544 Detroit St. Project Gets Planning OK

A plan to construct a three-story building at 544 Detroit St. with offices on the first floor and residences on the upper two floors took a step forward, with recommendations for approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. The recommendations are for the planned project’s site plan, as well as changes to the required landscaping buffer. Approval is still needed from the city council.

The site – a triangle at the corner of Detroit and North Division – is in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. [.pdf aerial map of 544 Detroit] [.jpg image of proposed design] The plan calls for demolishing a 560-square-foot gas station, which has been vacant for more than 30 years, and constructing a new 4,077-square-foot building. The city’s historic district commission (HDC) voted to issue a certificate of appropriateness to allow the demolition and new construction to occur. That happened at the HDC’s Oct. 11, 2012 meeting. A new curbcut is planned off of Detroit Street, replacing other curbcuts on the site.

The proposal is a “planned project,” which allows modifications of the area, height, and placement requirements related to permanent open space preservation, if the project would result in “the preservation of natural features, additional open space, greater building or parking setback, energy conserving design, preservation of historic or architectural features, expansion of the supply of affordable housing for lower income households or a beneficial arrangement of buildings.” However, all other zoning code requirements must still be met – including the permitted uses, maximum density, and maximum floor area.

In this case, a planned project is requested to allow an additional 3.5 feet of building height for a “decorative parapet” on the building’s north end and a stair enclosure to access a roof deck. The planned project also is needed to accommodate shorter front setbacks – 5 feet, versus the required 10 feet setbacks along Detroit and North Division streets, and a 19-foot rear setback, rather than the required 39 feet.

A modification is requested to the landscaping buffer to reduce the required width and allow for a six-foot-tall privacy fence on the east side.

Commissioners praised the building’s design, given the unique constraints of the site. The project’s architect is Marc Rueter of Ann Arbor, who was on hand to review the details. Two residents spoke during a public hearing on the project. One neighbor who lives nearby opposed it because of the building’s height. In strong favor of the project was Christine Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association.

The site’s owner is listed as Jack Epstein of Rockville, Maryland. According to a staff memo, the owner intends to pursue brownfield tax increment financing for the site.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron, where planning commission holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]