Planning Commission OKs Varsity Site Plan

Two weeks after the Ann Arbor planning commission postponed action on a site plan for The Varsity at Ann Arbor, the same group recommended approval at its Oct. 4, 2011 meeting. The city’s planning staff previously had recommended postponement to give the developer – Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Maryland – more time to address several outstanding issues, which were described as minor. The project will now be forwarded to the city council for its consideration.

Since the Sept. 20 meeting, some minor modifications have been made on the proposal for the 13-story apartment building at 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.) Changes include narrowing the walkway on the building’s east side, mounting lights on the building instead of poles along the east side of the path, and removing decorative pillars at both ends of the walkway, previously proposed on the east side of the path and on the First Baptist Church property. Because the church is located in an historic district, any changes on its property would have required approval by the city’s historic district commission.

The main features of the project are unchanged. The 177,180-square foot apartment building is to 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.

Fourteen people spoke during a public hearing on the project, including several residents of Sloan Plaza, which is located on Huron Street across from the proposed project. Concerns were raised primarily about the aesthetics of the Huron Street facade and traffic issues associated with the Huron entrance.

But the developer and members of the design team defended the building, saying they’ve listened to residents and the design review board, and have made changes as a result of that input. Stacey Simpson Duke, co-pastor of First Baptist Church, praised the developer’s team for working with the church to be a good neighbor. Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Area Association, also spoke in support of the project.

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]