Townhome Project Raises Density Concerns

Also: Knight's Market expansion wins support, moves to council

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (June 19, 2012): A proposal to build townhomes on a parcel along Ellsworth Road drew harsh criticism from nearby residents, who argued that this part of Ann Arbor already has more housing units than the city’s services and infrastructure can support.

Claudia Myszke

Claudia Myszke, managing agent of the Forest Hills Cooperative, spoke on behalf of residents there who have concerns about a proposed townhome project on Ellsworth. (Photos by the writer.)

The annexation request for the site of the Summit Townhomes project was recommended for city council approval by the planning commission. However the planning commission postponed action on a related zoning and area plan proposal.

The 2.95-acre site at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road, east of Stone School Road, is currently located in Pittsfield Township. The developer wants to remove an existing single-family home and detached garage, and build 24 townhomes in four, two-story buildings, with attached single-car garages for each unit. The plan calls for R3 (townhouse dwelling district) zoning.

Several residents from the nearby Forest Hills Cooperative townhouse complex came to the June 19 meeting to speak in opposition to the project. They argued that this area is already densely developed, with several major housing developments and a lack of services, like places for children to play. Traffic along Ellsworth was also a concern, especially in light of the soon-to-open Costco on that road, west of South State Street.

In part based on that feedback, commissioners unanimously voted to postpone the zoning and area plan proposals, and asked city planning staff a range of questions that they’d like to have answered before considering those requests. The concerns related to zoning options, traffic volume, the location and amount of parkland in that area, and the capacity of utilities to handle increased density. However, the annexation request will move forward to be considered by the Ann Arbor city council. It was recommended for approval on a 6-1 vote, with Erica Briggs dissenting. Eric Mahler and Wendy Woods were absent.

Briggs also dissented on another request considered by the the planning commission at its meeting – to approve the rezoning and site plan for an expansion of Knight’s Market, and Spring and Miller. The proposal – which had been originally discussed, but ultimately postponed, at the planning commission’s May 15, 2012 meeting – won approval from the other six commissioners, and will be forwarded to the city council for their consideration. Several commissioners expressed concerns, but felt comfortable enough to approve the rezoning and site plan. Briggs said the potential for future commercial expansion and other issues made it impossible for her to support the project.

In other action, the commission unanimously approved their annual work plan, as well as a resolution affirming the city’s master plan. Both actions are required annually under the planning commission’s bylaws.

It was the final meeting for Briggs, who is ending her term this month. She did not request reappointment. Her colleagues on the commission praised her work, with Bonnie Bona saying: ”You may not realize it, but you’ve had a strong influence on all of us.” Ken Clein – a principal with Quinn Evans Architects – has been nominated to replace her and will likely receive city council confirmation at the council’s July 2 meeting.

Summit Townhomes

An annexation request for the site of the Summit Townhomes project was on the planning commission agenda, as was a related zoning and area plan proposal.

City planner Matt Kowalski gave the staff report. The 2.95-acre site at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road, east of Stone School Road, is currently located in Pittsfield Township. The developer – Shawn Barrow of Orlando, Fla. – wants to remove an existing single-family home and detached garage, and build 24 townhomes in four, two-story buildings, with attached single-car garages for each unit. The plan calls for R3 (townhouse dwelling district) zoning.

Aerial photo of property for Summit Townhomes

Aerial photo of property for Summit Townhomes, outlined in black. The property fronts Ellsworth Road. The north/south road to the left is Stone School. The north/south road to the right is Shadowwood Drive, leading into the Forest Hills Cooperative townhome development. The structure in the top center of this image is Bryant Elementary School.

The development calls for extensive grading on the site, which includes steep slopes. Staff had expressed concerns about the grading and had requested revisions to the plans, which are currently under review.

There are 12 landmark trees on the site that would be removed, because they are in poor health.

According to a staff report, the site is adjacent to land owned by the Ann Arbor Public Schools, abutting Bryant Elementary School. Planning staff have suggested that the developer include pedestrian access for future connection with the school. Planning staff also asked the developer to consider the city master plan’s community-oriented design guidelines when developing the project’s site plan. Those guidelines for townhome developments include rear-accessed garages, front porches, clustered design to preserve natural features, an on-site playground, open space, and pedestrian links with adjacent developments.

Annexation of the site is required because it is located within the city’s utility service boundary, and can’t tap into the city’s water and sewer system until it is annexed.

Summit Townhomes: Public Hearing

About 10 residents of Forest Hills Cooperative attended the meeting, and four of them spoke during the project’s public hearing.

Claudia Myszke, managing agent for Forest Hills Cooperative, told commissioners that there’s a huge human element that’s not addressed by the city’s master plan or ordinances. Forest Hills Cooperative is a townhome development built in the 1970s with federal subsidies. It has 306 units, Myszke said, and is near other large townhome developments: University Townhomes (630 units) and Colonial Square Cooperative (470 units). Including these and other multi-family housing, she said, there are already 2,557 units within a five-mile radius of Forest Hills.

There are insufficient city services to handle the current density, she said. There’s no place for children to play except a city park that’s a former dump, with no pool or other amenities. [The reference is to Southeast Area Park, at the corner of Platt and Ellsworth.] Residents asked for a water feature at the park, she said, but were told that there wasn’t funding for it. Myszke praised the work of the Community Action Network (CAN), which runs the Bryant Community Center under contract with the city. But she noted that most of the programs and services there are restricted to residents of the Bryant neighborhood.

Myszke also cited heavy traffic on Ellsworth as a major issue. She said her questions weren’t for the developer, but for city officials. If the 2,557 housing units average three people per unit, that’s 7,671 people living in a five-mile radius, without adequate services. This isn’t about NIMBYism, she said, and it’s just the beginning of potentially even more development. There are concerns that the another property on the west side of Forest Hills will also be developed, adding even more density. The residents of Forest Hills oppose the Summit Townhomes project, she said. She told commissioners that she doubted whether any of them lived in such a dense area with inadequate services.

Aiji Pipho told commissioners that residents of Forest Hills Cooperative are already experiencing brownouts and power surges – her computer was destroyed because of that. Water and sewer capacity is also insufficient to support more development in that part of town, she said. Where else in Ann Arbor is there this kind of density? she asked. Maybe on the University of Michigan campus, but there, students have amenities. Pipho said that foot traffic from people cutting through her property is increasing, and this project will potentially bring even more. With increased foot traffic comes the increased potential for people to “appropriate” items out of the yards, she said.

Pipho also noted that new developments typically don’t have places for children to play. She again cited concerns about density, and said that the vacant parcel next to the Summit Townhomes project could also be developed, which would add even more to the problem.

Ghada Hussein introduced herself as president of the board for the Forest Hills Cooperative, and said she was also opposed to the development. She encouraged others from Forest Hills who were attending the meeting to speak up. [When asked by another resident to indicate who was there from Forest Hills, about 10 people stood up.] Hussein said she’s a mother of three and already the traffic is too heavy for children. It’s difficult now to exit onto Ellsworth, she said, and that would get worse.

Makan Lajevardi, another Forest Hills resident, spoke briefly about traffic concerns. It will increase even more when the new Costco opens, he said. [Costco is opening later this summer, north of Ellsworth just west of South State.]

The last speaker was Leonard Michaels of CIW Engineering in Rossford, Ohio – he represented the developer. He noted that only two people had attended a citizen participation meeting in March. The developer originally wanted zoning for higher density – R4B (multi-family dwelling) – but after talking with planning staff, agreed to seek the lower density zoning of R3 (townhouse dwelling). Even with R3 zoning, their plans aren’t maximizing the number of housing units allowed, he said. Michaels said the plan also will have some kind of recreational area, which would address some of the residents’ concerns.

Michaels told commissioners that several options for the site, to minimize impact, had been submitted to planning staff. It’s difficult, he said, because of the steep grading on the land. They’ve tried to accommodate suggestions. For example, staff requested that there be only one drive onto Ellsworth instead of two, and the developer agreed. Michaels observed that at some point, the city made a decision to limit sprawl. That means there needs to be more density, he said.

Summit Townhomes: Commission Discussion – Annexation

Tony Derezinski asked how interrelated the annexation is with the zoning and area plan. What happens if the city annexes the site, but later doesn’t approve the zoning and area plan?

Alexis DiLeo, Bonnie Bona

From left: City planner Alexis DiLeo and planning commissioner Bonnie Bona. At the start of the June 19 meeting, Bona gave a short report on a recent International Living Future Institute conference that she attended in Portland, Oregon.

Matt Kowalski said the developer hoped to move the annexation process forward, because it also needs approval from the state, which could take a couple of months. The zoning and area plan – or a more detailed site plan – can’t move forward until the property is annexed, he said. If annexation occurs but the developer walks away from the project, the city could initiate a process to zone the site, Kowalski explained.

Bonnie Bona noted that the property in question is obviously a township island and needs to be annexed. She said she didn’t think that decision would impact what zoning is ultimately decided. But the vacant parcel to the north – that’s also in the township, she observed. What’s the status there?

Kowalski said the property is owned by the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Planning manager Wendy Rampson added that the city council has directed staff to annex publicly owned land, and the parcel to the north is on the list.

Erica Briggs said it had seemed obvious to annex the property. She said she hadn’t had a problem with the project until hearing comments during the public hearing. Annexation moves the city down the path of zoning the property quickly, she said, but residents have raised substantive concerns. Briggs said she wasn’t familiar with city services in that area, but residents have indicated that services are inadequate for the amount of density there. She worried about bringing in another residential project if current residents aren’t being adequately served.

Briggs said she’d like more information, including what the sewer system constraints are, and whether there should be more multi-family dwellings added to the area. She also wondered how the project fits into the city’s sustainability goals – which the commission has recommended for approval – and with the climate action plan that’s being developed. It sounded like the developer was being accommodating and that’s great, she added, but questions remain.

Outcome on annexation: On a 6-1 vote, commissioners recommended annexing the property into the city. Erica Briggs dissented. Eric Mahler and Wendy Woods were absent.

Summit Townhomes: Commission Discussion – Zoning, Area Plan

Evan Pratt clarified with city planner Matt Kowalski that R3 zoning fits with the type of zoning called for in the city’s master plan. R3 does fit, Kowalski said. The plan calls for single family homes in that area, which could be detached or attached, like townhomes. He noted that the adjacent Cloverly Village development to the west is also R3.

In response to another question from Pratt about the water detention issues, Leonard Michaels – the developer’s representative – noted that water currently runs off the site and into the property to the west. The Summit Townhomes development would flatten the site, he said, capture the stormwater runoff and reroute it into the city’s stormwater system. So flooding won’t be as much of an issue for that property to the west, he said.

Pratt also asked if there are bus stops along that stretch of Ellsworth. Kowalski wasn’t sure, but noted that when a site plan is submitted, it would be sent to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority staff for review. Diane Giannola reported that Route #6 goes down Ellsworth, and there are several stops along the way.

Pratt next asked about the comments in the staff report about the need for noise buffering in that area, due to the proximity of the Ann Arbor airport. This was part of the language in the master plan, Kowalski explained. He said he’d like to do more research on that issue, noting that the master plan is about 20 years old. Perhaps back then, more air traffic had been anticipated, Kowalski ventured.

Tony Derezinski asked whether the questions raised at the meeting would be addressed before proposals for the zoning and area plan are acted on. Yes and no, Kowalski replied. Some of the issues won’t be addressed because the area plan is more conceptual than a site plan, and certain details won’t be known until a site plan is submitted.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson suggested that the commission might want to have a more robust discussion about zoning when the project comes back for consideration. If there are questions that commissioners want the staff to research, she said, those can be addressed.

Giannola said she travels in that area frequently, and the traffic isn’t necessarily heavier than downtown Ann Arbor, but it’s faster moving. She was also curious about whether a commercial development on the site would bring more or less traffic than a residential development.

Pratt brought up the issue of infrastructure, which had been criticized during public commentary. He noted that the staff report had indicated that utilities are adequate for this development, but he asked for more details to be provided. Pratt also suggested that the city’s Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan could be a resource for identifying whether there are sufficient parks and recreational amenities in the area.

Kirk Westphal

Kirk Westphal, vice chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission, led the June 19 meeting in the absence of chair Eric Mahler.

Bonnie Bona was concerned that decisions are being based on a master plan that’s more than 20 years old. The city is looking at things quite differently now, she noted, with an eye toward issues of sustainability, for example. She also noted that if the plan calls for single-family homes, then R1A zoning would also be possible – that would allow only six units on the site. Bona echoed Pratt’s request for more details about what’s meant by “adequate” utilities in the staff report. She also wanted more information about what impact this development might have on traffic.

Bona felt it was unfortunate that only two residents attended a neighborhood meeting held by the developer. She hoped that the developer would communicate with the people who came to the planning commission meeting, and find out what kind of amenities they’d like to see.

Kirk Westphal asked for clarification about what it means to approve the area plan. Kowalski replied that the intent is to show a conceptual plan for what might be developed, but it can change quite a bit from what’s ultimately submitted as a more detailed site plan. The zoning of the property will have more of an impact on what can actually be built, he noted.

Rampson added that by submitting an area plan, developers get three years to submit a site plan based on the regulations that are in place when the area plan is first submitted.

Westphal said he echoed concerns that other commissioners had raised. He also said it would be nice if some of the trees could be preserved. Like others, he was in favor of postponement.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to postpone action on the Summit Townhomes zoning and area plan.

Knight’s Market Expansion

An expansion plan for Knight’s Market – which includes converting a single-family home into a bakery – had first been discussed, but ultimately postponed, at the planning commission’s May 15, 2012 meeting. The market is located at the northeast corner of Spring and Miller. The market’s owner, Ray Knight, also owns two separate, adjacent parcels. (Knight is perhaps best known for his family’s restaurant, Knight’s Steakhouse, located at 2324 Dexter Ave.)

City planner Alexis DiLeo gave the staff report. The store is on land zoned zoned C1 (local business) and M1 (light industrial). Another parcel at 306-308 Spring St. is zoned R2A (two-family dwelling) and M1, and contains two single-family homes and part of a parking lot. The third parcel at 310 Spring St. is zoned R2A and MI, and contains the other half of the store’s parking lot. All three parcels are currently non-conforming in some way, according to a staff report, and are located in the 100-year Allen Creek floodplain.

Aerial view of Knights Market

Aerial view of the Knight's property – the three parcels that are part of the project are outlined in black. Spring Street is the north-south street on the west side of the property. Miller Avenue runs east-west along the market's southern edge.

The proposal from Knight’s involves several steps. The request calls for 306, 308 and 310 Spring to be rezoned to C1. That rezoning would allow the building at 306 Spring to be converted into a bakery, although the intent is to leave the exterior of the house intact. The rezoning would also allow for approval of a site plan to build a 1,200-square-foot addition to the existing grocery store and to expand, reconfigure, and improve the existing parking lot. In addition, the plan requests that 418 Miller Ave. – the site of the existing grocery – also be rezoned to C1.

The proposed work to the parking lot includes providing three additional spaces (for a total of 17 parking spaces), a designated snow pile storage area, solid waste and recycling container storage enclosure, right-of-way screening, conflicting land use buffer, and rain gardens for storm water management. An unused curbcut on Miller Avenue would be removed and the curb and lawn extension would be restored there. A temporary storage building at 418 Miller would be removed. The house at 310 Spring would remain a single-family dwelling.

The staff report notes that a neighborhood meeting in September 2011 drew about 10 people, who raised concerns about the proposed bakery at 306 Spring, as well as possible future uses for adjacent land also owned by Knight at 314 and 422 Spring, which are not part of the current proposal. A public hearing held at the May 15 meeting drew 10 speakers, including several neighbors who praised the Knight family and their business, but expressed concerns about “commercial creep” and increased traffic. Commissioners echoed those concerns on May 15, including fears about what might happen if the ownership of the property changes hands – if it were bought by a national retailer, for example, that might want to put a convenience store or fast food restaurant there.

During her June 19 report, DiLeo noted that C1 zoning would allow for a building up to 17,812 square feet, but would limit tenant spaces in the building to a maximum of 8,000 square feet each. That amount of retail space would also require between 58 and 63 off-street parking spaces – given the site, that would mean that almost all off-street parking would need to be located below ground or in a multi-level structure. This scenario would likely make it financially impractical to develop the property to that extent, she said, especially in a floodplain.

Concerns about “commercial creep” were also addressed in the planning staff’s written memo:

Commercial creep is not a desirable situation, but when it has occurred, it can be hard to argue that improvements should be taken out and everything should be undone. The parking lot for the market that is in the rear yards of two residentially-zoned lots (306-308 and 310 Spring Street) has been in place for almost 30 years. In 1979, the Knights received site plan approval for an addition to their building, and the site plan clearly showed the parking currently in place. City officials have been successful in keeping the uses on this site from expanding further, but the fact is that the decision to functionally expand the commercial nature of this site was made long ago when the parking lot was originally installed.

In sum, for the past 30 years, 306-308 and 310 Spring Street have been operating as a single mixed use site containing both residential uses and local commercial. Staff considers the proposed rezoning to be improving the site conditions of an existing situation, supporting the continued success of an established neighborhood, and striking a balance between varied land use goals. Further, any future expansion of commercial in this area would require the type of debate that characterizes this request.

Knight’s Market Expansion: Public Hearing

Although more than a dozen residents and members of the Knight family turned out for the previous public hearing, only two speakers attended the June 19 hearing. Both had spoken at the May 15 hearing, too.

Tim Athan, who lives on Spring Street, told commissioners that the city is seeing pushback from residents because it’s really rare to have this kind of residential neighborhood so close to the downtown, and they want to protect it. He described how large trucks already use the street, and traffic has increased. That might make it more attractive for additional commercial development. He noted that just two blocks away, on Ashley Street, the feel is quite different from Spring Street – it’s more commercial. He also felt that the floodplain was being considered as a factor in rezoning the site for commercial uses, and that’s scary. The floodplain covers several other properties up the street – it seems as though those could also be eligible for rezoning, he said.

Richard Fry, the project’s architect, had introduced himself earlier in the meeting during the time for general public commentary. He spoke during the public hearing only to respond to Athan’s comments, saying that at a neighborhood meeting the Knights had held, about 10-12 people showed up but only one person had pushed back against the project.

Knight’s Market Expansion: Commission Discussion – Zoning

Tony Derezinski began the discussion by noting that at the May 15 meeting, commissioners and staff had discussed natural barriers on the site that might prevent “commercial creep.” He asked for staff to review those barriers.

Alexis DiLeo said that on the east side, the adjacent railroad track and embankment provide a natural barrier. To the north, there is no other quasi-commercial development – it’s clearly residential. She noted that the parking on the site has been there for about 30 years.

Richard Fry

Richard Fry, the architect for the Knight's Market expansion.

Derezinski picked up on that comment, suggesting that the city would simply be approving the zoning for a use that’s been going on at that site for decades. In all that time, there had not been any commercial expansion to the north, he noted. If someone wanted to expand a commercial operation to the north, then that would require a separate rezoning request.

Derezinski asked how the configuration of the site and other constraints would preclude someone building a strip mall there in the future. DiLeo said it would allow for only a small strip mall, with perhaps two tenants. The amount of required parking would be a significant limiting factor, she said.

Derezinski noted that the Knight family had previously stated their intent. Neighbors had told commissioners at the previous meeting about how they shopped at the market, and in some cases worked there. It’s part of the neighborhood’s charm, he said – even to the point of the Knights lending money to some residents to cover a grocery tab. As he’d noted at the May 15 meeting, Derezinski said it reminded him about the debate over the Zingerman’s Deli expansion on Detroit Street. [The planning commission recommended approval of the Zingerman's expansion at its May 18, 2010 meeting. The project was later approved by the city council and construction is well underway.] A number of neighbors raised concerns, but not enough to stop the project, he said.

Erica Briggs said she’d struggled with this project. Knight’s is a great market and a wonderful addition to the neighborhood, she said. There’s a lot of desire to facilitate that. But she had concerns about the precedent that would be set. The parking lot expansion might set the tone for a long time. If the parcels are rezoned, there will be a small expansion but the potential for more commercial creep up the street.

The floodplain partially covers those lots to the north, and Briggs wondered if a future planning commission might ask: What’s the harm in rezoning those, too? There have been recent unintended consequences from rezoning, she noted, when neighbors don’t get what they expect. [This was likely an allusion to the Maple Cove project on North Maple Road, which received planning commission approval at its June 5, 2012 meeting. The property had been rezoned years ago for an office building that was never constructed. Neighbors there hadn't opposed the rezoning at the time, but said they hadn't realized that it would allow for a residential development like the one that was ultimately proposed.]

Briggs said she wished she could support the project, because the market is an asset. But unless those concerns are addressed, she couldn’t vote for it.

Bonnie Bona thanked DiLeo for the clear and thorough explanation in her staff report of the challenges that this project presents. Bona agreed with the description that there’s one situation for rezoning the current sites, and a different type of review that would be needed for residential sites to the north. She didn’t think there would be commercial expansion up the street. That wouldn’t be an easy decision for a future planning commission to make.

Diane Giannola said she was also torn about this project, and agreed with other commissioners. Her main concern is what might happen in the future. It would make her feel better to see the Knights make an investment in the market, to make it more attractive – because it would make her believe they weren’t intending to sell it.

The property to the north remains residential, she noted, and anyone who wanted to put a business there would need to return to the city to seek rezoning. The corner where the market is located is just a small bit of commercial creep, she said, and not enough to turn down the project.

Kirk Westphal said it was good to understand the scope of potential development that is possible with the rezoning. He confirmed with DiLeo that area, height and placement (AHP) standards would reflect changes that had been made as part of the city’s A2D2 zoning project. DiLeo describe generally how a development would be constrained on the site by those standards.

Westphal said he was comforted by the scenarios that DiLeo described. And given the limited nature of the current project, it was a benefit, he said.

Knight’s Market Expansion: Commission Discussion – Floodplain

Bona highlighted the floodplain issue, and said there needs to be a community conversation about residences located in the floodplain. It puts people in greater danger, she said, and people who are economically challenged tend to live in those floodplain areas. She didn’t think every home in the floodplain would disappear, but the city needs to be thoughtful about the issue.

Westphal described the floodplain issue as an interesting one. He wondered if the city had known about the real location of the floodplain when the area was initially zoned, would the city  have put split zoning on the site – part of it M1 and part of it C1 or R2A? DiLeo said she thought the split zoning was related to the railroad track. She said it was difficult to play “zoning detective,” but her guess was that the split zoning had more to do with poor cartography and the railroad.

Wendy Rampson noted that the FEMA floodplain maps were developed in the 1980s, while the zoning dated back to the 1960s. The floodplain maps were originally more figurative – in that they were supposed to reflect elevations, but good elevation data wasn’t available at the time. That’s why the floodplain maps have changed more recently.

Knight’s Market Expansion: Commission Discussion – Traffic

Regarding traffic, Bona said there’s only so much that the community can do to regulate it. As long as residents and businesses talk to each other – as reasonable and bright human beings – they can work through it, she said. It shouldn’t require an ordinance to regulate.

Giannola said that Zingerman’s Deli had offered to ask their vendors if smaller trucks could be used to make deliveries. Perhaps that’s something Knight’s Market could do as well, she suggested.

In response to a later question from Eleanore Adenekan, Knight’s market manager Vernon Bedolla said they don’t expect the number of trucks to increase after the expansion. More likely, they’ll just get larger orders with the same number of deliveries, he said.

Knight’s Market Expansion: Commission Discussion – Design

Bona made a plea to the architect and owners to design a more pedestrian-friendly storefront, with more windows and “eyes on the street,” making it easier to tell if the store is even open. ”That would really be a huge asset to the neighborhood,” she said. Richard Fry, the project’s architect, indicated that was the owners’ intent.

Outcome: Commissioners voted 6-1 to recommend approval, with Erica Briggs dissenting. Commissioners Eric Mahler and Wendy Woods were absent. The rezoning and site plan requests will be considered next by city council.

Master Plan Reviewed

The planning commission’s June 19 agenda included an item to approve the city’s master plan resolution. The planning commission’s bylaws require that the group review the city’s master plan each May. At its May 1 meeting, the commission held a public hearing on the item – though no one attended – and postponed action until after it held a  planning retreat on May 29.

The resolution affirmed the existing master plan, which consists of (1) Land Use Element (2009); (2) Downtown Plan (2009); (3) Transportation Plan Update (2009); (4) Non-motorized Transportation Plan (2007); (5) Parks and Recreation Open Space Plan (2011); and (6) Natural Features Master Plan (2004). These documents can be downloaded from the city’s master plan website.

The resolution stated that the commission will continue to develop comprehensive plans for the Washtenaw Avenue and South State Street corridors. The State Street Corridor was the focus of the May 29 retreat – see Chronicle coverage: “South State Corridor Gets Closer Look.”

In addition, three minor changes were incorporated: (1) Adding the city’s park advisory commission, housing commission, and housing & human services board to the list of groups that are developing a sustainability framework for the city. Initially, only the planning, energy and environmental commissions had been involved. (2) Stating that the planning commission will assist in updating the Non-motorized Transportation Plan, which was adopted in 2007. (3) Stating that the planning commission will update the land use element of the city’s master plan to include land use recommendations from the Huron River and Impoundments Management Plan (HRIMP). This had been discussed at a March 2012 meeting of the commission’s master plan revisions committee.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the master plan resolution.

Annual Work Plan

A work plan for a wide range of city planning commission and staff projects in fiscal 2013 was on the June 19 agenda. [.pdf of work plan]

The plan, covering the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2012, had been reviewed at a June 12 working session. Items include  development of (1) corridor plans for Washtenaw Avenue and South State Street, (2) a sustainability framework action plan, (3) Zoning Ordinance Re-Organization (ZORO) amendments, and (4) R4C/R2A amendments. Among other things, the plan also includes evaluation of the city’s citizen participation ordinance and A2D2 zoning.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the annual work plan.

Farewell to Briggs

The June 19 meeting was the last one for commissioner Erica Briggs, whose three-year term ends this month. She did not seek reappointment. At the city council’s June 18 session, Ken Clein – a principal with Quinn Evans Architects – was nominated to replace her.

Diane Giannola, Erica Briggs

From left: Planning commissioners Diane Giannola and Erica Briggs.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Briggs thanked her colleagues on the commission and joked that she knew she could be cantankerous at times. She said she had learned a lot while on the commission – from staff, other commissioners and the public – and she had been honored to serve.

Several commissioners praised Briggs for her work. Tony Derezinski said that although commissioners don’t always agree, they disagree with respect and still like each other.

Bonnie Bona thanked Briggs for adding to the comprehensiveness of the group’s discussions. She said Briggs might find that her legacy lives on – often, when a commissioner steps down, other commissioners bring up points that the former commissioner would have made. ”You may not realize it,” Bona said, “but you’ve had a strong influence on all of us.”

Other commissioners expressed similar sentiments, with Kirk Westphal noting that he especially appreciated how welcoming Briggs was of commentary from the public. Planning manager Wendy Rampson said that one of her biggest disappointments is that the staff wasn’t able to fully develop the type of public engagement process that Briggs had advocated. Time constraints made that difficult, Rampson said, but she pledged to continue to improve communication and transparency. She appreciated that Briggs had pushed the envelope in that area.

The exchange ended with commissioners and staff giving Briggs a round of applause.

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

Absent: Eric Mahler, Wendy Woods.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the city planning commission. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to plan on doing the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


  1. By TJ
    June 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm | permalink

    Hmmm, if the people in Forest Hills *Cooperative* think there are not enough places for children to play in the area, perhaps they could provide some on their land?

  2. By Rod Johnson
    June 22, 2012 at 8:13 pm | permalink

    I’m sure there are some. But the city provides parkland for the rest of Ann Arbor, so why should FHC residents have to supply their own? Why is that inequity OK? (I’m not sure why the emphasis on *Cooperative*–the fact they’re a coop doesn’t mean they’re some kind of collectivist hippies. They just own shares in the coop.)

  3. By James Jefferson
    June 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm | permalink

    Perhaps the Public Schools can earn some much-needed cash and sell their parcel to the city for use as a park? That would be a better use than it is now; it would preserve the land buffering the schools, and remove the tax and maintenance costs from the schools budget.