Fifth Ave. Historic District Re-Floated, Sinks

At its Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered but rejected a proposal to reappoint a historic district study committee for an area along Fourth and Fifth avenues near downtown Ann Arbor. Subsequently, a separate proposal to enact an emergency moratorium on demolition in the proposed study area was withdrawn. It would have included an area roughly from William south to Madison along Fourth and Fifth avenues, as well as some addresses on Packard Street.

It was another chapter in a years-long saga about the future of the area involving two proposed projects for the same site with the same owner – City Place and Heritage Row. [timeline] Now appearing imminent is construction of City Place, which would demolish seven existing houses and construct two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. It was Mike Anglin (Ward 5) who pushed the historic district proposals forward.

An area in the same vicinity had previously been studied by a committee, which resulted in a recommendation to establish a historic district north of Packard on Fourth and Fifth avenues. However, on July 6, 2010, the city council rejected the historic district on a 4-6 vote. Voting for the district on that occasion were Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje. Anglin was absent that evening, but his yes vote would not have been enough to achieve the majority it needed.

The original recommendation to establish a historic district had been made by a committee established by the city council on Aug. 6, 2009, along with a moratorium on demolition in the area to be studied. [For additional background, see: "S. Fifth Ave: Historic District Development"]

The council had established that study committee and a moratorium in an attempt to block the City Place matter-of-right project that had been considered by the council, but postponed until January 2010 under an arrangement with the developer, Alex de Parry.

When the historic district committee was established, the City Place project was then brought forward and ultimately approved on Sept. 21, 2009, about a month after the historic district study committee and moratorium had been established. At their Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, councilmembers cited a key difference between then and now: Two years ago, the historic district study committee was appointed before there was an approved project on the site.

The same night that councilmembers rejected the Fourth/Fifth Avenue historic district, now nearly 15 months ago, they reconsidered a vote on the Heritage Row planned unit development. In the version before the council at that time, Heritage Row would have constructed three new apartment buildings behind seven existing houses and preserved the houses to historic district standards. The July 6, 2010 vote on Heritage Row was 7-3 in favor, leaving it one vote short of the 8-vote majority the project needed for approval. The council had initially considered the Heritage Row project on June 21, 2010 and rejected it on a 7-4 vote.

With Heritage Row and a historic district both rejected, and the City Place project approved, a number of efforts have been made since the summer of 2010 to avoid the construction of City Place. Those efforts culminated most recently in a council decision reached on Oct. 3, 2011 to reconsider Heritage Row another time. That came shortly after the ownership of the City Place and Heritage Row projects changed. The Oct. 3 decision to reconsider Heritage Row was hoped by many to culminate in a final vote at an extra council meeting scheduled for Oct. 24. However, on Oct. 21 news emerged that the developer had pulled the item from the Oct. 24 agenda.

Voting for the establishment of a historic district study committee on Oct. 24 were Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Members of the committee would have been Ellen Ramsburgh, Tom Luczak, Eppie Potts and Susan Wineberg.

The proposed moratorium on demolition was withdrawn on failure of the establishment of the historic district committee.