Planning Group Postpones 413 E. Huron

Following a public hearing that drew 21 speakers – nearly all of them opposed to the project, sometimes making emotional pleas to halt the project – the Ann Arbor planning commission voted to postpone action on a site plan for 413 E. Huron, a 14-story residential development proposed for the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets. The vote took place at the commission’s Jan. 15, 2013 meeting, acting on staff advice for postponement. Staff had recommended postponing the vote because input on the project hasn’t yet been received from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, which must weigh in because of the building’s location along a state trunkline – Huron Street.

The project, estimated to cost $45 million, calls for combining three lots on that corner and building a 14-story, 271,855-square-foot apartment building with 216 units (533 bedrooms) and underground parking for 132 vehicles. [.pdf of aerial map for the project] [.jpg of architect's rendering] The northern edge of the site is adjacent to the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. Existing structures – including a house on North Division that was built in 1901, and a small shop at the corner that most recently housed Papa John’s Pizza – would be demolished.

Zoning approved by city council as part of the A2D2 rezoning project would allow for the type of building being proposed, though nearby residents who oppose the development – including many living along North Division and in the nearby Sloan Plaza – object to its size and massing. The city’s historic district commission also weighed in, passing a resolution at its Dec. 13, 2012 meeting to “remind the Planning Commission and City Council of our joint obligation to preserve and protect historic districts and recommend that they take all reasonable measures to ensure that this new development will enhance and improve the Old Fourth Ward Historic District rather than diminish or weaken the vitality of this important district.” Members of the city’s HDC as well as neighborhood historic districts were among those who opposed the project during the Jan. 15 public hearing.

The first floor would include about 4,000-square-feet for retail space. On the third floor, the building would include a range of facilities for residents, including a gym, yoga studio, business center and outdoor pool. According to a planning staff memo, more than 40% of the apartments would have two bedrooms, with other apartment sizes including one-bedroom units (19%), three-bedroom units (10%) and four-bedroom units (28%). Bike parking and bike lockers would also be provided on site.

The design is described by the developer as “modern industrial,” with a mix of brick, concrete and metal screening. The project has been reviewed by the city’s design review board, resulting in some design changes – changes that the developer described as significant, but which residents characterized as insufficient. [.pdf of design review board recommendations] The design came under harsh criticism during the Jan. 15 public hearing, with some residents calling it a “behemoth,” a “folly” and a “massive student warehouse.” Several people criticized the developer for not being sufficiently responsive to concerns raised by the city’s design review board or feedback from residents.

The city also has calculated a park contribution of $133,920 for the project, a request that could be lowered based on the amount of open space or recreational facilities that are provided on site. The developer is under no obligation to make any parks contribution, however.

The developer is Greenfield Partners, a Connecticut-based firm doing business here as Ann Arbor Green Property Owner LLC.

There was only a brief discussion among commissioners before the unanimous vote to postpone. It’s possible that the item will be on the planning commission’s next regular meeting, on Feb. 5.

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