413 E. Huron Goes to Council, Despite Protest

Following a lengthy discussion and public hearing that drew 33 speakers, Ann Arbor planning commissioners voted 5-3 to recommend approval of the site plan and development agreement for a controversial development at 413 E. Huron, at the northeast corner of Huron and Division. But the vote tally meant that the site plan failed to reach the required six votes to achieve a recommendation of approval. The action at the commission’s Feb. 5, 2013 meeting followed an earlier decision on Jan. 15, 2103 to postpone a recommendation, pending input from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation.

Voting against the project were Sabra Briere, Ken Clein and Wendy Woods. Voting to recommend the project were Diane Giannola, Bonnie Bona, Tony Derezinski, Kirk Westphal and Eleanore Adenekan.

According to a planning staff report, MDOT reviewed the developer’s traffic impact study and agreed that a proposed East Huron driveway can operate as a right-in-right out-only drive. A plan to make a curbcut onto East Huron will require an MDOT right-of-way permit. Also, MDOT has indicated that a formal left-turn phasing study would be needed to determine whether a dedicated left arrow from westbound Huron onto southbound Fifth Avenue would improve that intersection. If signal changes are needed there, the developer has offered to contribute to the cost – that offer was added to the draft development agreement.

The staff report also noted that a shadow study conducted by the developer had been “inadvertently omitted” from previous meeting packets. The lack of a shadow study had been criticized by speakers during the public hearing on both Jan. 15 and Feb. 5. [.pdf of shadow study for 413 E. Huron]

The planning staff had recommended approval of this project, noting that it met all standards for new development in that part of town. Estimated to cost $45 million, the proposal 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]

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.

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.

Zoning approved by city council as part of the A2D2 rezoning project would allow for the type of building being proposed. The site is zoned D1, the highest density allowed. However, 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 passed a resolution opposing the project. Two HDC members were among the 21 people who spoke at a public hearing on the project at the planning commission’s Jan. 15 meeting, almost all of them opposed to the development. That public hearing was continued on Feb. 5, when 33 people spoke. Most speakers were critical of the project, as were most planning commissioners – even those who eventually voted to recommend approval.

The resolution of approval from the planning commission also included a recommendation that the city accept an alternative mitigation for six-caliper inches of tree replacement. The developer is required to replace 12-caliper inches of trees. Half of that required mitigation will be planted on-site, with the remaining six-caliper inches mitigated with a contribution of funds for natural features on public land near the site or for the city’s street tree planting program.

The project can now be forwarded to the city council for consideration, with without a formal recommendation from the planning commission for approval.

Added after initial publication [emphasis added]: Planning commission bylaws stipulate that “Petitions pertaining to zoning changes, annexations, area plans, site plans, street vacations, and other related matters shall … require the affirmative vote of six (6) commissioners for approval and scheduling for Council action. Lacking six (6) affirmative votes, a denial recommendation is recorded. The petitioner may choose to schedule the item for City Council consideration.”

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