clerk’s office to the Detroit News – requesting publication of the notices for Sunday, May 30 – was not received by The News. Due to the Memorial Day holiday, the city clerk’s staff did not learn of the communication snafu until Tuesday. That was not in time to meet the publication requirement for the June 7 public hearings.

As a result, no vote is now expected on the site plans for those two projects at Monday’s June 7 city council meeting. The notice of public hearings for those projects, Beaudry said, was published in the June 3 edition of the Washtenaw Legal News. Those WLN notices in the June 3 edition still specify the site plan public hearings for June 7, but indications from inside city hall are that if when the hearings are opened on June  7, they’ll be left open and continued through the council’s June 21 meeting, when a vote will be taken on the site plans as well as the Heritage Row rezoning.

The zoning change for the Heritage Row project, which is considered separately from the site plan by the council and is given a separate public hearing, was properly noticed, Beaudry told The Chronicle. How can one of the public hearings receive proper notice, but the other one not, when they’re part of the same project?

It’s due to the fact that the rezoning moves through a two-step process with the city council, whereas the site plan approval requires just one step. Rezoning is an ordinance change – as such, it requires two readings before the council. Having passed at its first reading at the city council’s May 3 meeting, the Heritage Row rezoning moves to a second council reading through a process handled by the city clerk’s office – and the associated public noticing is thus handled without any additional communication required from planning and development staff.

The site plan for Heritage Row, however, is coming to the city council for the first time on June 7 – it does not become part of the city clerk’s bailiwick until there’s communication from the city planning staff. On a related note, for planning commission public hearings, the responsibility of public noticing falls to the city planning staff, not the city clerk.

The relevant city code section for public noticing of site plans is from Chapter 57:

5:135.  Public information and hearings. …

(3)   Notice of all public hearings shall be published in a local daily newspaper of general circulation at least 1 week prior to the public hearing

The decision on Heritage Row, now projected for June 21, 2010, would overlap with the first reading before the city council of a proposed historic district, tentatively scheduled for the same meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "S. Fifth Avenue: Historic District, Development"]

The Heritage Row project includes 79 units – 12 efficiencies, 9 1-bedroom, 43 2-bedroom, 14 3-bedroom, and 1 5-bedroom apartment. Those units will be distributed over seven renovated existing houses and three buildings to be constructed behind the existing houses. [Additional Chronicle coverage: "Heritage Row Moves to City Council"]


  1. By Tom Whitaker
    June 5, 2010 at 9:10 am | permalink

    The public hearing and vote on the REZONING for Heritage Row are what really matter, not the site plan. The site plan is essentially moot if the re-zoning is not approved (although they do always vote on the site plan anyway, even if the rezoning fails).

    It is not crystal clear from the article if the hearing and vote on the REZONING for Heritage Row will still proceed on Monday, June 7 or not. Please help clarify this in the story and the headline. Have only the site plan hearing and vote been delayed?

    It is critical that the public be properly noticed and not confused in to thinking that they need not show up on June 7 for what could be a precedent-setting Council vote.

    If the rezoning is approved, this would be the first time the City has allowed a high-density planned unit development into an R4C neighborhood. Will Council do this in spite of the public’s affirmation and reaffirmation of the mandate to protect the residential scale and character of these areas? This mandate is documented in the Central Area Plan, the Calthorpe study, the currently-stalled R4C/R2A study, as well as the new Downtown Plan and corresponding D1/D2 zoning just very recently passed by this Council.

    Responding to the public’s desire to protect the near-downtown neighborhoods from downtown-scale development, the City created D2 buffer zones (or “interface” zones) around the downtown core as pat of the brand new zoning. One of these zones is along William, just north of the proposed Heritage Row site. If this rezoning were to be approved, it would be a slap in the face to all those who worked so hard on A2D2, and the public who participated in the process in great numbers. What would it say about the integrity of our planning and zoning process, our public participation process, and this Council’s willingness to represent their constituents?

    The City made a bargain with the neighborhood property owners throughout the A2D2 process: high density, high rise buildings would go into the core, with less dense, less tall buildings buffering that core from the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods were to be protected in their current scale as just one of several desirable urban housing options—probably the most important option in terms of curbing suburban sprawl.

    We need to know, with certainty, whenever City Council is considering amending their end of this zoning bargain so that we can be there and be heard.

  2. By Dave Askins
    June 5, 2010 at 11:33 am | permalink

    Re: [1] “It is not crystal clear from the article if the hearing and vote on the REZONING for Heritage Row will still proceed on Monday, June 7 or not. Please help clarify this in the story and the headline. Have only the site plan hearing and vote been delayed?”

    I’ve added a clarification to the article to highlight the fact that the likely delay in the vote on Heritage Row applies to both site plan and re-zoning and that the hearings will, if fact, be opened on June 7.

    I would stress that choice “likely” in the headline is quite deliberate — it’s based on the recent information reported in the article as well as past city council practice in similar situations. That likelihood comes with no guarantees, and there can be no certainty here, because delays are a function of city council votes to postpone. And a city council vote can’t be guaranteed in advance.

    For the rezoning hearing — which has been properly noticed — there’s not a legal requirement that it be continued until the night when the final vote is taken. But historically, when there’s a likelihood of postponement on the decision, the mayor has left hearings open until the evening when the final vote is taken. That comes with the administrative wrinkle that if you choose to speak on that night, you can’t speak at the following meeting because you can’t speak twice at the same public hearing.

    It’s a conundrum for the citizens who want to make their voices heard on the night that the council actually renders its decision, because even on that night at the beginning of the public hearing, the mayor can’t guarantee a postponement later that evening. You’re faced with a choice between taking the guaranteed opportunity to speak that evening, with the possibility that the council does not actually vote that evening, or not speaking and watching the council take a yes-no vote.

    In sum, if someone shows up on Monday, June 7, they’re guaranteed to have an opportunity to be heard. If they make a decision to stay home, or decides to attend but not to speak, then there’s a risk (a small one, I think) in not taking the opportunity to be heard if it turns out that the council votes yes-no on the rezoning anyway, because there’s not enough votes to postpone it.

    On the other hand, if you speak at the hearing as a hedge against the possibility that the yes-no vote takes place that night, but it’s postponed, then you’ve shot your public hearing wad.

    Of course, there’s some opportunity to take a second crack at it anyway, during public commentary reserved time at the beginning of the meeting — but those are limited to 10 slots.

    It’s certainly unfortunate that interested citizens — whether they’re for or against this project — have to deal with an uncertain situation with respect to their participation on this issue.

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    June 5, 2010 at 12:09 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Dave. I think.

    Let me offer another alternative (besides reserved time) for those wishing to hedge their bets and be certain they will be heard on the night the rezoning vote for Heritage Row is taken.

    There are two required public hearings that will take place, one right after the other during the same meeting; one for the rezoning and one for the site plan. Those concerned about being heard on the same night as the votes should speak during only ONE of the two hearings on Monday, June 7. If the hearings are then continued and votes postponed to the next meeting, then one may come to THAT meeting and speak during the OTHER public hearing. You may not speak twice within the same hearing (even if it takes place over two meetings), but you may certainly speak once during each.