Action Postponed on The Varsity Site Plan

At its Sept. 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission postponed action on a site plan for The Varsity at Ann Arbor, a 13-story apartment building proposed for 425 E. Washington St., east of the 411 Lofts building and west of the First Baptist Church. Currently on the site is a two-story office building that formerly housed the Prescription Shop.

The 177,180-square foot apartment building would include 181 apartments with a total of 415 bedrooms, to be marketed to university students. The plan also calls for 70 parking spaces, both underground and on the street level, with entrances off of East Huron and East Washington. In addition, two spaces would be provided on adjacent property (owned by the same developer) to use for a car-sharing service like Zipcar. A total of 121 bike spaces are also proposed for the project.

The Varsity was the first project evaluated by the city’s new design review board, which discussed the proposal at a meeting in June. According to a memo prepared by city staff, the board reported that the building’s design was generally in line with the city’s design guidelines. Issues cited by the memo as weaker design elements included a significant area devoted to vehicle circulation, front facades disconnected from the base, and an underutilized plaza, among other things. [.pdf of report from the design review board, and the developer's response]

The city’s planning staff had recommended postponement to give the developer – Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Maryland – more time to address several outstanding issues. Those issues include an inadequate drive approach on East Washington to access the service alley; changes to the landscape plan and grading plan, as requested by city staff; and revisions to the site’s solid waste plan, which city staff had deemed unacceptable. A representative for the developer described these as minor, and city staff expects they’ll be resolved by the commission’s Oct. 4 meeting.

Seven people spoke during public commentary, including four residents and three representatives from the developer. Though residents were generally supportive of the project, they cited concerns over the attractiveness of the facade facing Huron Street and traffic issues that might arise from that entrance. Some commissioners also raised issues about parking and design, and wondered about the possibility of retail space on the first floor. The developer’s representatives felt retail wasn’t feasible at this time.

This report was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, located at 301 E. Huron, where the planning commission meets. A more detailed report will follow: [link]