Action Postponed on 515 N. Fifth Project

At its Dec. 4, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission postponed action on a proposed residential development at 515 N. Fifth Ave. Commissioners were following the advice of a staff recommendation to allow time for the owners to address a range of issues related to utility, landscaping and natural features analysis.

The project – located between Kingsley and Beakes, on the west side of North Fifth – proposes a three-story, 8,404-square-foot building with four two-bedroom units: two condominiums and two apartments. The apartments would be on the second and third floors, while the condos would be on the first floor, with entrances from the north and south sides. Parking would be provided in an attached four-car garage in the front of the structure, though the garage openings are located on the side, toward the front of the building. [.pdf of site plan] [.pdf of aerial map showing site]

The site is zoned R4C (multi-family residential district) and the existing house on the site, with three apartments, would be demolished. It was built in 1901. Construction is estimated to cost $925,500. Scott Bowers, the project’s architect, told commissioners that the owners hope to use the condos in their retirement, and to use the apartments as rental income.

The owners are requesting a variance from the city’s conflicting land-use buffer ordinance, which requires a 15-foot buffer on the west, north and south sides. The buffer requirement to the west can be met, but the owners want to put in a narrower landscape buffer on the other sides – varying from two to 12 feet on the south, with a 12-foot buffer on the north. There would be a five-foot-high screening fence along the entire perimeter of the site. Approval for this variance is needed from the city’s zoning board of appeals.

No citizen participation meeting was required, but neighbors were notified and the city received several comments about the project. [.pdf of comment summary] In particular, Christine Crockett, who’s president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, and Ray Detter of the downtown citizens advisory council, opposed the project. They indicated the design did not fit with the neighborhood. In response to criticisms, the building was redesigned to some degree, and now includes a front porch and more architectural elements, according to a planning staff report.

Crockett spoke during a public hearing on the project, stating several objections to the design,  saying it has the potential to become a “mini-City Place” – a reference to a controversial residential development on South Fifth Avenue. She also stated that the development did not meet the requirements of a planned project. Planning staff later clarified that the proposal is not a planned project.

This report was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where the commission meets.