ZBA Turns Down City Place Appeal

At a hearing before Ann Arbor’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA), the board voted to reject an appeal made by nearby neighbors of the City Place project. The residential project would construct two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot, offering a total of 24 units and 144 bedrooms.

The three-point appeal challenged two decisions made by the city council and one made by the city planning manager in connection with the City Place project. The council decisions that were challenged in the appeal were made at the Oct. 17, 2011 meeting and were subsequently reconsidered with the same outcome at the Oct. 24, 2011 meeting.

One council decision involved the waiver of a landscaping buffer requirement. The other decision involved approval of revised site-plan elevation drawings. The decision by the planning manager that was appealed involved the consideration of certain changes to the City Place proposal as administrative instead of sending the changes back to the city planning commission for review.

The ZBA dismissed the appeal on the planning manager’s decision as premature – the developer’s amendment is still awaiting a decision by the staff. The other two points of appeal failed, but did achieve three votes in favor of granting relief.

The site of City Place on Fifth Avenue south of William Street has a long and contentious history. An alternative project called Heritage Row had been proposed – but twice rejected – by the city council in the summer of 2010. Heritage Row would have retained the seven houses in some form and constructed three apartment buildings behind them.

The city council also rejected a recommendation from a historic district study committee that a historic district be established for the area. A recent attempt to revive a version of the Heritage Row project failed, when the new owner of the City Place project concluded it was not financially viable. The seven houses on the site have now been demolished.

The nine-member body of the ZBA consists of Candice Briere, Wendy Carman, David Gregorka, Carol A. Kuhnke, Sabra Briere, Erica Briggs, Alex Milshteyn, Jason Boggs and Perry Zielak.

Sabra Briere could not deliberate or vote on the City Place appeal, because she participated in the decisions (as a city councilmember representing Ward 1) being appealed. From the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act of 2006: “A member of the zoning board of appeals who is also a member of the zoning commission, the planning commission, or the legislative body shall not participate in a public hearing on or vote on the same matter that the member voted on as a member of the zoning commission, the planning commission, or the legislative body.”

Briggs, though also member of the city planning commission, had not voted as a commissioner on any issue being appealed and was allowed to vote on the appeal. The city council was poised at its Dec. 5 meeting to appoint Ben Carlisle to replace Gregorka on the ZBA, but delayed the appointment because Carlisle could not attend the Dec. 7 meeting. Gregorka had agreed to continue serving on the ZBA until a replacement could be found. Gregorka’s last meeting, which dealt only with the City Place appeal, lasted three hours and 45 minutes.

The ZBA is chaired by Kuhnke, an attorney with the firm Davis & Kuhke, P.C. Candice Briere (no relation to Sabra Briere) works for Atwell, a real estate consulting firm. Wendy Carman serves on a city committee that has been reviewing zoning regulations for the R4C districts. David Gregorka is vice president of operations at HealthMedia Inc. Sabra Briere is one of a maximum of two city councilmembers who can serve on the board. Erica Briggs also serves on the city planning commission. Alex Milshteyn is a real estate broker, as is Jason Boggs. Perry Zielak works at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy.