City Place Project Moves Forward

The city of Ann Arbor’s automatic email delivery system sent a message today that the developer for the City Place residential project on South Fifth Avenue has submitted proposed revisions to a site plan already approved by the city council on Sept. 21, 2009.

The development calls for the demolition of seven houses and the construction of two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot, with 24 total dwelling units – each with six bedrooms.

In a telephone interview, Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, indicated that the revisions currently proposed can be approved administratively, without coming before the planning commission or the city council. Pre-construction meetings were held two weeks ago, she said, and the intent is to begin work on the project this construction season. The administrative amendments still await sign-off from city staff. Rampson said that staff had encouraged the developer to devise a plan for communicating with neighbors about the construction.

Proposed amendments include the following – from the city planning office’s communication: “… reconfigured internal floor plan including the optional loft levels for the 3rd floor apartments; elimination of a redundant hydrant; revisions to the parking lot landscaping and photometric plans; addition of rear porches; expansion of lower level window wells; and minor window placement and exterior material changes.”

Proceeding with the City Place project means that Heritage Row – an alternative planned unit development (PUD) project by the same developer – would not be built. That proposal would have rehabbed the six houses and built three apartment buildings behind them.

The last proposal reviewed by the city for Heritage Row included the following revisions: (1) the top floor of the new south apartment building would be removed from the design; (2) the density would be reduced from 79 units to 76 units and the number of bedrooms would be reduced from 154 to 147; (3) the project would include five affordable units at the 50% AMI (average median income) level, in addition to six affordable units at the 80% AMI level; and (4) the three new buildings would be LEED certified.

A last-ditch effort to reconsider the Heritage Row project, after being rejected multiple times in multiple versions, failed at the council’s Dec. 6, 2010 meeting. At that meeting, councilmembers seemed poised to suspend council rules to allow another reconsideration, but the vote to suspend council rules failed.

Then at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the city council offered a 90-day window during which developer Alex de Parry could resubmit the Heritage Row project with a reduction in the required submittal fees from around $5,000 to $2,000. That resulted in a March 25, 2011 public participation meeting, but did not lead to a resubmittal of the project.


  1. By Kitty B. Kahn
    September 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm | permalink


  2. By Rod Johnson
    September 10, 2011 at 10:52 pm | permalink

    What part is unbelieveable?

  3. By Kitty B. Kahn
    September 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm | permalink

    I find it unbelievable that the historic houses will be torn down and a project, which everyone agrees is not a good one, will be put up in their place. These houses could have been refurbished to provide housing, but the greed of the developer won out. It’s sad to see.

  4. By jcp2
    September 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm | permalink

    If “everybody” is so upset, why don’t they offer to purchase the properties from the current owner and refurbish the houses themselves? For that matter, why didn’t the previous owners do that instead of selling to the current owner?

  5. By Eric Boyd
    September 12, 2011 at 9:55 am | permalink

    “I find it unbelievable that the historic houses will be torn down and a project, which everyone agrees is not a good one, will be put up in their place.”

    A previous city council applied the current zoning. The developer is acting in a fashion consistent with private property rights and existing zoning.

    “These houses could have been refurbished to provide housing, but the greed of the developer won out.”

    The developer tried to find a middle ground, but the Council rejected that approach, or to rephrase your words …

    “These houses could have been refurbished to provide housing, but the obstinancy of the council won out.”

    What else did you expect would happen?

  6. By Tom Whitaker
    September 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm | permalink

    Developers are not the only ones with property rights. Zoning exists to protect ALL property owners–and the general public–not just developers who are financially motivated to maximize the rentable/sellable square-footage of their buildings. Zoning is supposed to put limits on this motivation, so that new buildings and additions to old ones do not negatively affect the adjacent properties, or the city as a whole.

    Despite the anonymous online spin placed on this story by some commenters, there was never a “middle ground” presented here–ever. There was a project that was approved (City Place) even though it exceeded zoning limits in several dimensions and went against the master plan’s repeated call for preservation of the neighborhood. And, there was an even BIGGER project, called Heritage Row that did the same thing to an even greater degree, just in a slightly less visually offensive way.

    The City took the safe path, and allowed architect Brad Moore’s extreme interpretations of the zoning parameters to stand for City Place. The City Attorney probably did a risk analysis and advised they approve it, even on its questionable merits, simply because developers with deep pockets are more likely to sue than neighbors are (at least, usually). They are also more likely to receive large settlements when they do.

    In 1996, a different city attorney, mayor, council and planning commission said “No” to a Burger King at Huron and Ashley, even though it supposedly was permitted “by right” and met all the zoning parameters.

    Unfortunately, we don’t currently have City staff, commissioners, more councilmembers and a mayor who value good public policy and the property rights of average citizens, over perceived legal risks, and who stand up for ALL citizens instead of just out-of-town developers who come to exploit Ann Arbor and its weaknesses.

  7. By Kitty B. Kahn
    September 12, 2011 at 3:38 pm | permalink

    Thank you, Tom, for expressing this so much better than I did.
    -Peace, Kitty

  8. By Eric
    September 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm | permalink


    I appreciate your well written response. I do still disagree though.

    The city council could have rejected Heritage Row and City Place. That would have been a consistent position, albeit one that might have led to the city getting sued. (I do think it is the job of city council to make the best decision they can and getting sued and losing would be a mark of bad decision.)

    Once the city council decided to approve City Place, however, they put the stamp of approval on it. That made it a valid choice for the developer as confirmed by our elected representatives. (If the developer had sued and won in court, that would have also made it a valid choice for the developer as confirmed by our court system.)

    Once the developer was legally entitled to build City Place, the calculus of the city council had to change, if they were doing their job.

    Their choices were:
    1) Approve Heritage Row.
    2) Reject Heritage Row.

    #1 only made sense if the majority of the city council felt Heritage Row was better than City Place.

    #2 made sense if either
    A) the majority of the city council felt City Place was better than Heritage Row;
    B) the majority of city council was willing to gamble that the developer wouldn’t build either.

    The only way I can interpret their choices if they went for #2B, given that the generally reported sentiment from news reporting was that Heritage Row was better than City Place.

    Assuming I am correct that #2B reflects the majority of the council’s reasoning, then claiming shock at the outcome when the gamble failed is a bit disingenuous.

    At that point the decision was simply approve Heritage Row or don’t. They chose not to. The result of that poor gamble is apparent.

  9. By Tom Whitaker
    September 12, 2011 at 8:39 pm | permalink

    As I stated, ALL property owners have rights. If both projects trampled on the rights of adjacent property owners, which I believe they did, then both should have been rejected. The City administration had a very defensible postion in rejecting City Place as submitted, but opted instead to simply approve it and avoid the fuss. In so doing, they not only gambled that the developer might not attempt to actually build it, but also that those negatively impacted would take no action to defend themselves.

    Unfortunately, due to the apathy of the City administration, the burden has been, and will continue to be on private citizens to fight. This battle, if waged, could continue for many more months, or even years, and waste significant resources on all sides. That’s unfortunate, especially when a legitimate compromise on the Heritage Row PUD might have been reached with just a little more give from the developer’s side to better mitigate the negative impacts of the proposal on adjacent properties.

  10. September 12, 2011 at 10:23 pm | permalink

    May I point out that Heritage Row was a PUD so went under the rules for PUDs. Council considered this very carefully, under a lot of pressure, and decided on the basis of the law to reject it. Deciding which one they liked better would have ignored the law.

    The choices were not accept or approve. The choice was to work with the developer to modify his PUD proposal so that it conformed with requirements. PUDs are a privilege, not a right and must prove themselves on the merits. Ultimately that failed.

    I thought his using City Place as a club was reprehensible and didn’t deserve to be rewarded.

  11. September 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm | permalink

    Sorry, that should have been accept or reject.