618 S. Main Project Gets Planning Support

Also: Planning group OKs accessory apartment, Les Voyageurs plan

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Jan. 19, 2012): A major development on the south edge of downtown Ann Arbor – between Main and Ashley, north of Mosley – was generally praised by planning commissioners at their most recent meeting, and unanimously recommended for approval.

618 South Main

Looking north from Mosley at the site of the proposed 618 S. Main apartment complex. The former Fox Tent & Awning building will be demolished. Ashley Street runs to the left of this photo, and borders the Old West Side historic district. (Photos by the writer.)

The 618 S. Main project is an apartment complex geared toward young professionals, according to developer Dan Ketelaar. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles.

The project borders the Old West Side historic district – the board of the Old West Side Association submitted a letter of support for the development. Parking and traffic concerns were raised by some commissioners, but the project received praise for its design and its potential to enliven that part of the city. The planning staff had recommended approval.

Two other projects gained approval from commissioners at their Jan. 19 meeting. Rezoning and a site plan for a small addition to the Habe Mills Pine Lodge – owned by the Society of Les Voyageurs – will move forward to the city council with a recommendation of approval. The lodge is adjacent to city parkland near Argo Pond, and had been erroneously zoned as public land.

The commission also signed off on a special exception use at 3645 Waldenwood, which would allow an accessory apartment to be added to the single-family house there. It’s located in the Earhart Estates neighborhood, west of Earhart and south of Glazier Way, in the city’s northwest side.

Several commissioners expressed support of this project and for accessory units in general. “Accessory dwelling units can be an asset to our community and I hope we see more in the future,” said commissioner Erica Briggs.

618 S. Main Apartments

The main item on the Jan. 19 agenda was a resolution to approve the site plan and development agreement for 618 S. Main – a major new residential project near downtown Ann Arbor.

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.

618 South Main facade

618 South Main facade, facing west from Main Street. (Links to larger image)

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 in which 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.

618 S. Main Apartments: Public Hearing

Six people spoke during a public hearing on the project, including developer Dan Ketelaar and two representatives from his design team. Another speaker weighed in on the project at the meeting’s final public commentary slot.

Andrew Lineberry said he lived nearby on Hoover and walked by the 618 S. Main site frequently. He told commissioners that he’d originally planned to go to a talk that night at the Gerald R. Ford Library, but instead decided to attend this meeting to express his dismay over yet another tall building being constructed downtown. It will cast shadows and block the sky for others in the neighborhood, he said. Lineberry said he doesn’t believe people want more tall buildings. He hasn’t spoken out against other projects, because they haven’t been in his neighborhood, he said. But now, he felt he needed to let people know that it bothered him.

Barbara Murphy introduced herself as vice president of the board for the Old West Side Association. She referred to a letter that had been sent to the commission, signed by all board members. Their opinion is quite positive, she said. It’s a project that will bring life to the neighborhood by adding residents. It will clean up a brownfield area, and install rain gardens to deal with stormwater runoff. The increased density in that area is a good thing, Murphy said, and could lead to more retail. The association is also pleased at the amount of parking that will be part of the development, so that residents of 618 S. Main won’t be parking along the streets.

The association regretted that the project would displace existing businesses at that location. [Three businesses – Delux Drapery, Overture Audio and Ivory Photo – are located in buildings that will be demolished.] Murphy strongly encouraged the city to come up with a plan for the Main Street corridor between this site and Ashley Mews, at Main and Packard. The 618 S. Main project would provide an anchor, she said, and there’s potential to work with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on streetscape improvements. A large tech company is moving into the former Leopold Brothers location that’s nearby, she noted, and this new apartment complex could help lead to a revitalization the entire South Main corridor.

This is a case in which the city’s development process worked, Murphy said. The developer held more than the required number of citizen participation meetings, including one for the Old West Side Association that was attended by about 40 people, she said. There have been a few negative comments, Murphy concluded, but overall the feeling is that the project will be good for the neighborhood.

Ray Detter said he represented the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council and a coalition of eight neighborhood groups in the city. He said he’d attended four public meetings about the project, and had watched it take shape based on feedback from the public and from the design review board. It’s a well-designed gateway building that will replace a blighted site, Detter said, giving 20- to 30-year-olds a place to live downtown. Detter pointed to a range of other benefits, including more open space, parking, and stormwater treatment. He noted that the project’s design team added a major entryway to reinforce the urban corner at Mosley and Main. The Main Street corridor along that stretch could be improved using a portion of the tax increment financing (TIF) funds that will be collected by the DDA, he suggested. Overall, the community will benefit from this development, Detter said.

Detter also reflected on the city’s design review process. When the Varsity project was going through the city’s planning approval process, he said, planning commissioners seemed uncertain about whether they could comment on the building’s design. “We feel strongly that you can,” Detter said. Otherwise, he added, what’s the point? [The Varsity is another planned project, which was approved by city council in November 2011 despite criticism by Detter and others regarding its design. It consists of a 13-story apartment building with 181 units at 425 E. Washington, between 411 Lofts and the First Baptist Church.]

The process for 618. S. Main was better than it was for the Varsity, Detter said, and he hoped the process would continue to get better. He also hoped the commission and then city council would approve 618 S. Main.

Three representatives of the 618 S. Main project also addressed the commission. Developer Dan Ketelaar said his office has been located on South Ashley for more than 20 years. This development is literally two blocks from downtown – that has allowed his team to create something that’s difficult to do elsewhere, he said. On the east side of the site is commercial, on the west is a residential historic district. Washtenaw Dairy, which is well known and loved, is just down the street, he noted. Ketelaar described how the project’s original design – which conformed to the site’s D2 zoning – didn’t fit within this context. It overwhelmed the area.

Ketelaar went on to describe some of the attributes of the proposed design, and how the building’s features – such as a large common “living room” area on the main level – are designed with the young professional in mind. He and his team have been working on the project for over a year, Ketelaar said, and have gotten input from many people, including neighbors. It was an elaborate design process with several public forums, in addition to the design review board. They tried to be as sensitive as they could, he said.

Ketelaar also highlighted aspects of sustainability on the site, such as the proposed rain gardens. He noted that sustainable design is no longer just an add-on. Overall, he said he’s asking to do a planned project for only one reason – the height limit.

Matt Kowalski, Alexis DiLeo, Bonnie Bona, Eleanore Adenekan, Andrew Lineberry

From left: Matt Kowalski and Alexis DiLeo of the city's planning staff; planning commissioners Bonnie Bona and Eleanore Adenekan; Ann Arbor resident Andrew Lineberry, who spoke during public commentary at the Jan. 19 meeting.

Mike Siegel of VOA Associates – the Chicago-based architecture firm that’s working on this project – described several key differences between the original design and the current proposal. [For details, see previous Chronicle coverage: "Public Gets View of 618 S. Main Proposal"] He talked about the public benefit that the project brings, citing the large open space courtyard off of Ashley, the wide landscape buffer on the Main Street side, and almost double the amount of required parking. Siegel also noted that the design was changed in response to feedback from the design review board. An entry tower was added on Main Street, and the corner of the building at Main and Mosley was strengthened. The changes reflect how the design evolved through collaboration with the review board, the community and planning staff, he said.

Shannan Gibb-Randall – a landscape architect with Insite Design Studio, the Ann Arbor firm that also built the new rain garden in front of city hall – reviewed details of the site’s landscaping and stormwater treatment. The open space off of Ashley will have fire pits, a place for raised vegetable beds and other amenities, she said: “This is going to be the backyard for people who live here.” She noted that the site is designed to take 100% of the runoff water from the site and direct it into the ground – that’s 990,000 gallons of water that won’t be flowing into the Allen Creek drain and on toward the Huron River, she said.

In the public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Don Wortman of Carlisle/Wortman Associates – which is co-owner of 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. He noted that his office is located across the street from the project, in the South Main Market complex. In the context of the neighborhood, the development is too tall, he said. The next tallest building in that area is only three stories high – you have to go all the way to Ashley Mews, at Main and Packard, to find a similarly tall structure, he said.

Regarding traffic, Wortman said he observes numerous accidents along that part of Main Street. A left turn from northbound Main into the building’s underground parking would be a problem, and he hoped the traffic engineers examined that. It becomes a real choke point, and cars travel fast along that stretch.

The final issue Wortman raised was parking. There are problems with parking at South Main Market, he said – some University of Michigan employees use the lot instead of paying for parking, and there’s insufficient parking for the market’s tenants and customers. They’ve had to lease parking spaces at a nearby Fingerle Lumber lot, he said. Wortman said he’s worried that students living at 618 S. Main will park at South Main Market – it’s a serious issue, he said, and he hoped that the city council would address it.

Dan Ketelaar responded to Wortman’s commentary. Regarding the issue of turning off of Main Street, he noted that the same concern could be stated for southbound vehicles turning into South Main Market. As for parking, people generally just need to be told that they can’t park there, and they won’t do it, he said. Ketelaar told commissioners that his team would work with South Main Market to make sure that parking isn’t a problem.

618 S. Main Apartments: Commission Discussion

Questions from commissioners covered a range of topics, with many of their comments focused on design, parking and traffic issues. This report organizes their discussion thematically.

618 S. Main Apartments: Commission Discussion – Design

Bonnie Bona began the discussion by responding to Ray Detter’s concerns over the planning commission’s stance on design review. Having a public conversation about a project’s design is important, she said. The commission absolutely should talk about design, Bona said. But she was confident that the commission has no authority to deny a project based on its design.

Bona said she was glad that the architect had shown drawings of the original design, which conformed to D2 zoning. When considering whether to approve a planned project with a building taller than zoning allows, the question is whether the design fits the site better. The project is at the southern edge of the D2 zoning district, but most of the building height is along the northern and northeast part of the site. So the height doesn’t bother her from that perspective, Bona said.

Bona asked about the streetwall along Ashley. In some of the drawings it looks like a gated community, she observed, adding that she didn’t think that was the intent of the design.

Shannan Gibb-Randall, the project’s landscape architect, said that Jeff Kahan of the city’s planning staff had raised the same concern, so they’ll revisit that design. She described the grade change there as strange – it rises very quickly, and the level of the courtyard is quite a bit higher than the sidewalk. When they designed the streetwall, they were thinking of it from the perspective of the residents, not the pedestrians, she said. They can change it, though there are certain height requirements necessary to contain the rainwater, Gibb-Randall noted.

Evan Pratt said he still wasn’t sure he understood what the streetwall would look like, saying it sounds goofy. But that’s good for Ann Arbor, he added – the city needs more goofy things.

Kirk Westphal asked what the distance is between the building’s Main Street tower entrance and the building’s northern edge. The entire side that fronts Main Street is about 290 feet, said Mike Siegel, the project’s architect. The tower is located at about the midpoint on that facade. Westphal pointed out that D2 zoning requires articulation every 60 feet. This proposed design includes a section with more than 100 feet that’s non-articulated, he said. There are worse examples in downtown buildings, Westphal noted, but he wondered how this design passed muster in that regard.

Kahan noted that Chapter 55 of the city code now includes design provisions related to articulation. [Table 5:20:10 in Chapter 55 addresses this issue – it's a chart of building "massing standards" in the downtown character overlay zoning districts.] The maximum “modular length” for an non-articulated facade is 66 feet, he said, but the code is less clear about what “modular” means.

Chapter 55 describes three ways to create distinct spaces on a facade – that is, to provide articulation: (1) by altering the surface plane – with setbacks, for example; (2) by changing materials; and (3) by changing textures. When staff looked at the 618 S. Main design, Kahan said, they determined that the building included materials to delineate spaces – windows between columns on the building served that purpose, and broke up the facade. Regardless of this project, he added, the code needs to be clearer.

Westphal said he personally enjoys the building’s industrial aesthetic, but it seems that the city is giving the developer a pass simply because bricks are being used. He was concerned about setting a precedent.

Pratt felt that the building’s inset along that Main Street facade provided variation, as did the large windows. If the windows had been small, he added, he wouldn’t have felt the same way. He agreed that they should clarify the city code.

In general regarding the project’s design aesthetics, Pratt said he was glad to see the changes between the original design and the proposed project. The process that the design had been through was appropriate, he said. Pratt noted that not many people were attending the meeting that night, “and that’s a good sign” – a reference to the fact that if a project is controversial, people turn up to speak during public commentary. If the city had 10 projects that worked this well, it might be possible to say that mandatory compliance isn’t needed, he said. [Currently, it's mandatory for projects to go through a design review process, but compliance with suggested design changes is voluntary.]

Wendy Woods asked if the entrance off of Ashley would be open to the public. She also questioned whether the pool in the courtyard would be accessible, indicating some concern for the safety of children in the neighborhood. Ketelaar replied that the courtyard will serve as a backyard for the building’s residents – it’s not open to the public. The area will be walled off, which will act as a deterrent to keep people out who don’t live there, he said. But for residents, the Ashley entrance will be a main one. He said he wasn’t sure how the entrance would be accessed – perhaps by a swipeable key card.

618 S. Main Apartments: Commission Discussion – Parking

Kirk Westphal noted that some people have cited the amount of parking – about double the number of required spaces – as a public benefit. He indicated that he and others might not share that view. Will a parking space be included in the rent for each unit? he asked. Mike Siegel, the project’s architect, said there would be an additional charge for parking.

Westphal asked Jeff Kahan of the city’s planning staff whether that parking rental arrangement has ever been written into the development agreement. Not to his knowledge, Kahan replied.

Developer Dan Ketelaar weighed in, saying that if it were up to the design team, there wouldn’t be any parking in the project. But there’s demand for parking, and it’s what the neighbors want too, he said. The plan calls for including spaces for a couple of Zipcars, he said. It’s very expensive to build underground parking, he added. Surface parking could have been designed in place of the courtyard, he said, but that wouldn’t be the best design.

Westphal acknowledged that it’s always a struggle between providing parking, especially underground, or having lower rents and no parking. Parking is being subsidized, one way or another, he said, and that’s legal.

Wendy Woods noted that sometimes when residents of an apartment building are charged for parking, they look for free parking in the neighborhood. Are there any restrictions on that? Kahan replied that there are some restrictions, but residents of the neighborhood can get residential parking permits. He wasn’t sure if residents of 618 S. Main would be able to purchase such permits, however – he said he’d look into that.

Diane Giannola said she was concerned about guest parking. Is there any accommodation for that – if someone has weekend guests, for example? No, Ketelaar said. That’s something the design team didn’t consider.

Giannola cautioned that if the rental of parking for the building is too high, residents will buy residential parking permits instead – if the city allows that. It will force people into parking in the neighborhoods, especially for younger residents of the building, she said.

Ketelaar replied that this will be a learning experience for everyone. There’s always a concern about charging too much or too little for parking, he said. The cost of owning a car is about $5,000 to $7,000 a year, he said, so it’s much cheaper to just walk downtown, or use a Zipcar or public transportation. Ketelaar said he hopes to encourage that.

Giannola wondered if one of the parking levels could be converted into something else, if the demand for parking doesn’t materialize. Ketelaar noted that the parking spaces will be available for community members to lease too – the spaces are not just for residents of the building.

Evan Pratt noted that if this were a by-right project, no parking would be required at all. In this case, it’s included as a premium as part of the planned project. Because there are far fewer parking spaces than one per unit, he noted, in some ways the developer is taking a risk, in light of market forces. Pratt said the developer is trying to respond to community concerns, and Pratt hoped it would work out.

Bonnie Bona said she hoped that residents of 618 S. Main would not be allowed to purchase residential parking permits. The building is located in a D2 zoning district, not a residential district, she said.

Woods disagreed with Bona. When you move into a neighborhood, you become part of its fabric, she said. Referring to the letter of support from the Old West Side Association, Woods noted that the association is viewing this project as an anchor to the neighborhood. She didn’t think the city should make a distinction based on the zoning district.

Responding to a question from Woods, Ketelaar explained that there will be two entrances to the parking levels – one entrance off of Main, another off of Ashley, going to an underground level. The two garages aren’t connected, he said.

618 S. Main Apartments: Commission Discussion – Traffic

Dan Ketelaar clarified for Wendy Woods that vehicles exiting onto Main Street won’t be able to turn left onto Main – the vehicles will only be allowed to make righthand turns onto southbound Main. Woods asked Jeff Kahan if a traffic study had been completed.

An auto accident on South Main at the intersection with Mosley

Returning from president Barack Obama's speech on the morning of Jan. 27, The Chronicle encountered the aftermath of a two-car auto accident on South Main at the intersection with Mosley – one car has rear-ended the other. The site for the 618 S. Main project is in the background. Concerns were raised at the Jan. 19 planning commission meeting about possible traffic problems in this area.

It had, Kahan said. The only proposed modification would be to change slightly  the traffic signal timing at the intersection of Madison and Main, north of the apartment building. Woods said she could imagine traffic backing up there. Backups could also be an issue along northbound Main, as people wait to turn left into the building’s parking entrance.

Eric Mahler echoed Woods’ concerns. He asked Kahan for more information about the traffic study.

Kahan noted that it’s not the planning staff who evaluated traffic issues – the city’s traffic engineers did that. The traffic engineers looked at the major corridors and intersections that are near this development. There will only be about 60 vehicles on each parking level, he said – so only 60 vehicles using the Main Street entrance, and 60 vehicles going in and out of the Ashley entrance.

The traffic study determined that even at peak hours, the volume could be accommodated – assuming that only righthand turns are allowed onto Main Street. All along the Main Street corridor people are making lefthand turns from northbound Main, he noted. The engineers didn’t feel the additional 60 vehicles would make a significant impact.

618 S. Main Apartments: Commission Discussion – Stormwater, Brownfield

Evan Pratt clarified with Shannan Gibb-Randall that there was capacity on the site to absorb the stormwater through infiltration into the ground. Not having runoff is a great public benefit, Pratt said. In general, the public benefits with this project are strong, he said, adding that it hasn’t always been so clear with other projects.

Kirk Westphal said the water runoff is being handled “elegantly,” and that it could also be of educational value for residents.

Tony Derezinski noted that the site includes contaminated soil and that there’s the potential for getting a brownfield designation. Is the project contingent on that?

Dan Ketelaar said that getting the site declared a brownfield – making it eligible for certain tax credits or TIF financing – is an important component of the financing. Armen Cleaners, located across the street at the northwest corner of Ashley & Mosley, is one of the most contaminated sites in the city, Ketelaar said. City staff have asked that Ketelaar look at possibly including the Armen Cleaners site as part of a brownfield plan for 618 S. Main – that’s why he hasn’t yet submitted a brownfield plan, Ketelaar said. His team is working on it with Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator.

618 S. Main Apartments: Commission Discussion – Streetscape Improvements

Bonnie Bona raised the issue of the developer’s $117,800 contribution to the parks system, in lieu of providing dedicated public parkland. Dan Ketelaar has requested that the funds be used for street improvements on Main Street, between Mosley and William. Noting that the pedestrian experience along that stretch isn’t pleasant, Bona said she’d like to stipulate that the funds would be used for streetscape improvements, and she wondered if that could be written into the development agreement.

Jeff Kahan said that staff has been discussing the possible use of this type of contribution for purposes other than parks. The argument is that recreation in urban settings is different – recreation might involve going to cafes more than tennis courts. But no decision has been made yet regarding how to handle Ketelaar’s request, he said.

Bona endorsed spending the money on streetscape improvements, or putting it toward the proposed Allen Creek greenway. She asked that her comments be forwarded to city council.

Erica Briggs supported Bona’s suggestion. For downtown developments, the city needs to get creative about how the parks contributions are used. Ideas might include pedestrian improvements or public art, she said. It would go a long way toward improving the downtown.

Evan Pratt also agreed with Bona, but said he’d feel more comfortable consulting with the parks staff before making a recommendation. The attitude should be “Let’s make Main Street more park-like,” he said, but the parks system might have other needs.

Eric Mahler said he supports streetscape improvements, but cautioned that there might be unintended consequences. For example, if more pedestrians start using that stretch of Main Street, there will be more conflicts with vehicles going in and out of the parking garage. He hoped there would be sufficient warnings and signals to alert pedestrians – when people are in a hurry, it could be a dangerous situation.

618 S. Main Apartments: Commission Discussion – General Comments

Several commissioners praised the development. Tony Derezinski said it’s unusual to have near unanimity on a proposal like this. The design is creative, he said, and he thanked the developer and staff for their work. Kirk Westphal described the planned project as nearly ideal for this site, and he commended the developer for it.

Directing her comments toward Ray Detter, who was sitting in the audience, Wendy Woods said his statement during the public hearing had been refreshing. It was the first time she could recall him supporting a project.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the site plan and development agreement for 618 S. Main. The project now will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Rezoning for Society of Les Voyageurs

The commission was asked to consider rezoning of property and a site plan for an addition to the Habe Mills Pine Lodge, owned by the Society of Les Voyageurs. The property owned by the society, at 411 Longshore Drive near Argo Pond, is zoned public land, even though it’s owned by a private entity. The society is asking that the land be rezoned as a planned unit development (PUD), which would allow the group to build a a 220-square-foot, one-story addition to the rear of the existing lodge, on its east side.

Lodge for the Society of Les Voyageurs

Lodge for the Society of Les Voyageurs on Longshore Drive. The lodge faces Argo Pond.

The nonprofit society is a University of Michigan student and alumni club, focused on nature and the outdoors. Named for French-Canadian voyageurs of the Great Lakes fur trade, it was founded in 1907 and is one of the university’s oldest fraternal student groups.

The lodge was built in 1925 – about the same time as the city’s first zoning ordinance and zoning map. Five student members live at the lodge, and society alumni gather there for potluck Sunday dinners from September to April.

Three members of the society spoke briefly during the proposal’s public hearing in support of the changes. The city’s planning staff had recommended approval of the zoning change and site plan.

Rezoning for Society of Les Voyageurs: Public Hearing

Three people spoke during the public hearing for the project. Jim McNair and Mark Doman introduced themselves as members of the society. They both thanked the city planning staff – specifically citing Alexis DiLeo – for walking them through this complicated process and helping to resolve the issues that arose. McNair said it had been helpful to meet with commissioners last year at a working session to informally discuss the project – that’s a great process, he said.

John Russell also identified himself as a member of Les Voyageurs, and said he had purchased his home on Longshore Drive so that he could be close to the lodge. He fully supported the proposed changes.

Rezoning for Society of Les Voyageurs: Commission Discussion

Evan Pratt pointed to a section of the draft development agreement that specifically stated the permitted principal uses of the site: “The headquarters of the Society of Les Voyageurs, an organization of men and women who share a love of nature and the outdoors, and a dwelling for up to six occupants.” Citing a specific organization didn’t seem like the best long-term approach, he said, because the way this document reads now, no one else could buy or use the property.

Alexis DiLeo of the city’s planning staff said that if the society wanted to sell the property, a zoning amendment to the PUD would be required.

Erica Briggs apologized for missing the working session when this project had been discussed. She said it makes sense to find a way to allow Les Voyageurs to remodel, but she wasn’t sure why a PUD was the best option. She understood the desire to keep the society at that location. But to say that the project provided a benefit to the city – one of the requirements of a PUD – seemed to undermine the purpose of this type of zoning, she said.

DiLeo said she had prepared a memo for the society describing the requirements of two or three different zoning options that they might pursue, both residential and office. Variances and other modifications would have been required, she said – it was like trying to shoehorn a square peg into a round hole. Ultimately, it seemed that custom zoning would make the most sense.

Tony Derezinski noted that the addition is quite small, and that it gets too complicated to apply other types of zoning to a project this size. He described it as a creative use of the PUD. Derezinski also noted that over 1,000 invitations were sent out for a public meeting on this project, and only one person showed up. “That’s kind of convincing,” he said.

Kirk Westphal said that to him, it was an issue of fairness. It was the city’s “goof” that this site wasn’t zoned properly, he said. So to ask the owners to go through the expensive process of developing a site plan seems onerous, especially since it’s a use that doesn’t offend the neighbors.

Outcome: Planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of rezoning and a site plan for Les Voyageurs. The project will now be forwarded to the city council for its consideration. 

Accessory Apartment on Waldenwood

On the Jan. 19 agenda was a resolution to approve a special exception use at 3645 Waldenwood, which would allow an accessory apartment to be added to the single-family house there. It’s located in the Earhart Estates neighborhood, west of Earhart and south of Glazier Way, in the city’s northwest side.

According to planning staff, this is only the second time a special exception use has been requested for an accessory unit since the accessory dwelling ordinance was crafted in the early 1980s.

The apartment would be used by parents of the home’s owner, Laura Damschroder. No rent would be charged. The addition would include a one-car garage and a 596-square-foot one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, living room and bathroom. It would attach to the existing 3,608-square-foot house.

Planning staff recommended approval.

Accessory Apartment on Waldenwood: Public Hearing

Only two people spoke briefly at the public hearing: the owner, Laura Damschroder, and the project’s architect, Mike Nicklowitz of Adrian Design Group. Damschroder said the motivation for the project is so that her parents can live at the home. Nicklowitz indicated he was there to answer any questions.

Accessory Apartment on Waldenwood: Commission Discussion

Wendy Woods asked whether the accessory unit would have its own utilities – a furnace and separate water source. Mike Nicklowitz of Adrian Design Group said the water supply will be pulled from the main house, and the apartment will be hooked up to the same gas line. However, it will have a separate furnace, as well as an electric subpanel.

Eleanore Adenekan confirmed with planning staff that the main house was about 3,000 square feet, and the addition would add roughly 600 square feet of floor space. She wondered if this size was in line with other houses in that neighborhood. City planner Matt Kowalski replied that it was a comparable size, even with the addition.

Kirk Westphal asked when the ordinance was crafted that allowed accessory units. That happened around 1983, explained Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff. This would be only the second application the city has processed since then, she said.

Westphal wondered how many accessory units have been built without seeking a special exception use from the city. Kowalski ventured that there weren’t many, but Rampson disagreed. When she worked on revisions to the ordinance about 10 years ago – changes that ultimately did not get enacted – city staff discovered quite a few unauthorized accessory dwellings, especially in older neighborhoods.

Westphal indicated that this was simply a long way for him to say that he appreciated the homeowner going through this process – though he said he wasn’t sure this type of project should require a separate process.

Erica Briggs also expressed appreciation. ”Accessory dwelling units can be an asset to our community and I hope we see more in the future,” she said.

Woods asked what would happen when the property changes ownership. Kowalski said a note about the accessory unit would be added to the city’s property tracking database. But the city’s planning staff doesn’t monitor property sales closely, he said, so enforcement would likely depend on neighbors reporting any problems. He said he felt confident that it wouldn’t turn into a rental unit, and that it would remain occupied by someone closely connected to owners of the main house – even if ownership changed hands.

Bonnie Bona asked Kowalski to clarify for the general public the differences between a duplex and an accessory apartment. The main difference, he said, is that you can’t charge rent for an accessory unit. It also has to be occupied by someone related to the owner, he said.

That’s a key difference, Bona said, and it might make people feel more comfortable with having this type of unit in their neighborhood.

Outcome: Planning commissioners unanimously approved the special exception use for an accessory apartment at 3645 Waldenwood.

Present: Bonnie Bona, Eleanore Adenekan, Erica Briggs, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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  1. January 27, 2012 at 10:03 pm | permalink

    I attended one of the public meetings and noted how close this site is to the Allen’s Creek Floodplain. Others have made similar comment at this and other public meetings for the building. We were told by the developer team that it was many feet above it. It seems from checking elevations on Google Earth that part of the building will only be about 2 feet above the current questionable floodplain map elevations.

    Without a real understanding of this floodplain (no recent real data to guide planning) I hope we are not again putting more unknowing people in harms way during a large rain event.

    With little data and Global Warming causing more intense rains predictions are that the old floodplain maps will not be very good guidance.

    People died in Northern Ohio in recent years trying to get cars out of a lower parking deck in a major rain event when they were trapped by floodwater.

    1,300 parked cars were flooded and 13 bridges were washed out in West Michigan recently due to a 500 year rain event. 8″ rains and larger are now common in SEM when about a 4″ rain is considered a 100 year rain for Ann Arbor.

    Wishing for it to be different will not do much good when the floodwaters are rising.

  2. January 28, 2012 at 9:18 am | permalink

    I used to live in the Allen Creek floodplain, and once had a foot of water inside my Cadillac. I also lived downtown without a car for a while, back when there were stores downtown, not just bars and restaurants. I hate to see more parking go in but with the state of our downtown and transit options, the tenants will bring cars, and they will park them somewhere. I hope with all the new housing going in we’ll see a return of retail and services to downtown and campus.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    January 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm | permalink

    8″ rains are common in SEM? (I’m assuming that means Southeast Michigan.) Is that true? It’s surprisingly hard to find this information, but have we ever had an 8″ rainfall here?

  4. January 28, 2012 at 10:44 pm | permalink

    The 8″ rains are happening in many locations around Ann Arbor. We have been lucky not to get hit. Garden City was hit last summer with a 100 year rain by a storm that went right over Ann Arbor.

    100 year storms are very common now in Southern MI. Climate predictions for MI are for more intense rains than we have has historically – this from UM Pellston Labs, Union of Concerned Scientists and USEPA, and others.

    Ann Arbor just had the wettest year on record in 2011 dating back to 1880, 2006 was the 2nd wettest.

    I don’t think Ann Arbor has a record of a 8″ rain. The huge 1968 flood was about a 4″ rain.

  5. By Steve Bean
    January 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm | permalink

    Vince, would you share where your rainfall information is from? That is, did you just note those events over time as they occurred, or is there a web site that has (perhaps searchable) historical data?

  6. By Tom Whitaker
    January 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm | permalink

    I think it was a bit of hyperbole, to say the least, for my friend Ray Detter to call the South Main site “blighted”–a term thrown out all too easily by developers and others to justify destruction of older buildings. This site houses three very long-term, Ann Arbor retail establishments (a fourth, Fox Tent and Awning recently closed) and, with the possible exception of the old chain link fence around the parking lot, I don’t see anything here that I’d call blight. Not the most attractive retail strip in town, but far from the worst.

    If one wants to see real examples of blight, just take a walk down NORTH Main and look at the abandoned building that once housed the Greek congregation, or further north to see the row of boarded up and burned out houses that ironically have been sitting empty for years waiting for a low-income housing project to be built. While there, look across the street to the City of Ann Arbor’s contribution to blight on North Main–the decrepit old Fleet Services facility, that if only cleaned up, would make a significant link in the Allen Creek Greenway.

    Last night we met a couple from Brighton who were in town for the Folk Festival and we were talking about living in Ann Arbor. The first thing they wanted to know was what was going on with North Main Street and why did it look like a decaying neighborhood in Detroit. We had no good answer.

    Sad that in the name of “progress,” Ann Arbor has allowed established retail to be chased away from South University, Broadway, Glen and Ann, and now, South Main. Strange that people think these projects will attract more retail, when 411 Lofts took years to find tenants for its commercial space (still partly vacant) and The Varsity and this new project on Main are not including any retail space at all.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting these three existing South Main businesses to return to this area anytime soon, whether this project actually gets built or not. Best of luck to them in their new locations.

  7. January 29, 2012 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    Tom always sums thing up perfectly. If we look at Ann Arbor with clear (even if affectionate) eyes, we’ll see many areas that look discouraged and “blighted” and the last 10 years with a pro-development City Council and a DDA bent on concentrating development within its taxing boundaries have left us with a rather sorry landscape in many places. Fortunately we have a historic district on Main Street, which is one of the few places, along with the Law Quad, that are usually seen in promotional videos of Ann Arbor. Oh, and selected parts of the Old West Side and Kerrytown – also beneficiaries of historic districts.

  8. January 29, 2012 at 9:28 pm | permalink

    We have asked the city for historical rain data but received recent and incomplete data in mixed formats. I’m not sure we even have any rain gauges in Allen’s Creek even though we were told ‘a few’ would be installed.

    I’ve grabbed realtime NEXRAD images with total estimations off the web, when we have large rain falls (events), for the last 5-7 years from around Northern OH and Southern MI just to have something of record. NexRad seems to be fairly accurate with relation to our home rain gauge. You can buy this same historical info. from some web sites.

    So far we have only found that basic data is available but not in the detail we would like to have, without cost.

  9. January 30, 2012 at 9:38 pm | permalink

    In the ten years I lived on Washington on the banks of the Allen Creek, we had three 50 year floods. But that was apparently due in part to a blockage in the drain where it goes between two houses from the Krause lot to Washington. After the county fixed that, it hasn’t flooded since.

    Much of our current blight seems to be from developers who like to close or tear down the old then abandon the site without building the new. The City likes to do this too, for example at the Washington garage or the Y lot.