618 S. Main Project Moves to City Council

The site plan and development agreement for 618 S. Main – a major new residential project in downtown Ann Arbor – received a unanimous recommendation of approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting. The project now will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

The planned project is located at the site of the former Fox Tent & Awning building, north of Mosley between Main and Ashley. It borders properties in the Old West Side historic district, but is not in the district itself. The proposal calls for demolishing two existing structures and erecting a 7-story, 153,133-square-foot apartment building with 190 units for 231 bedrooms.

The building would contain 70 studio apartments, 70 one-bedroom units, 42 two-bedroom units, and 7 duplex units with 1 bedroom each. The proposal is slightly modified from details discussed at a Nov. 11, 2011 neighborhood meeting about the project, hosted by the developer, Dan Ketelaar, and his design team – one of several public forums regarding the project.

Underground parking would include 121 vehicle spaces – including two spaces for a car-sharing service like Zipcar – and 89 bicycle parking spaces. Other proposed features include solar panels installed on the roof to help heat water for the building, and a private open space on the west side of the building with an outdoor pool and pool deck, a pool house/rental room, two fire pits, three rain garden/bio-retention areas, landscaping areas and patio areas made of porous pavement. The developer has agreed to make a $117,800 contribution to the city’s parks system, in lieu of providing dedicated parkland on the site.

The building as proposed would be 85-feet tall – 25 feet higher than permitted in the D2 zoning district, where the site is located. Planned projects allow for some flexibility in height or setbacks, in exchange for public benefits. They don’t allow as much flexibility, however, as a planned unit development (PUD).

The project was evaluated by the city’s design review board. According to a staff report, the board found that the design generally adhered to the downtown design guidelines. Some modifications were made to the design in response to the board’s suggestions – for example, the portion of the building along South Main Street was stepped back five feet above the third floor and 10 feet above the sixth floor, to enhance the pedestrian experience along the west side of South Main.

Six people spoke during a public hearing on the project, including Ketelaar and two representatives from his design team. In addition, Barbara Murphy spoke on behalf of the Old West Side Association in support of the project, as did Ray Detter, who said he represented the Downtown Citizens’ Advisory Council and the design guidelines neighborhood group – a coalition of eight neighborhood groups in the city. One neighbor opposed the project because of its height.

In the public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Don Wortman of Carlisle/Wortman Associates – which owns South Main Market across the street from the proposed project – said he welcomed the development but had concerns over its height, as well as traffic and parking issues.

Parking and traffic concerns were also raised by some commissioners, but the project generally received praise for its design and its potential to enliven that part of the city. The planning staff had recommended approval.

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