Landscaping Buffer Change Rejected

At its March 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council rejected changes in landscaping and land use buffer requirements in the city code. The council had previously postponed the vote from its March 5, 2012 meeting.

The first change would have restricted some requirements that have been added recently just to those plans that require city planning commission or city council approval: (1) providing landscaped islands for every 15 parking spaces; and (2) providing bioretention areas in 50% of the interior landscaping areas. Administrative amendments to existing plans would not trigger the requirements.

The second change would have involved existing requirements to provide buffers between parcels with conflicting land uses. Recent amendments to the code had added requirements that properties in R3 (townhouse dwelling) and R4 (multiple-family dwelling) districts include a buffer along the side and rear property lines if the parcel is immediately adjacent to a property that is principally used or zoned as residential.

The change rejected by the council on March 19 would have removed the R4C zoning district from the recently-added land use buffer requirement. The rationale for exempting the R4C sites from the requirement was characterized in the staff memo as due to the fact that the R4C sites “are typically located on small lots in older neighborhoods near downtown. Most R4C lots are too small to accommodate a 15-foot wide conflicting land use buffer along the entire side and rear property lines.”

The council’s decision to reject the ordinance change (which was recommended 6-2 by the planning commission) was based on the council’s interest in first receiving the result of a study committee, which has been looking at possible revisions to the R4C and R2A zoning code. The committee has looked at the issue of establishing maximum lot sizes in R4C districts, to prevent the accumulation of multiple parcels for a single project.

Attempts to amend, postpone or table the measure failed. The council was hampered in moving anything forward by the absence of three members: Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Margie Teall (Ward 4). So the preliminary votes all came out 5-3, falling one vote short of the 6-vote majority required for action by the 11-member city council.

In the end, the only yes vote on the council for the ordinance change was from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who argued throughout that the part of the ordinance change with utility, from the city planning staff’s point of view, should be passed now, while the R4C part could be put off.

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