Zingerman’s Expansion Moves Ahead

Also, another solar project approved on Old West Side

Ann Arbor Historic District Commission meeting (Sept. 9, 2010): The last-minute addition of a closed session – which lasted nearly an hour, just prior to deliberations on the Zingerman’s Deli expansion – added a bit of drama to Thursday’s meeting. But ultimately commissioners unanimously approved all projects on their agenda, with only a few concerns cited.

Members of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission talk with architect Ken Clein, right, in back of the Zingerman's Deli Annex on Sept. 7. Clein is with Quinn Evans Architects, which is handling the proposed expansion project. (Photos by the writer.)

The highest-profile of those projects, of course, was a plan to expand the Zingerman’s Deli operations at the corner of Detroit and Kingsley streets, in the Old Fourth Ward historic district. About a dozen representatives affiliated with Zingerman’s attended the meeting, including co-founder Paul Saginaw and managing partners Grace Singleton and Rick Strutz.

In 2008, commissioners rejected the company’s first attempt to gain HDC approval – in the form of a “certificate of appropriateness,” which included asking permission to tear down a small house on their property that had been gutted by fire. Since that initial rebuff by the HDC, Zingerman’s has been working on an alternative path, gaining approval from the city’s planning commission and city council, and returning to the HDC for a “notice to proceed.”

On Thursday, the commission granted the notice to proceed, which will allow the project to move forward. Several commissioners addressed concerns raised during public commentary about this project setting a precedent, saying that Zingerman’s is a unique business and this expansion is unique as well.

But commissioner Lesa Rozmarek, while noting that she would support the project and that overall Zingerman’s is an asset to the community, also said she wanted it on the record that she felt Zingerman’s had threatened the commission with the prospect of leaving the area if they didn’t get approval. The project sets a bad precedent, she said, adding that “it’s opening a big door that hopefully we can shut after this application.”

Later in the meeting Saginaw responded to Rozmarek’s comments, denying that anyone from Zingerman’s threatened to leave the city – though at one point they did consider moving out of that location to another site within Ann Arbor, he said. Saginaw said he believed the HDC was able to approve the project on its merits.

In other business, the commission issued certificates of appropriateness for three projects: 1) a solar panel installation at 217 S. Seventh St., 2) a request to add an exterior sign near the front door of 209-211 S. State St., where a CVS pharmacy is being constructed, and 3) a proposal for a 1.5-story addition on the back of 442 Second St.

The solar project is being installed on the home of Matt Grocoff, founder of Greenovation TV. Grocoff had attended last month’s HDC meeting, when two other solar panel installations were approved, including one at the historic Michigan Theater building on East Liberty. On Thursday, Grocoff told commissioners that when his solar panels are installed, his home will be the oldest in the nation to achieve net zero energy status, using only energy generated on-site.

Zingerman’s Deli Expansion

Before the start of Thursday’s meeting, Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office conferred with commission chair Ellen Ramsburgh, and at the start of the meeting a closed session was added to the agenda. To comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act, public bodies must indicate the purpose of the closed session – this one was to discuss written attorney-client privileged communication. The session was slotted after the first three projects on the agenda were considered, but prior to the Zingerman’s Deli project. It is likely that the closed session related to that project.

The closed session lasted nearly an hour.

Zingerman’s Deli: Background

In June of 2008, Zingerman’s made its initial request to the historic district commission, asking to demolish two houses and a garage as part of its plan to expand operations at the popular deli. It was part of an application for a certificate of appropriateness – if it had been granted, Zingerman’s would then have moved through the approval process with the city’s planning commission and city council. This is the most common approach for projects located in historic districts.

Issuing a certificate of appropriateness depends in part on whether a building is deemed a “contributing” or  a “non-contributing” historic structure. A building that’s determined to be “non-contributing” is more easily altered than a building that’s “contributing,” under the Secretary of the Interior standards governing historic renovation.

At its June 2008 meeting, the HDC voted to issue a certificate of appropriateness to demolish Zingerman’s non-contributing garage, but voted to deny the request to demolish the two houses, which commissioners found to be contributing to the Old Fourth Ward. While the HDC vote on the house at 420 Detroit St. – known as the Annex, or orange house – was unanimously against demolition, the vote on the fire-damaged 322 E. Kingsley St. house was only 4-3 against demolition.

So Zingerman’s regrouped, opting to pursue what’s known as a “notice to proceed.” From the city code:

8:416. Notice to proceed.
(1) Work within a historic district shall be permitted through the issuance of a notice to proceed by the commission if any of the following conditions prevail and if the proposed work can be demonstrated by a finding of the commission to be necessary to substantially improve or correct any of the following conditions:
(a) The resource constitutes a hazard to the safety of the public or to the structure’s occupants.
(b) 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.
(c) Retaining the resource will cause undue financial hardship to the owner when a governmental action, an act of God, or other events beyond the owner’s control created the hardship, and all feasible alternatives to eliminate the financial hardship, which may include offering the resource for sale at its fair market value or moving the resource to a vacant site within the historic district, have been attempted and exhausted by the owner.
(d) Retaining the resource is not in the interest of the majority of the community.

The business decided to base its notice to proceed application on criterion (b) – and set about gaining all the necessary approvals it needed before returning to the HDC. It gained planning commission approval in May 2010 [Chronicle coverage: “Zingerman’s Deli Expansion Moves Ahead”] and city council approval in July ["Zingerman's Moves on to HDC"]. The city council embellished its approval by passing an additional resolution, communicating to the HDC the council’s view that the project represented a substantial benefit to the community.

In addition, representatives from Zingerman’s met with HDC commissioners in three working sessions in late 2009 and early 2010, and held public forums earlier this year to explain the project to residents.

Other Chronicle coverage:

Zingerman’s: Making it Right for the HDC

Zingerman’s Project Seeks Brownfield Status

DDA Approves Grant for Zingerman’s

Zingerman’s Deli: Staff & Review Committee Reports

Jill Thacher, the city’s historic preservation coordinator, began by giving a detailed report on the project, and a recommendation from staff that the notice to proceed be granted.

The site plan calls for demolishing the fire-gutted house at 322 E. Kingsley, while integrating the Annex into the site by connecting it to the new building – a two-story, 10,340-square-foot addition that also would be connected to the 5,107-square-foot existing deli building via a glass atrium. They’ll add underground tanks for stormwater detention and several environmentally-friendly design elements, including a green roof on the deli’s existing one-story wing. Phoenix Contractors of Ypsilanti is the project’s construction manager and general contractor – Bill Kinley, owner of Phoenix Contractors, attended Thursday’s meeting.

The overall project is expected to cost about $6.7 million. Roughly $500,000 is associated with renovating the Annex, which is relatively small – less than 900 square feet. Renovation will entail moving the Annex off its existing foundation, replacing the foundation, renovating the house, then moving it onto the new foundation and incorporating the structure into the new deli addition.

Thacher noted that staff believes the project’s benefits meet the threshold of “substantial.” From the staff report:

The benefits go well beyond an increase in the tax base and new construction jobs, which by themselves are important, but would not be substantial enough to warrant a notice to proceed. Benefits particular to the historic district include moving the kitchen out of the Deli, which will help preserve that historic structure, and restoring the exterior of the Annex and incorporating it into a new addition that is an appropriate size and scale for the neighborhood. Community benefits include 65 new permanent downtown jobs, retention and intensification of downtown business activity as opposed to peripheral sprawl, increased support to local non-profit organizations, increased entrepreneurial support for new local businesses, sustainable design that is expected to obtain LEED silver or gold certification and use local materials and vendors when possible, and many more (see also the application letter). [.pdf of Zingerman's application letter]

Thacher also noted that Zingerman’s submitted a financing commitment letter from United Structured Finance Co., and that the city’s chief financial officer recommended that the HDC accept it as proof of necessary financing.

Ellen Ramsburgh and Lesa Rozmarek were on the review committee for this project, though all but two commissioners – Kristina Glusac and Patrick McCauley – went on a Sept. 7 site visit. The visit, which The Chronicle attended, included a walk-through of the property with Ken Clein, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects who’s handling this project.

Inside the burnt-out house at 322 E. Kingsley

Lit only with flashlights, the burnt-out husk of the house at 322 E. Kingsley was explored by some historic district commissioners, The Chronicle and Zingerman's representatives last week.

At Thursday’s meeting, Ramsburgh said the staff report was very thorough and that commissioners have all the information they need to make a decision.

Rozmarek noted that all commissioners had been inside the house on Kingsley, which had been gutted by fire, and that they all realize it has lost its historic fabric and is no longer a contributing structure. It would be an improvement to demolish the building, she said.

Zingerman’s Deli: Public Commentary

Ken Clein, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, said he was on hand to answer any questions the commissioners might have. “In fact, most of Zingerman’s is here tonight,” he quipped. Clein mentioned that he had brought samples of the metal and brick that would be used. They feel that the project meets the required threshold of providing substantial community benefit, he said. They intensely explored other options, he said, and believe this is the best design for the site. In response to a query from Rozmarek, Clein said that they would be using salvaged brick.

Jim Mogensen said he wanted to follow up on remarks he’d made at the August HDC meeting. His concerns aren’t about the Zingerman’s project, though he said that’s what the debate in the community is. For him, it’s about the policy that’s being set and what it means for the city’s historic districts in the future. This particular project is in scale with the historic district, he said, “but the process would not necessarily get you there.” The question for him, he said, is if you have a Glen Ann project, would that meet the same criteria? [He was referring to Glen Ann Place, a project that won approval from the planning commission and city council but was denied by the HDC.

The situation ended in a lawsuit, settled in the summer of 2007 in a way that allowed the project to move ahead. But so far, nothing has yet been built on that vacant lot just north of Ann Street on the west side of Glen Avenue, where two houses previously stood.] Mogensen said you could make the argument that projects like Glen Ann Place would meet the same criteria that the Zingerman’s project had met. His hope is that all the benefits cited by Zingerman’s are incorporated into the resolution, so that when another project comes forward, they’ll also need to provide such benefits.

Christine Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, said that from the time they’d first heard about the project, they’ve told Zingerman’s that the historic district commission will be the entity that ultimately decides whether the project can move forward. Residents aren’t empowered to do that, she said. The city council has approved it, and no one would argue that the community doesn’t want it. Her concern is the process – this shouldn’t be used as a precedent for eroding the character of the residential neighborhood. It was unsettling that the property at 322 Kingsley had been rezoned from residential R4C to D2, which allows for higher density and commercial use. Now, owners of other properties on Kingsley are considering whether they can have their property rezoned as well, she said, to make more money from development.

This is not downtown, she said – it’s near downtown. Whatever decision they make about Zingerman’s, it should be worded in such a way to make clear that it’s not a precedent. Crockett said she loves Zingerman’s, and described it as a business that’s served the community well. This isn’t about Zingerman’s, she said – it’s about protecting the historic district.

Ray Detter identified himself as chair of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, and said the council had unanimously instructed him to support the project. It was not a decision that came easily, he said, and the project shouldn’t be considered a precedent-setter. It is a unique package and Zingerman’s is a unique business. The majority of Ann Arbor citizens believe that the expansion will bring a substantial benefit to the city.

However, he said, there have been serious missteps in the process. Several years ago, Detter said that he and Christine Crockett began meeting privately with Paul Saginaw and others to discuss issues related to the expansion. At that time, Zingerman’s wanted to demolish the historic building at 420 Detroit – the Annex – but they had no clear plan for the site, he said. Many people thought the city should support anything that Zingerman’s wanted, Detter said, but he and others opposed that kind of “popular reputation” precedent. It’s taken three years to get to this point, he said, but now they support the HDC’s decision to allow demolition of the Kingsley house. The years of public process that Zingerman’s has undertaken have won over the community, Detter said. “No one else could have done it,” he added. “No one else as far as we’re concerned should try to do it.”

Zingerman’s Deli: Commissioner Questions, Comments

Commissioner Bob White began by saying that he supported the project, and thought they should approve it.

Tom Stulberg said he originally had some concerns about a possible precedent that this project might set. But after reading the materials and considering the comments made by staff and other commissioners, he’s convinced that the project is unique and won’t set a precedent.

Diane Giannola noted that the request being considered was a notice to proceed, not a certificate of appropriateness. By granting the notice to proceed, the commission is saying that the societal benefits of this project outweigh the benefits of keeping the contributing structure – the fire-damaged building on Kingsley. The project helps the local economy, she said, by making Zingerman’s even more of a destination. The benefits are so unique that there are really no other places in the city where this would be possible, she said. Further, the project is in scale with the neighborhood. It’s a good project that’s been a long time coming, she concluded, and she fully supported it.

Lesa Rozmarek, Kristina Glusac, Bob White

Ann Arbor historic district commissioners Lesa Rozmarek, Kristina Glusac and Bob White at the HDC's Sept. 9 meeting.

Rozmarek said that she too would support the project, but that it wasn’t the proposal they should really be voting on – it undermines the very reason why the commission exists. She believed the term “substantial benefit” was being loosely applied in this case. The addition – which will be used for food production, dining and administration – is similar to what they come across in new construction. The building itself isn’t unique and won’t benefit all of Ann Arbor – though the business overall certainly does benefit the city, she said. Having Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor does contribute to the greater good of the community.

However, Rozmarek said she felt the commission had been threatened, and she quoted from a March 13, 2010 Ann Arbor Chronicle article: “Clein responded to Ramsburgh at the January 2010 HDC working session by wondering if there were another historic district in another town where Zingerman’s could contemplate locating their operations.”

The section of the article was reporting on a Jan. 14, 2010 working session between Zingerman’s representatives and the commission. Here’s the entire section within which that sentence is cited:

Commissioner Ellen Ramsburgh wondered if the expansion was more than the site could take. She noted that the Zingerman’s Creamery and Bake House had moved to peripheral locations. “Do you need to be there?”

In her remarks, Ramsburgh was echoing sentiments expressed by then-commissioner Michael Bruner back in June 2008, when he had made the suggestion that Zingerman’s think of moving their operations. The specific location he had in mind was the Old West Side structure adjoining the Liberty Lofts development:

Commissioner Bruner – [...] This may be less than what they need, but there stands today, a project that we reviewed and was approved, a development that includes a 20,000 square foot commercial retail area with parking that is begging to be occupied. [An apparent allusion to the Liberty Lofts greenhouse building.] As preservationists that want to encourage the success of economic projects in the city, perhaps Zingerman’s should consider moving their location as they have with their Creamery, which is at a satellite location, their Bakery which is at a satellite location, their Roadhouse that is a satellite location – this could be relocated as a satellite component at another location, nevertheless retaining this location as it is.

Clein responded to Ramsburgh at the January 2010 HDC working session by wondering if there were another historic district in another town where Zingerman’s could contemplate locating their operations. Ramsburgh: “That’s a threat!”

Rozmarek said she felt the commission had been backed into a corner, and if they didn’t approve the project, Zingerman’s has threatened to leave this community. The commission doesn’t want Zingerman’s to leave, she said, and the business does provide a lot of benefits. But this expansion doesn’t provide a direct benefit. There’s no direct relationship between the project and the benefits that Zingerman’s already provide, she said. There’s nothing, for example, showing that by expanding their deli operations, Zingerman’s will be able to increase its contributions to charity.

Though she’d be supporting the project, she felt this needed to be on the record because the project is setting a bad precedent. “It’s opening a big door that hopefully we can shut after this application,” she concluded.

Giannola responded to Rozmarek’s comments, noting that the difference between this and other projects is that Zingerman’s is a destination business, and is world-renowned. Allowing them to expand enhances the reputation of Ann Arbor. “It’s not just any business,” she said.

Gary Bruder, Paul Saginaw, Grace Singleton

Gary Bruder, Paul Saginaw and Grace Singleton wait in city council chambers for the Zingerman's Deli project to be considered by the historic district commission. Bruder is an attorney and Zingerman’s owner representative on this project. Saginaw is co-founder of Zingerman's and Singleton is a managing partner of the deli.

Ramsburgh concluded the discussion by saying that a lot of good comments had been made. The process had been arduous for both Zingerman’s and the commission, she said, but it had been beneficial to both of them as well. The working sessions they’d held about the project had been very helpful, she said, and she agreed with the staff report – it’s providing substantial benefits to the community. It’s time for the Kingsley house to be removed and for something vibrant and active to go there.

Holding the working sessions and having Zingerman’s come forward with a site plan that’s respectful of historic buildings makes this project much easier to support, Ramsburgh said. There might be elements of the design that they’d like to tweak, but because it’s respectful of the area and the historic district, it helps them support the overall project. She said she believes that Zingerman’s and Quinn Evans are aware of the mutually beneficial relationship between the deli and the historic neighborhood.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to award a “notice to proceed” for the Zingerman’s Deli project. The decision was met with applause from those attending who were affiliated with the project.

Zingerman’s Deli: Public Commentary

Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw came up to the podium and responded to Rozmarek’s comments, saying that at no time did they say they’d leave the city. At one point they had considered leaving that location, he said, but they were still planning to be downtown. Saginaw said he didn’t want the story to be that Zingerman’s had threatened to leave in order to get approval. He believed the commission had approved the project on its merits.

Saginaw said it would be disingenuous of him not to mention that there had been a time when he didn’t see how the project could work without removing the Annex building, as Zingerman’s had originally requested. But commissioners had pushed Zingerman’s to keep it, and he thanked them for that.

Zingerman’s Deli: Brownfield Coda

Though the Zingerman’s Deli project’s brownfield plan has received approval from the Ann Arbor city council and Washtenaw County board of commissioners, it still awaits final approval from the state before it can receive tax credits. They had hoped to have their application reviewed at the Sept. 13 meeting of the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) board, but last-minute questions from state staff have pushed back the process a month. Zingerman’s expects to have their plan voted on at the MEGA board’s Oct. 19 meeting instead, with plans to start construction after that.

Solar Panel Installation

At its Aug. 12 meeting, the commission approved two solar panel projects in historic districts: an installation on the Michigan Theater building on East Liberty, and a residential project at 553 S. Seventh St., just north of West Madison in the Old West Side historic district.

Speaking during public commentary on Aug. 12 in support of the residential project was Matt Grocoff. From Chronicle coverage of that meeting:

Saying he was a huge advocate of historic preservation, Matt Grocoff – founder of Greenovation TV – noted that he lived down the street from Hewett, and that he intends to make his home the oldest in America to achieve net-zero energy. While he was excited by the discussion, he said the commissioners were asking the wrong questions about the aesthetics. “The real question is what point is there in preserving our history if we don’t protect our future?” He urged commissioners to set a precedent by unanimously approving the installation of solar panels.

On Thursday, Grocoff himself was asking for HDC approval to install up to 30 solar panels on the south-facing side of his home’s roof at 217 S. Seventh St.

217 S. Seventh: Staff & Revew Committee Reports

Jill Thacher, the city’s historic preservation coordinator, gave the staff report on Grocoff’s proposal.

Ellen Ramsburgh, Lisa Rozmarek, Matt Grocoff

Matt Grocoff, right, indicates the proposed location for a solar panel installation on the roof of his house at 217 S. Seventh to historic district commissioners Ellen Ramsburgh and Lisa Rozmarek.

She noted that at last month’s meeting, she had suggested it might be good to limit such installations to cover no more than 30% of the roof’s surface. Since then, she’s gathered additional information and now thinks that it would be less conspicuous to have most of the roof’s surface covered, especially if the panels are a different color than the roof. Grocoff’s installation would cover just over 80% of the south side of the roof. The panels would be black in a black frame, and because of that they would minimize the appearance of a grid.

The staff recommended approval of the project, Thacher said. The panels are easily removable and don’t detract from the historic character of the house.

Lesa Rozmarek and Ellen Ramsburgh were the review committee for this project, and had made a site visit to the house on Tuesday, Sept. 7.  At Thursday’s meeting, Rozmarek said she agreed 100% with the staff report. It’s good for the environment and good for the city, and the commission should promote sustainable building practices within historic districts, she said. Rozmarek said she wholeheartedly supported the project.

Ramsburgh echoed those sentiments, and said the commission has learned a lot about solar panel installations over the past month. In the future the commission will address in a more formal way the issue of solar installations and other energy efficient projects that will be occurring in historic districts, she said.

217 S. Seventh: Public Commentary

Matt Grocoff, the homeowner, thanked commissioners and said it was encouraging to hear their comments about moving into the future while preserving the past. He talked about the history of the house, which he’d bought from the daughter of a man who’d owned a tavern located where Grizzly Peak is now – the daughter had been born in the home’s living room. He noted that this was an opportunity to add something “of our time,” but to also clean up the house aesthetically to be closer to its original condition.

Though his project will cover a large footprint on the roof, not every project will be able to do that, he said. Grocoff added that he looks forward to future discussions about how to balance historic preservation with current environmental needs. He noted that not every historic district commission has been this progressive, and that there have been cases where homeowners elsewhere have been required to remove expensive solar systems. Grocoff said he hoped the commission would see “hundreds and hundreds” of such projects in the coming years, a comment that drew laughter from commissioners.

Daren Griffith, of Canton-based Mechanical Energy Systems, also commended the commission. He noted that the company has been around for many years, and had installed solar panels on Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s residence last year. One side effect to making historic homes more energy efficient is that there will be more money available for preservation efforts, he said. Also, solar panels help preserve the structure by protecting the roof, he said. These are aspects that aren’t often discussed, he said.

Griffith noted that unfortunately, 90% of solar panel manufacturers don’t make the black-on-black panels. Most of them have aluminum frames. He also addressed concerns he’d heard mentioned in previous discussions about the location of the panels. In some cases the panels can also be mounted on the ground or on a pole, he said, but they do have to be south-facing and out of shade. That’s why the roof tends to be the best location.

Solar Panels: Commissioner Questions, Comments

Commissioner Kristina Glusac pointed out that the application had mentioned two possible types of panels – a 225 watt or a 315 watt. Griffith said that at the time Grocoff applied, it wasn’t clear how much surface area of the roof they could cover. They’d prefer the 225, but had included the possibility of the 315 panels, which would give more wattage from a smaller area.

Glusac said that at the HDC’s last meeting, experts told the commission that the dark blue was the color used in solar panel technology. “I walked away from last month’s meeting thinking that black is not the appropriate color for solar panels,” she said. She asked Griffith to comment on that.

He said that new technologies will be coming out that allow the panel to be a variety of designs, from the logo of your university to a design mimicking the asphalt shingles of a roof. He described the two types of panels currently used – monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Polycrystalline panels have the dark blue that Glusac mentioned. The black panels that would be used on Grocoff’s house are monocrystalline, he said, with electric contact points on the back of the panel, rather than the front, which is more common. The black panels are a design that’s patented by the manufacturer, Sunpower, and it’s fairly unique, Griffith said.

However, Griffith added that he didn’t think the historic commission should be able to determine what type of panel is used. The performance of the panel is what’s most important, and there are other things to take into account beyond aesthetics.

Lester Graham

Lester Graham of Michigan Public Radio recorded proceedings of the Sept. 9 Ann Arbor historic district commission as they considered the solar panel project for the home of Matt Grocoff.

Tom Stulberg asked about the positioning of the panels, noting that they didn’t go all the way up to the roof’s ridgeline. Griffith said that they could have cantilevered the panels above the ridgeline or beyond the gutter. One reason they didn’t do that is to preserve the structure of the roof. Another reason not to cantilever over the gutter is that they want the runoff from the panels to flow into the gutter, which at Grocoff’s home then flows into a rainwater collection system. Cantilevering over the gutter might also cause ice damming and over time damage the roof. Griffith said that if the chimney weren’t located on that side of the roof, they might try to go up to the ridgeline.

Rozmarek noted that during the site visit, Grocoff had mentioned that he’d be installing micro-inverters on the panels. She asked him to describe that type of system for the commission.

Grocoff said they’d be using Enphase micro-inverters – he held up one that he had brought to show the commission. Griffith said that it’s the latest technology in solar panels, and will make systems more efficient. Most systems are hooked up to one large single-phase inverter that’s located inside or outside the house. Wires from the panels are run to the inverter, which converts from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). Because of the distance, a lot of power is lost. With micro-inverters, the power is converted from DC to AC at the panel.

Another selling point for micro-inverters is that with older systems, if any part of the solar panel array is shaded, the entire array shuts down, Griffith said. With micro-inverters, only the individual panels are affected – and within those panels, only the portions that are shaded stop generating power. Cost is another factor, he said. If a micro-inverter fails, it can be replaced for about $250. However, if a single-phase inverter fails, it would cost several thousand dollars to replace.

Grocoff concluded by noting that with the addition of the solar panels, their house will be the first one in a historic district nationwide to achieve net zero energy status, and the oldest house in America to achieve net zero. “It’s pretty cool,” he said.

Outcome: The commission unanimously voted to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the installation of up to 30 solar panels.

After the vote, commissioner Stulberg said it was important to note that because these installations are non-permanent, it gives the commission a lot of flexibility to approve them, and to adapt to changing technologies, as long as the projects don’t intrude on the character of the homes. There’s no need to demand uniformity on the projects, he said.

Ramsburgh noted that on the site visit that she, Rozmarek and Thacher had made on Tuesday, they’d been able ask a lot of questions and ascertain that Grocoff had done many other things to increase the energy efficiency of the house, before asking for permission to install solar panels.

Other HDC Business

Earlier in the meeting, the commission considered two additional projects: 1) a request to add an 18-inch by 22-inch exterior sign near the front door of 209-211 S. State St., where a CVS pharmacy is being constructed in the State Street historic district, and 2) a proposal for a 1.5-story addition on the back of 442 Second St., in the Old West Side historic district.

The CVS approval for a certificate of appropriateness passed quickly, with little discussion. For the house on 442 Second St., homeowners Toby and Kathy Brzoznowski were on hand, as was architect Marc Rueter, who’s designing the project.

HDC chair Ellen Ramsburgh said the house was interesting because you could quickly read the different periods that the various additions to the house represented – they are very distinct, and it’s an attractive house. She said she’d feel more comfortable if the one-story addition on the north side of the home had a varied roofline, making it easier to discern where the new section began.

Toby Brzoznowski responded by noting that the second story part of the addition did have a break in the roofline, and that the foundation for the old and new sections would be different, and a trim line will mark the start of the new addition. Rueter said there were some structural issues that made it necessary to design the roofline as it is. He also pointed out that the north facade was almost an invisible side of the house, being masked by a fence and shrubs.

Commissioner Lesa Rozmarek expressed some concern that the addition’s gable seemed to mimic the original Greek Revival architecture, which she noted was a violation of one of the Secretary of the Interior standards for historic preservation. She said she’d feel more comfortable if the gable were one that you’d see in 2010, rather than one that evoked the 1800s. It’s a beautiful addition, she added, though it does push the envelope toward being inappropriate.

Rueter said he’s given the addition a design that he believes most people would recognize as not being an historic structure.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved certificates of appropriateness for both the CVS sign and the addition to the 442 Second St. house.

Present: Diane Giannola, Kristina Glusac, Ellen Ramsburgh, Lesa Rozmarek, Tom Stulberg, Bob White

Absent: Patrick McCauley


  1. By Jack F.
    September 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm | permalink

    “But commissioner Lesa Rozmarek, while noting that she would support the project and that overall Zingerman’s is an asset to the community, also said she wanted it on the record that she felt Zingerman’s had threatened the commission with the prospect of leaving the area if they didn’t get approval. The project sets a bad precedent, she said, adding that “it’s opening a big door that hopefully we can shut after this application.””

    If there is any city group that makes threats a regular part of the approval process it’s the HDC. It’s people like this who have no place on the board.

  2. By Jack F.
    September 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm | permalink

    “The years of public process that Zingerman’s has undertaken have won over the community, Detter said. “No one else could have done it,” he added. “No one else as far as we’re concerned should try to do it.””

    Anyone planning a business or expansion in Ann Arbor please note: Mr. Detter has spoken.