624 Church St. Project Moves Ahead

A 14-story apartment building at 624 Church St. is moving forward, after Ann Arbor planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of its site plan and development agreement at their Jan. 15, 2013 meeting. It will next be considered for approval by the city council.

The move came despite objections from representatives of the adjacent Zaragon Place apartments, who had earlier emailed the city to raise concerns about how Zaragon – located at 619 E. University – will be impacted by construction at 624 Church. Zaragon opened a few years ago and is marketed to University of Michigan students. The developers of 624 Church intend to market their apartments to the same demographic. [.pdf of letter from Zaragon attorney] [.pdf of response from 624 Church developers] Larry Deitch, an attorney who serves as a UM regent, was on hand to represent the Zaragon owners. He said they didn’t object to the project itself, but were concerned about safety related to the use of a crane during construction, among other issues.

Deitch was one of 14 people who spoke during a public hearing on this project, including residents who raised concerns about parking and the building’s size, as well as residents who supported the project. Planning staff indicated that the issues raised by Deitch and other Zaragon representatives would be handled at the building permit stage. The planning commission was being asked to address planning and zoning requirements, and the project was in conformance with those regulations.

The 83,807-square-foot, $17 million project is located next to Pizza House, on the west side of Church between South University and Willard. The building would include 75 apartments with a total of about 175 bedrooms, ranging in size from 490 to 1,100 square feet. The mix of apartments will include: 11 one-bedroom (14%); 21 two-bedroom (28%); 33 three-bedroom (44%); and 11 four-bedroom (14%). Other features include an enclosed room to store up to 60 bikes and a rooftop plaza with benches and a grilling area. It is located in the D1 zoning district, which allows for the highest level of density of any zoning district in the city.

Dennis Tice attended the Jan. 15 meeting to represent his family, which owns the property. The Tice family is partnering with Opus Group of Minnetonka, Minnesota, and 624 Partners LLC. When Pizza House expanded in 2006, the project included foundations that would allow for a taller building to eventually be constructed. The new project would demolish an existing two-story house located south of the restaurant, replacing it with the 14-story building over the southern portion of the restaurant and above the former house and loading zone area. [.pdf of aerial map showing 624 Church location]

There will be no vehicle parking spaces on site. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, at its Oct. 3, 2012 meeting, authorized the project to purchase up to 42 monthly parking permits as part of the city’s contribution in lieu (CIL) program. The CIL provides an option to purchase monthly permits to fulfill the city’s parking requirement for a project, but the cost is at a rate 20% higher than standard pricing.

The developer hoped that those permits would be for spaces located at the nearby Forest Avenue parking structure. The DDA board has struggled with that decision, and had not publicly indicated a decision to designate the permits for that specific structure. The outcome of the most recent monthly committee meeting of the DDA’s operations committee, on Dec. 19, 2012, was inconclusive. The apparent consensus among committee members at that meeting was for establishing a general policy on the location for CIL permits, before deciding the 624 Church St. issue. The next scheduled meeting of that committee is Jan. 25. However, DDA executive director Susan Pollay recently informed city staff that the board’s operations committee was recommending that the parking permit designations be made for the Forest Avenue structure.

The project was reviewed by the city’s design review board, and developers altered the design somewhat in response to the board’s feedback. [.pdf of design review board minutes and developer response] The developers also are offering to contribute $35,000 to the city’s parks unit for improvements to the plaza next to the Forest Street parking structure. The city had asked for a contribution of about $47,000 for parks.

The commission’s approval is contingent on the developer addressing some outstanding issues raised by the city’s systems planning unit. The project will also require a variance from the building board of appeals to allow windows to be located on the west side. If that variance isn’t granted, a slight reconfiguration of bedrooms in some of the apartments will be needed.

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