Action Postponed on New Retail Development

Planning commissioners raise concerns over plan for The Shoppes at 3600 on Plymouth; also, off-street parking ordinance change in works

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): Planning commissioners took a range of actions at their most recent meeting, and said farewell to one member.

The Shoppes at 3600 Plymouth, retail, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of a proposed retail development on Plymouth Road west of US-23 – The Shoppes at 3600. The site is in the complex where the Holiday Inn North Campus is located, visible on the right side of this image. This document was included in the planning commission’s Nov. 7 meeting packet.

Citing concerns over placement of the building on the site, commissioners postponed making a recommendation for a proposed retail development at 3600 Plymouth Road, immediately west of US-23. Called The Shoppes at 3600, the building is oriented with its back facing Plymouth. Commissioner Bonnie Bona, acknowledging the difficulty of positioning the building on this parcel, suggested that “perhaps this development is not right for this site.”

Also during the meeting, the commission continued the city’s ongoing annexation of township property by recommending the annexation of a Pittsfield Township parcel at 2503 Victoria, east of Packard Road. The recommendation includes zoning it for single-family residential (R1C) – a house is already under construction there.

An amendment to the city’s off-street parking ordinance was also recommended for approval. The change would allow more flexibility for temporary off-street parking for special events, such as hockey games at Michigan Stadium. Planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that there was not as much urgency to this amendment now, in light of the recent cancellation of the NHL’s Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

The commission also passed a resolution retroactively enabling three commissioners to attend the Michigan Association of Planning’s annual meeting, held on Oct. 17-19. The action enables commissioners to be reimbursed for their expenses.

The meeting closed with remarks of appreciation about and from commissioners Tony Derezinski and Evan Pratt, who are ending their terms. Derezinski, the commission’s representative from Ann Arbor city council, is leaving council after being defeated in the August Ward 2 Democratic primary by Sally Petersen. [Derezinski was subsequently, on Nov. 8, appointed by the council to planning commission as a citizen representative. It's expected that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) will be joining the commission as the council's next representative.] Pratt, elected as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner in the Nov. 6 general election, will be required to attend Tuesday evening meetings of the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission, precluding membership on the planning commission, which also meets on Tuesdays. Pratt has served on the planning commission since 2004.

In the absence of chair Kirk Westphal, vice chair Wendy Woods led the Nov. 7 meeting.

The Shoppes at 3600

On the agenda for consideration was a site plan and rezoning request for a new retail development, The Shoppes at 3600. The site is on the south side of Plymouth Road, immediately west of the entrance ramp onto southbound US-23, in the northeast area of the city.

This matter had been scheduled for discussion at the meeting on Oct. 16, 2012, but the meeting was cancelled for lack of a quorum. The staff report recommended approval of rezoning from R5 (motel-hotel district) to C3 (fringe commercial district), and approval of the site plan, subject to four conditions: (1) approval of a land division, to divide off a 1.15 acre parcel from the parking lot and front yard of the 10.85-acre hotel site where the Holiday Inn North Campus is located; (2) approval of an administrative amendment to the parent site plan to change the parking for the hotel, since some will be removed to allow for the new building; (3) recording an ingress/egress easement along the existing drive from Plymouth Road, so that a new curb cut would not be needed; and (4) recording stormwater and cross-parking easements between the hotel and the new building.

A 9,490-square foot, one-story retail building would be constructed in what’s now the parking lot and front yard for the hotel, at an estimated construction cost of $1 million. The building would have room for several businesses, including a restaurant with a one-lane drive-through window and outdoor seating. An existing shared driveway off of Plymouth Road would be used to access the site. The project includes 33 parking spots and four covered bike parking spots near the entrance. The owner is listed as Ann Arbor Farms Hotel Corp., with property being developed by Diverse Development in Holland, Ohio.

City planner Chris Cheng explained the project and the staff recommendation. Approval of the zoning was recommended because the proposed uses that are permitted under the C3 zoning are consistent with the recommendations of the city’s master plan (land use element) and would be compatible with the city’s adopted plans and policies, as well as with surrounding properties. Staff recommended approval of the site plan because, if the stated conditions are satisfied, it would comply with all local, state and federal laws and regulations; would limit the disturbance of natural features to the minimal necessary for a reasonable use of the land; would not cause a public or private nuisance; and would not have a detrimental effect on public health, safety or welfare.

Cheng’s presentation emphasized that the existing driveway onto the property from Plymouth Road would be sufficient and no new curb cut would be required. He noted that underground detention of water from a 100-year storm was provided, and that parking would be shared with the hotel. One landmark tree would be removed and five mitigation trees would substitute for it.

The site plan proposed a building with three fast food and two retail establishments. There are not yet agreements with any specific franchises, according to Kenneth Hicks, who addressed the commission on behalf of Diverse Development. However, the proposed front elevation drawings providing to the city show a Tim Horton’s, Domino’s Pizza, Chipotle, and a shoe store.

The entrances to the businesses would be on the south side of the building, with a drive-through road along the north, or back, of the building. The drive would be screened from Plymouth Road with trees and shrubs. [.pdf of staff report]

The Shoppes at 3600 – Public Hearing & Commentary

There was one speaker during the public hearing for this item. Warren Attarian of Ann Arbor said he had been a resident and homeowner in the neighborhood for 40 years, in the Orchard Hills/Maplewood subdivision. “It is hard to believe this is consistent with the master plan,” he said. “It puts fast food restaurants at a major, six-lane entry to the city.” In addition, he said, “you are putting the face of the building on the inside, so those coming into the city will see the back of the fast food restaurants.” Concluding, he stated that the city has “control over zoning – you don’t owe anybody anything. My strong opinion is that this type of building would be inappropriate.”

The staff report included a summary of the public meeting held by the developer on Aug. 16, 2012, at the Holiday Inn. Notice of the meeting went to 113 citizens who live within 1,000 feet of the property, and three attended. [The staff report stated that the Orchard Hills/Maplewood neighborhood is beyond 1,000 feet and so those residents did not receive the notice.] Two people at that neighborhood meeting raised concerns about traffic on Plymouth Road, and one said that students and staff at Cleary University, across the street at 3601 Plymouth Road, would appreciate having the restaurants.

Colin Dillon spoke during the opportunity for public commentary at the end of the Nov. 7 planning commission meeting, giving his opinion that the building for The Shoppes at 3600 was “a bit shoe-horned in.” Dillon was among several students from the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning’s master of urban planning program who attended the meeting.

The Shoppes at 3600 – Commission Discussion

Discussion focused on the placement of the building on the site, the color scheme shown in proposal, traffic, and parking.

Commissioner Ken Clein asked whether the colors in the presentation were “accurate.” Kenneth Hicks of Diverse Development replied “no” and apologized for the look of the colors; he said the building would be faced with brick, and that the side toward Plymouth Road would have treatments to make it appear to have storefronts, windows, and awnings, so that “the back will look like the front, using insets.”

Clein said the plan “presents a dilemma. The petitioner is not doing us a favor by not showing how the side we are concerned about will look, so it is hard to embrace it. My sense is that the landscaping will be the better part of the view [from Plymouth Road], no matter how nice the brick is.” Clein also said he’d like to see what’s proposed for signage, to avoid a surprise later on.

Commissioner Diane Giannola asked what the advantage was of the proposed configuration. Hicks replied, “It has to do with your minimum and maximum setbacks. We went down the path of having it well set back [from Plymouth Road], but most communities appreciate having the urban look and feel of not having a sea of asphalt [along Plymouth Road].” Planning Manager Wendy Rampson added, “We did not want the building to face the US-23 on-ramp.”

Commissioner Eric Mahler raised concerns about traffic, asking why the “perceived high number of traffic accidents” cited in the staff report would not be of concern. City planner Chris Cheng responded that the “LOS [level of service] would not get any worse” when the building is done, and that he did not anticipate more accidents because the development would draw from traffic already on the road – it would not attract new traffic. In addition, Cheng said, the developer will put up new signage to highlight that only right turns are allowed coming from the development onto Plymouth Road. Signs would also direct those wanting to head west to the Green Road egress on the west side of the site.

Commission member Bonnie Bona asked a series of questions related to the placement of the building and the difficulty of placing a building on a site with a 45-degree angle on the southeast corner. If placement is so difficult, she pondered, “perhaps this development is not right for this site.” She continued, “If we rezone it, we won’t be able to affect the [appearance of the building’s] elevations. The site requires the building to turn its back to the road. I can’t approve it as it is now, and I struggle with what the right zoning would be.”

Commissioner Tony Derezinski wondered, “Who will the shoppers be?” Hicks replied they would be people from the adjacent park-and-ride on the US-23 cloverleaf, as well as from the hotel, people driving by, and from Cleary University. Derezinski also asked for clarification of the parking arrangement. Cheng said that 51 spaces would be removed to allow the new development, and 33 would be added; the city code allows agreements for two entities to share parking.

Bona then moved to postpone the matter, seconded by Mahler. Bona said she wanted to see more detail about a path between the hotel and the new building. She also wanted to see whether the building could back to the US-23 entrance ramp and have the parking on the west. Finally, she wanted to know whether treating the site as a planned project “due to the difficulty of putting it next to Plymouth Road” would work, running the building from north to south. She sought, she said, a reason to approve the C3 zoning.

Hicks noted that he had been meeting with planning staff since June. To him, the site plan “makes all the sense in the world,” given the way the traffic comes into the site and flows from the hotel. Moving the building doesn’t work, he said, because it would disrupt the hotel’s business. “I don’t know how we can redesign it.” He noted that the site is configured in this way due to drainage from the freeway berm.

Rampson pointed out that the motion to postpone was only about rezoning, not the site plan. Clein said he supported postponing the rezoning and “dealing with both zoning and the site plan when they come back.”

Outcome: The motion to postpone action on rezoning passed unanimously. There was no vote on the site plan, but both items will come back to the commission for consideration at a future meeting.

Annexing Pittsfield Township “Island”

The commission considered a proposal to annex a Pittsfield Township “island” property at 2503 Victoria – on the east side of Victoria Avenue, between Independence Boulevard and Robert Street – into the city and zone it for single-family residential (R1C). The owner, Janet Max, intends to build a single-family home on the 6,628-square-foot parcel. The building is already under construction.

According to a planning staff report, the site is one of a dozen remaining township islands in the area bordered by Washtenaw Avenue, Packard Road, and Platt Road. The staff recommendation was to approve the petition “because the property is within the City’s water and sewer service area, and the proposed R1C zoning is consistent with the adjacent zoning.” A table in the report showed all adjacent property to be R1C. The site is in the Mallets Creek watershed.

The staff report also recognized that the parcel is nonconforming by being slightly too small to meet R1C zoning requirements for lot width and minimum lot area. From the report: “It is considered a lot of record and can be used as a single-family dwelling site…the house meets all R1C setback requirements.”

The owner was allowed to start construction before the annexation and zoning were completed, according to the staff report, because she had paid for connections to city services, and obtained soil erosion and building permits. On Sept. 12, 2012, the director of building services for Pittsfield Township relinquished authority to the city of Ann Arbor to enforce the city’s zoning requirements and review and inspect a proposed dwelling on the parcel.

Annexing Pittsfield Township “Island” – Commission Discussion

Commission discussion was short. Tony Derezinski asked about the unresolved matter concerning the sidewalk extension.  The staff report had listed that as a pending matter: “the sidewalk must be extended across the entire frontage of the parcel.”

Planner Chris Cheng said that a certificate of occupancy would not be issued until the sidewalk is complete.

Outcome: Unanimous approval to recommend the annexation and zoning of 2503 Victoria.

Off-Street Parking

Staff recommended approving proposed amendments to the city code’s Chapter 59, Off Street Parking, section 5:166, to allow temporary parking of motor vehicles in the “front open space” on private property as part of a special event.

Currently, the city’s off-street parking ordinance bans parking in the “front open space” of private property. If vehicles aren’t parked in a legal parking lot or driveway, they could be ticketed.

The staff report noted that “over the past few years, a number of special events have been scheduled at Michigan Stadium that have drawn large crowds.” Planning manager Wendy Rampson observed wryly that “the pressure to make this amendment is off, since the Winter Classic [ice hockey] game won’t happen this year.” The National Hockey League event, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, had been scheduled for Jan. 1, 2013 at Michigan Stadium. It was canceled earlier this month due to ongoing labor disputes between the NHL and its players’ association.

The staff report stated that parking demand for these special events is similar to that generated by home football games, yet there is no provision for allowing parking in the front open space, which means that vehicles so parked may be ticketed. Currently, Chapter 59 includes an exception that allows parking in the front open space of football game days and by permit during the Ann Arbor street art fair. “The proposed amendment…would allow city council to set ‘special event dates’ for temporary front open space parking to address parking demand” for special events. [.pdf of proposed amendment]

Off-Street Parking – Commission Discussion

Eric Mahler moved the resolution and Tony Derezinski seconded it. Ken Clein asked, “Is the intent that a series of dates would be considered by council in advance, to make it easier for people to know when the parking was allowed?”

Wendy Rampson replied, “It could be done as an annual resolution to include art fairs, a marathon, and other events. Council knows about these because they get resolutions for other necessities such as special traffic control.”

Outcome: The resolution recommending that city council amend the ordinance passed unanimously.

Conference Reimbursement

The last action item was a resolution, required by the planning commission’s bylaws, to enable commission members Bonnie Bona, Ken Clein, and Evan Pratt to attend the annual meeting of the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP), which happened on Oct. 17-19, 2012 at Grand Traverse Resort. Bona reminded her colleagues that the bylaw requirement of approval was to make sure such expenditures were “really needed.”

The approval means that the commissioners can be reimbursed for roughly $600 each to cover registration ($325 each) and lodging expenses ($273 each for two nights at Grand Traverse Resort). According to planning manager Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning unit has a conference and training budget of $8,000 for the current fiscal year. That funding is intended to cover training for planning staff, planning commissioners and zoning board of appeals members. In addition, the historic district commission has a separate conference and training budget of $200. If necessary, budget funds can be shifted from planning to historic preservation.

Outcome: Approval to attend MAP passed unanimously.

Misc. Communications

During each meeting, commissioners and staff have several opportunities for announcements or other communications.

At the Nov. 7 meeting, communications included notice of two meetings of the North Main task force, which will next meet on Nov. 28; a second meeting of a sub-group of that task force, the 721 N. Main project; the need for the commission’s ordinance review committee to have more time to make recommendations about R4C zoning changes; and the public art commission’s interest in helping with the South State Street corridor recommendations, such as including art in the Ellsworth Road roundabout.

Near the end of the meeting, Tony Derezinski gave a special welcome to students from the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning’s master of urban planning program who attended the meeting. Derezinski  said “We love to have people come and see us and hope they don’t fall asleep.” He added that urban development is really coming back strong, and the city is giving a lot of attention to its transportation corridors, with Re-imagining Washtenaw, the Plymouth corridor, State Street, and North Main.

Bonnie Bona congratulated Evan Pratt on his recent election as Washtenaw County water resource commissioner, and said to Derezinski “This may be your last meeting as council representative, and thank you for that service.” Derezinski replied that “I’ve been on council four years – it was a great experience, and the best part was being on planning commission. We don’t always agree, but as with all good public bodies, we learn to disagree agreeably. These days that is unusual: for strong-minded people to come to agreement.” [On Nov. 8, 2012, city council appointed Derezinski to planning commission as a citizen representative.]

Pratt added that this would be his last meeting on the planning commission, because as water resources commissioner, he has a statutory obligation to be at meetings of the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission on Tuesday evenings – the same night that planning commission meetings are held.

The meeting closed with a round of applause.

Present: Commission members Bonnie Bona, Ken Clein, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric A. Mahler, Evan Pratt, and Wendy Woods. Staff members: Planner Chris Cheng and planning manager Wendy Rampson.

Absent: Eleanore Adenekan, Kirk Westphal.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 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]

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One Comment

  1. By Rod Johnson
    November 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm | permalink

    The “Shoppes at 3600″ (really? That’s not a parody?) traffic flow will just add more chaos to what is already a chaotic traffic flow. Note the driveway that routes traffic most easily out to the Plymouth entrance–where only right turns are allowed. If you’ve never observed that little piece of madness, with cars making illegal left turns across three lanes of oncoming traffic, or just freezing entirely when they realize they can’t turn left, it’s worth a look. But besides that, the multiple streams of traffic from the Holiday Inn/Guy Hollerins, the shopping center, the gas station, and the Green Road driveway often converge in a multiway mess, turning every which way, with cars just guessing when it’s their turn to go. Its really poorly designed, or not-designed, as is; adding yet another source of traffic to that seems like a really poor idea. Planners, seriously, go there around lunchtime and watch how messed up it is.

    The sizing of the center itself, and the lot, is also a concern. It’s not like that lot is empty most of the time, and again, the traffic flow is already confusing. This proposal reminds me of the Chalmers Place strip mall at Chalmers and Washtenaw, which is so short of parking that they asked to build another lot on Chalmers.

    I understand how difficult it is to build at that intersection, with the highway on one side and the UM property on the other. But shoehorning this in will just compound the situation caused by all the other poor choices in the neighborhood. (Ever try to navigate through the maze of lots around Sweetwater’s/Olga’s/Cooley Law or Cleary/Big Boy/CVS/Red Roof Inn? The whole area is a planning nightmare.)

    Really bad idea.