Moving Ahead on Zaragon Place 2

Commission also takes step toward formal sustainability effort

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (June 15, 2010): With only minor suggestions from planning commissioners, the 14-story Zaragon Place 2 apartment complex was unanimously approved by the commission, and will next be considered by the city council, likely at one of their August meetings.

Bonnie Bona

Bonnie Bona, chair of Ann Arbor's city planning commission, listens to a presentation about Zaragon Place 2. A rendering of the proposed project is on the screen in the background, viewed from the William Street perspective. (Photos by the writer.)

The project – to be located at the southeast corner of William and Thompson, next to Cottage Inn restaurant – drew support from two representatives of neighboring businesses, who said they were eager for new residents to arrive as potential customers. The site has been vacant and considered blighted for more than a decade.

Unlike recent proposals for two other residential developments – Heritage Row and The Moravian – Zaragon Place 2 does not require special zoning and has not faced opposition from neighborhood groups.

Some of the discussion by commissioners centered on the 40 parking spaces to be provided within the structure, as well as 40 spaces for bikes in a secured storage room. The ground level will include retail space fronting William. Also as part of the project, the city’s parks unit is asking the developer for $48,000 to help pay for new parks in the area, or to enhance existing parks.

In other business, the commission approved a special exemption use for Big Shot Fireworks to set up a tent in front of the Quarter Bistro, in the Westgate Shopping Center. Commissioners were schooled in fireworks-related legislation – anything that spins, explodes or leaves the ground can’t be sold in Michigan to the general public.

And a rezoning of a previously unzoned parcel on Jackson Avenue – site of the former Barnard Plating factory, next to Hillside Terrace Retirement Center – passed without discussion.

Finally, the commission discussed and passed a resolution that more formally outlines their plan to work with the city’s environmental and energy commissions toward the goal of building a sustainable Ann Arbor. It’s the outgrowth of a joint meeting the three commissions held in April, and was characterized by planning commission chair Bonnie Bona as the beginning of a community conversation about sustainability.

Zaragon Place 2:

Rick Perlman, the Chicago-based developer of Zaragon Place – a 10-story apartment building on East University – is proposing a second structure on the west side of campus, dubbed Zaragon Place 2. The new 96,685-square-foot residential building would be 14 stories tall, located on the southwest corner of Thompson and William – now an empty lot next to Cottage Inn restaurant.

The building meets the site’s D1 zoning, and is therefore a “by-right” project – no rezoning is required. It is the first project to move forward under the city’s new A2D2 zoning regulations, and would include 99 units, 40 parking spaces on levels two and three, 40 spots for bike storage in a secured room on the third level, and ground floor retail space facing William Street. The apartment entrance, along with an entrance to the parking levels, would be on the Thompson Street side. Each of the floors from levels four through 14 would include nine apartments: one 4-bedroom unit, six 2-bedroom units, and two 1-bedroom units.

According to the staff report, the city’s parks and recreation unit is asking developers to contribute $48,000 toward acquiring or enhancing parkland near the development.

In describing the project to commissioners, Alexis DiLeo of the city’s planning staff mentioned some outstanding issues: A traffic impact statement that’s under review; the possible need to relocate the building’s fire hydrant; and additional modeling being done to look at the project’s impact on the sanitary sewer system.

During their deliberations, commissioners praised the project, with only relatively minor criticisms and suggestions. Several commented on the lack of opposition to the development – in contrast to two other recent controversial projects that have come before the commission and the city council: Heritage Row and The Moravian. General support for Zaragon Place 2 was also evident at a public meeting in April held by the project team and attended by several residents who have strongly opposed Heritage Row and The Moravian – in contrast, they said they supported Zaragon Place 2, citing the appropriateness of its location. [See Chronicle coverage: "Zaragon, Heritage Row and The Moravian"]

Tom Heywood

Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Area Association, speaks in favor of Zaragon Place 2.

Zaragon Place 2: Public Commentary

Five people spoke during the public hearing on Zaragon Place 2 – all of them in favor of the project.

Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Area Association, said that when he came to town 15 years ago, there were three blighted properties in that area: An abandoned Olga’s restaurant at the southeast corner of State and Washington, a former McDonald’s building on Maynard, and an empty bank at the southeast corner of Thompson and William. The first two properties have since been developed – Zaragon Place 2 would complete the redevelopment of those three sites. In March, the association’s board unanimously voted to support the project, he reported. While he couldn’t speak for all his members, Heywood said that the vast majority of them are overjoyed, to say the least. The association is looking forward to having them as members.

Scott Bonney of Neumann/Smith Architecture, the Southfield firm that’s designing this project, reviewed several of the building’s design features. He described it as a sister building to Zaragon Place on East University, and noted that they planned to use essentially the same materials as they did for Zaragon Place. He pointed out some design differences between ZP2 and the original Zaragon – all the bedrooms in the new building would have at least one window, for example, and they’ll use clear glass for the street level retail space. The structure will be fully compliant with the city’s new D1-D2 zoning, he said, as well as with the draft design guidelines that the city is developing.

Roger Hewitt said he’s been operating businesses in the State Street area for 25 years or so. [He owns the Red Hawk restaurant on State Street, as well as a café and market called revive + replenish in the ground floor of Zaragon Place, on East University. He is also a board member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.] Hewitt said he strongly supports this project. There used to be a wonderful mix of retail in that area, but strip malls have pulled away business and it’s been clear that they need denser housing to have a vibrant urban area. He said he’s been pushing for that over the past several years, as a member of the A2D2 steering committee. He could not be happier that a quality building like this is being proposed. It will be a boon to the area, he said, and everyone is looking forward to having the new residents as customers.

Reporting from the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, Ray Detter said the group had seen a presentation of the project at their May meeting, and strongly supported it. By complying with D1 zoning, the building meets the community’s expectations for downtown density, he said. It requires no zoning variances, and meets the design guidelines that are being drafted. They recognize that these units don’t qualify as affordable housing, but the city will just have to satisfy its commitment to affordable housing on other sites, he said. For all of these reasons, the DACAC supports the project.

Scott Betzoldt of Midwestern Consulting, the project’s civil engineer, described several elements of the site plan. An easement on the south and east sides will provide access for the neighboring Cottage Inn restaurant. The project meets all D1 zoning requirements. It will include streetscape improvements per Downtown Development Authority standards, he said, including light fixtures in excess of what’s required. If the retail space becomes a café, they anticipate sidewalk dining, he said. They are installing a stormwater management system that’s already been approved by the county’s water resources commissioner, and it should help address issues in the Allen Creek watershed. There’s no open space, he said, but the developer is including a fitness center in lieu of that. Betzoldt said the issues that staff has raised are very small problems, and they don’t anticipate any difficulty in addressing them.

Zaragon Place 2: Commissioner Deliberations

Tony Derezinski began by calling Zaragon Place 2 an impressive project. It’s the first one done under the new zoning ordinance, he noted, and tests how a by-right project meets those new requirements. Based on staff reports, it’s clear that’s been done, he said. There’s also a model of success, he said – Zaragon Place 1 – both in the building’s design and the fact that there’s a high occupancy rate. He joked that in the drawings for Zaragon Place 2, it shows people crossing the street to the church, so it will be good for that “business” as well. He said he was particularly happy to see the report about a public meeting held by the developer – it showed that there was strong support by people who attended, including some who have opposed other developments in the past.

Jean Carlberg asked about noise complaints that the city had received from residents of other buildings, such as the Lofts on State Street. How were those issues being addressed in this new project? Bonney said there had been complaints at Zaragon Place, too. He described a variety of retrofits that they’d done on Zaragon Place, including door sweeps and the addition of insulation between the walls. For Zaragon Place 2, they’ll be doing those things and more, he said. They’ll use more solid materials between the units – solid concrete, rather than concrete block, for example – and they’ll install baffles in the air ducts to buffer noise.

Carlberg said she was glad to hear this, and asked that they outline these measures before the plan goes to city council. It would be good to have this information on hand so that city staff can use it the next time a similar project comes along.

She then asked about the problem of melting ice dripping from the roof on Zaragon Place. Bonney said they are modifying the design of the cornice for the new building so that water would be diverted into a gutter system. The cornice is made of fiberglass, which is slicker than stone and makes it easier for ice to form.

Carlberg asked why Zaragon Place has been successful in getting full tenancy, and what makes them think that Zaragon Place 2 will be successful. She also asked where the students’ cars end up – or don’t the student tenants have cars? she asked.

Bonney said Zaragon Place offers an alternative to other housing – dorms, or older apartments. Zaragon uses higher-quality materials, fully furnished units with Italian cabinetry, granite countertops and other amenities. Students are tired of older apartments, he said – they want to feel that this is their first home away from home, that it’s a special place. Plus, the location is superb, he said.

Regarding cars, he said the building’s parking meets D1 requirements. There are a lot of public parking structures nearby, but most of the tenants don’t own cars – that’s the beauty of living in a walkable town, he said. Students and young professionals want that type of location. Carlberg asked how many tenants in Zaragon Place use public parking structures.

The building manager for Zaragon Place, Liza Lax, came to the podium to answer the question. The 40 parking spaces in the building are all filled, she reported, and there were about 10 more people who wanted spots. They were referred to Republic Parking, which manages the city’s municipal lots. Lax said she also pointed people to the university’s off-campus housing website, which provides information on parking spots for sale in the area. It hasn’t been a big issue, she said.

Carlberg noted that the site plan shows trees on the north side of the building. When the DDA puts in trees, it doesn’t put them on the north sides of streets, she said, because there’s not enough sunlight. She wondered if they’d discussed whether trees can actually grow there. Betzoldt said the trees selected for that location are hornbeams, and don’t require a lot of light.

Eric Mahler asked for further explanation about the stormwater system planned for the site. Betzoldt said since the building footprint covered almost the entire site, they were mainly detaining roof drainage, which would be routed down through the building into underground storage tanks. From there it would discharge into a public storm sewer – meeting all county water resources guidelines.

Mahler then asked about the parking ramp – how wide is it, and what’s the grade? Betzoldt said the ramp had a 9% grade, similar to Zaragon Place, and the lane is about 16 feet wide.

Mahler said his concern is that the floor-to-area ratio (FAR) – at 681.5% – is very high, but his concerns are far outweighed by the parking arrangement, which is highly desirable, and the density it adds, which the city is always clamoring for. He said it doesn’t go unnoticed that there’s no significant opposition to the project, which is “no mean feat.” He liked the fact that they wrote LEED certification, to some extent, into the development agreement, which he finds commendable.

Wendy Woods wondered how they’ll address concerns raised by the fire department about the names of the two buildings, which could be easily confused. She said she’s done ride-alongs with the fire department, and you wouldn’t want there to be confusion when they make a run. Betzoldt agreed that it could be confusing, though the names are different, he noted – the new building is Zaragon Place 2. They’re relying on a brand and banking on the success of Zaragon Place, he said. He noted that when he looks in the phone book, he can find a dozen McDonald’s, eight to 10 Cottage Inns, four Krogers – in all of those cases, people have to be clear about the location when they call for help.

Woods said that because it’s a high-rise, there will be more people possibly at risk, which increases the need for clarity. She noted that within the past year, there was a fire that resulted in someone’s death – in part, because there was confusion about the address. It wouldn’t stop her from supporting the project, but she wanted to raise those concerns. “It works until it doesn’t work,” she said. Betzoldt said they might want to do some education with the building manager and residents, to ensure that people are specific about the address.

Woods also asked about the bicycle room. Bonney clarified that there would be a secured storage room for 40 bicycles on the third floor parking level. Originally they had tried to find a location on the ground floor, he said, but it’s a tight site. At Zaragon Place, they’ve found that students will either park on the street or they’ll use the elevators to take bikes to their apartments. [The bike storage room there is in an underground parking level.] Bonney said they believe at the new building, students will use the oversized elevators to go to the third floor storage area.

Woods clarified that the parking levels are open to the air. The bicycle room, however, is enclosed, with glass windows.

Evan Pratt said he liked the high amount of glass on the building’s facade, and its contemporary look. He wondered if any of the windows opened. All living rooms and bedrooms have windows that open, Bonney said.

Pratt then pointed out that the retail space on the street level is recessed – what’s the reason for that? He noted that there’s a lot at 1 Huron Street lot that is recessed, and doesn’t seem to work well, from the pedestrian’s perspective. Bonney said the city’s draft design guidelines state that if a sidewalk is 12 feet wide, they can widen 80% of the building’s facade by 4 feet. They wanted the option for outdoor dining, he said, and a bit of a protected area at the entrance. At the corner, it’s pulled back a little more, Bonney said, to 8 feet – that’s so the design can meet the guidelines for creating architectural interest by modulating the facades.

Kirk Westphal picked up on Pratt’s comments, saying he appreciated that the draft design guidelines were taken into account. He noted the cornice on the building’s west side, and wondered why they didn’t put a continuing cornice along the north, east and south facades. Bonney said the cornice wraps slightly around the north and south sides, but that the intent was to visually orient the building to the west side, facing Thompson Street. He said that since it’s a corner lot, the design also serves to distinguish the Maynard side from the Thompson side.

Westphal said it certainly is different, but that in his experience working on the design guidelines, there still should be a defining element that goes all the way around the top of the building. He said he appreciated the transparency on the major first-floor facades. However, he noted in the area that might be used for outdoor dining, people would be staring at a solid wall. He asked if the wall needs to be solid. Yes, Bonney said – structurally, it needs to be load-bearing.

Finally, Westphal commented that the aesthetic of the recessed area “doesn’t remind me of the strongest retail or restaurant areas in our town.” Bonney said it’s possible that the area might be enhanced with a canopy, depending on the tenant. He clarified that no one has committed to leasing the space yet. Westphal expressed his personal hope that it wouldn’t become a bank. He described it as a great project and a real enhancement to the neighborhood.

Erica Briggs echoed other commissioners’ comments about it being a wonderful project. She asked whether they would have put in 40 parking spaces if they hadn’t been required to do so, or if they would have preferred to use that space for additional residences. Bonney said they think it’s the right amount, especially with nearby parking in the underground structure being built next to the library.

Briggs also asked about bike parking – is the same amount provided in the original Zaragon Place? Bonney said it’s the same amount, but perhaps because the Zaragon Place bike storage is in the lower level parking, people are more reluctant to use it. People like to take their expensive bikes to their residences. Briggs said she suspected the convenience or security isn’t there – even secured bike rooms might have problems with theft, and she encouraged them to think of ways to make it as secure as possible.

She said it looked like they were doing just the minimum amount of bike parking, and with about 200 residents, more than 40 bike spaces would be a benefit. Bonney noted that there are also 10 spaces in front of the building – Briggs clarified that she was referring to secured spaces. Was there room for more in the storage room? Bonney said the room is spacious and the spaces aren’t crammed, so in theory there would be room for more wall storage. There are also little nooks and crannies elsewhere in the garage, where spaces could be added.

Briggs said she didn’t know how much the spaces were used, so it was hard to know what the demand would be like. Bonney then noted that in the north campus apartment complex that they designed, called The Courtyards – there are 900 units and spaces for 40 bikes. Only two bikes are stored there, he said – “way less than we thought it would be.”

“All right,” Briggs quipped, “I’ll stop talking.”

Diane Giannola spoke next, saying she thought it was a wonderful project, and agreeing with other commissioners’ comments. She asked for a view and description of the building’s east side, which Bonney provided.

Bonnie Bona wrapped up the discussion. She mentioned the issue that Woods had raised about clarifying the address, and said that as a planning issue, she wanted to encourage them to use an address that matched the entrance to the apartments. She pointed to the Lofts on State Street as an example of something that didn’t work – the door on the building’s State Street side has a sign saying that residents should use the Washington Street entrance, which she described as “the dumbest, ugliest door.”

She said she noticed that the alley behind the building toward Cottage Inn is an easement. Giving alley access to the backs of other buildings would be good – she thanked them for making that an easement. She said she appreciated her fellow commissioners’ concerns about the sidewalk width, but noted that in that neighborhood, sidewalks tend to be a bit too-narrow – she’s more okay with it at that location than she would be in other parts of the city.

Regarding design issues, Bona said that the intent of the design guidelines – to have a “top” design element around most of the building – hasn’t been met in Zaragon Place 2. It looks like half of the building doesn’t have a top, she said. When she looks at the drawings, it reminds her of Ashley Terrace, which has a heavy bottom and looks like they didn’t finish building it. It won’t make any difference in the planning commission’s vote, she said, but she encouraged them to address that design issue before bringing the project to city council.

Derezinski then asked when the project would come before city council. DiLeo said it depends on how quickly the developers can address the few outstanding issues that staff had identified. It would be Aug. 5 at the earliest, she said, but possibly not until September.

Derezinski then asked what the timetable would be for construction. Bonney said they’d start as soon as possible, applying for a building permit not long after getting final approval. They’d hope to start in the fall, and it’s about an 18-24-month construction period, he said.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the site plan for Zaragon Place 2. The city council will consider the proposal at an upcoming meeting, likely in August.

Big Shot Fireworks

Earlier in the meeting, commissioners considered a special exemption use request for Big Shot Fireworks to set up a tent in front of the Quarter Bistro, in the Westgate Shopping Center. This is the second recent special exemption use request at the shopping center – at its May 18, 2010 meeting, the planning commission approved a request for the Westside Farmers Market, which operates on Thursday afternoons next to Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

The owner of Big Shot Fireworks wants to set up a 30-foot by 50-foot tent in the parking lot, facing South Maple Road, to sell Class C fireworks and other items. The business would be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, with longer hours – until midnight – during the week before July 4.

The permit would be valid for one calendar year. Chris Cheng of the city’s planning staff said that the business has operated there since 2006, and the city has received no complaints about it. No one spoke during the public hearing for the request.

Fireworks: Commissioner Deliberations

Jean Carlberg asked how signs would be handled. Rudy Rodriguez, Jr. of Big Shot Fireworks said there would be temporary banners along the bottom of the tent and near the curb area. Carlberg said she didn’t like fireworks, but had learned that these are legal. She found it reassuring to know that there hadn’t been complaints in previous years.

Bonnie Bona asked for clarification of the differences between Class A, B and C fireworks. Rodriguez explained that in Michigan, you need permits to use Class A and B fireworks – anything that spins, explodes or leaves the ground can’t be sold in the state to the general public. There’s the possibility that state law governing fireworks will be changed, he said – if it does, then they would no longer be able to sell in a tent, and would need to find a permanent, indoor facility. He later noted that the tent they use is made of fire retardant material, and that they have a million-dollar insurance policy for the location.

Wendy Woods asked if they would sell apparel as well – Rodriguez said they would. He added that they would likely return to the location for special events – if a sports team wins a championship, for example – to sell specialty items. Each time they put up the tent anew, they are required to have new inspections by the fire marshal, he noted.

Woods asked if there are age restrictions regarding their customers for fireworks. Rodriguez said that it was funny – you have to be 18 years old to sell fireworks, but there are no age requirements to buy them.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the special exemption use request, which will now be forwarded to the city council.

Rezoning Jackson Road Property

A 1.2-acre parcel at 1943 Jackson Avenue, west of Hillside Terrace Retirement Center, is unzoned. The city’s planning staff recommended that it be rezoned to R4C (multi-family dwelling), compatible with the surrounding residential area and recommended in the city’s West Area plan. The site – the former location for the Barnard Plating factory – includes a single-family home and a brick building. According to the staff report, the property owner has indicated that the proposed rezoning is acceptable.

No one spoke at the public hearing, and there was no discussion among commissioners about the item.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation that 1943 Jackson Road be rezoned from an unzoned property to R4C (multi-family dwelling). The rezoning request will be forwarded to the city council for approval at an upcoming meeting.

Resolution on Sustainability

Following the vote on Zaragon Place 2, the commission considered a resolution that was an outgrowth of efforts by leaders of three city commissions: planning, environmental and energy. The three commissions held a joint working session on sustainability in April, discussing ways that the groups can work together. [See Chronicle coverage: "Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor"]

Bonnie Bona, who chairs the planning commission, drafted a resolution that commissioners initially discussed at their June 8 working session. The intent is to outline how the three commissions will coordinate toward the goal of incorporating sustainability into their work, and possibly broadening that scope to include other city commissions and the University of Michigan. [.pdf of sustainability resolution]

There are five resolved clauses:

Resolved, the City Planning Commission will seek input from the Environmental Commission and Energy Commission regarding policy recommendations for Master Plan updates, planning studies and zoning ordinance revisions, at the discretion of the Planning Commission chair, which promote a broader view of sustainability.

Resolved, the City Planning Commission will request participation by a representative from the Environmental Commission and the Energy Commission in the Citizen Outreach Committee’s efforts to broaden the community-wide discussion of planning.

Resolved, the City Planning Commission Chair will be available to meet periodically, as deemed necessary, with the Chair of the Environmental Commission and the Chair of the Energy Commission to discuss progress on joint commission coordination toward a sustainable Ann Arbor and to consider this coordination with other City commissions, the University of Michigan’s sustainability representatives and other regional representatives.

Resolved, the City Planning Commission representative on the Environmental Commission will keep each commission updated on policy recommendations being considered by the other commission.

Resolved, the City Planning Commission requests a supporting resolution for joint coordination toward a sustainable Ann Arbor by the Environmental Commission and Energy Commission.

Tony Derezinski began by saying he still had the same concerns he had originally voiced at the June 8 working session – namely, that the resolution added steps to the commission’s process that, if not met, could leave the city vulnerable. He specifically objected to the first resolved clause, and said he thought they had agreed not to include the reference to zoning ordinance revisions.

He said it’s not that he’s against the concept of sustainability – though he thought there had been discussion that it should be defined. But given the language of the resolution, it wasn’t one he could support.

Jean Carlberg said it didn’t seem to her that the resolution made it a mandatory process – it doesn’t set timeframes or require a response. She didn’t see it as creating new strictures, so she wasn’t troubled by it.

Eric Mahler agreed with Derezinski that adding any process that isn’t mandated by law, especially related to a legally binding thing like an ordinance, is a little troubling. But the phrase “at the discretion of the chair” adds some leeway, he said. The commission could just seek input from other commissions – they didn’t have to wait for it. He was okay with the language, saying that there was enough “clever drafting” to make him comfortable with it.

Kirk Westphal congratulated Bona on her work, and said it was a big step that a lot of folks had been meaning to take, but no one else had. He said he shared some of the concerns of the attorneys on the commission – Derezinski and Mahler – and asked whether the resolution could be brought to bear in any legal process.

Wendy Rampson, head of the planning staff, started off by saying that she was not providing legal advice. She said the resolution simply directed staff to seek input from the two other commissions. If it becomes a concern, she added, then future commissions can simply vote it out. She said she didn’t know if someone could fault them for not following the process, from a legal standpoint.

Westphal said he was comfortable with it as is.

Wendy Woods asked whether the citizen outreach committee had met yet, and whether they saw a role for the other two commissions in their work. Erica Briggs, who’s on that committee, replied that it’s great to have the energy and environmental commissions as part of the community-wide discussion of planning, and since the resolution doesn’t tie it directly to sustainability, they would just be part of the broader discussion. Perhaps even more commissions can be involved, she said, talking about how to do outreach well and how to reach a broader segment of the community.

Woods pointed out that the resolution is related to sustainability. She asked for examples of previous decisions that the planning commission made that would have benefited from input from the other commissions.

Evan Pratt cited the flood plain ordinance, which they ran past the environmental commission. Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, took the flood plain ordinance to that commission, to get their feedback.

Rampson said when they were working on the A2D2 zoning, looking at “green” premiums, the planning staff was trying to get a sense of the best metrics to use – LEED certification or some other method. They approached both the environmental and energy commissions for input on that, she said. This resolution would just formalize that approach.

Westphal, who also serves on the environmental commission, brought up another example. That group had recently been briefed on the city’s area, height & placement project, and they raised concerns over how building height might affect shading over houses that have solar panels on their roofs.

Briggs said she didn’t have concerns with the wording, and she appreciated the intent of the resolution, to reach out to the other commissions and think more broadly about these issues. They’re just at the beginning of this discussion about sustainability, she said, and it was important to formalize it.

Bona spoke next, saying she had some things to add “without being defensive.” She said she’s been reading books by professionals who are having trouble defining sustainability, so if the commissioners tried to do that first, she felt they’d get nowhere. She hoped they’d be having the conversation more and more about what sustainability means for this city.

She reminded commissioners of the generic example she’d mentioned at the working session, when they face a planned unit development (PUD) or planned project that wants to build higher than zoning allows. For a variety of reasons, she said, she tends to be pro-density in developed areas, “but I never know when to stop.” When someone comes to them with a 10-story building, her first response is, “Why only 10 stories?” Is that just the political spot – the height that would allow it to get through the city council without neighborhood opposition?

The chair of the energy commission, Wayne Appleyard, had shared with Bona an article that stated a sustainable building in the Midwest would be five stories – that’s because you could generate the renewable energy from the roof and the ground that would be sufficient for the building. A bigger building would require outside renewable energy sources, she said.

“I don’t know if five stories is it,” she said, “but I’d like to have a more intelligent conversation than just watching the political winds.”

Bona also said that she thinks the conversations with the public will be much more fulfilling when it’s not just planning – it’s about planning based on smart energy and smart environmental thinking.

Outcome: The resolution passed, with dissent from Derezinski.

Public Commentary

Jim Mogensen spoke during the two times available for general public commentary, at the beginning and end of the meeting. His theme was transportation.

On June 15, 2006, he said, the mayor sent out a press release announcing the new transportation approach – mobility in the 21st century. So what was mobility in the 20th century? In 1953 when the Michigan constitution had just been passed, it included Act 55 – that was the act under which the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority was created. In 1968, Ann Arbor was having trouble paying a private bus company, Mogensen said, so they decided to create a transportation authority.

In 1969, a local state senator helped change state law to allow a local municipality to operate its transportation authority 10 miles outside the city, he said – the reason was so that Ypsilanti could be included in the AATA service area. Then in 1973 a millage was passed, and in 1974 the area was enlarged. People were already thinking about regional coverage then – several communities, including Ypsilanti and several surrounding townships, had purchase of service agreements to get service from AATA.

Things have pretty much stayed the same since then, he said, but now we’re starting to see cracks. Most people who use the system are lower-income people – that’s the reality of it, he said.

During his second turn, Mogensen recapped his initial comments, saying he was there – first, because he’s always there – but also because it was the fourth anniversary of the mayor unveiling his Model for Mobility. When the model for mobility had been developed in the 20th century, he said, there were transportation planners involved in that process – some of the details of that are not well known. AATA was not initially thought to be a regional system, but it became one a few years later – a fixed route bus service in the urban area. And mostly low-income people are using the bus.

The barriers to middle class people using the bus are time, money and convenience. Most people say it takes too long to use the bus, he said, and they don’t have time. Fares for the middle class are subsidized through various programs – he calls it “association” versus “application.” If you’re associated with the downtown through an employer, your fare is subsidized through the getDowntown program. If you’re associated with the university, it’s free – federal funding subsidizes the MRide program. If you’re a low-income person, you can apply for assistance, but only to get your fare cut in half. So there are these discontinuities in the system, Mogensen said.

The newest mobility system is essentially for middle class people who live in sprawl. But you can’t pay for both these approaches, he said. So what’s happening is that the city is converting the old system, which is for people in the urban area, to incentivize people who live in sprawl. What concerns him is that people in the urban areas will have to buy cars if they’re not affiliated with the university.

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

Next meeting: The planning commission next meets on Thursday, July 8 at 6 p.m. in fourth floor boardroom of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By Jack F.
    June 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm | permalink

    “Wendy Woods asked if they would sell apparel as well – Rodriguez said they would. He added that they would likely return to the location for special events – if a sports team wins a championship, for example – to sell specialty items. Each time they put up the tent anew, they are required to have new inspections by the fire marshal, he noted.”

    I’m guessing if someone wants to set up a tent year round to sell t-shirts and fireworks on the Old West Side or Burns Park, they’re out of luck. But on the far westside, anything goes for the planning commission.

    Hopefully no ten year olds will get their fingers blown off since there are no age restrictions for puruchasing in our great city.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    June 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm | permalink

    Talk about your invidious comparisons. The Westgate parking lot is hardly comparable to Burns Park. All kinds of temporary sales things have been set up in that lot–it’s a legitimate commercial use (the question of fireworks aside–I agree with you there). Do you think they’d get a permit to set up in Vets Park or the Winewood-Thaler neighborhood? Unlikely.