Council Postpones Action on Moratorium

The Ann Arbor city council unanimously voted to postpone a resolution that would have enacted a six-month moratorium on the acceptance of new site plans for downtown Ann Arbor. The action took place at the council’s March 4, 2013 meeting following a closed session. Although the council heard extensive public commentary on the issue, councilmembers did not deliberate before voting to postpone the resolution until their March 18 meeting.

Ann Arbor zoning. Darker red areas are zoned D1. Lighter brownish areas are zoned D2.

Ann Arbor zoning. Darker red areas are zoned D1. Lighter brownish areas are zoned D2.

The resolution gives specific direction to the planning commission during the moratorium to review the D1 zoning code and to make recommendations to the city council on possible revisions to the code.

Impacted by the moratorium would be a project at 413 E. Huron, located on the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets. It’s a 14-story apartment building that would include 216 units totaling 533 bedrooms, with underground parking for 132 vehicles.

Not impacted by the moratorium is a proposed project at 624 Church Street – a 14-story building with 75 apartments and a total of about 175 bedrooms.  The council gave the site plan for 624 Church Street unanimous approval at its March 4 meeting.

Even if the council had delayed a vote on the 624 Church Street project, the wording of the resolution provides for exemptions for site plans that have already received the planning commission’s recommendation of approval. So the 624 Church Street project would not have been encompassed by the proposed moratorium, because it received a recommendation of approval from the city planning commission on Jan. 15, 2013.

The moratorium was initially postponed from the council’s Feb. 19, 2013 meeting. That was the first council meeting after the 413 E. Huron project failed to achieve a recommendation of approval from the city planning commission. Under the proposed moratorium, the 413 E. Huron project would not be allowed to move forward, because its site plan did not receive that recommendation of approval.

The outcome of the planning commission’s vote on Feb. 4, 2013 was not a recommendation for approval of 413 E. Huron, because the 5-3 tally in favor did not give the project the required six-vote majority. But even without a planning commission recommendation, a developer has the option of bringing a site plan proposal for consideration by the city council, which the 413 E. Huron developer intends to do. It’s the 413 E. Huron developer’s intent to bring the site plan to the council on March 18, the same date when the council will again consider the moratorium.

As they had at the council’s Feb. 19 meeting, supporters and opponents of the moratorium addressed the city council during the public commentary period at the March 4 meeting. Attorneys for the developer of 413 E. Huron also addressed the council again, intimating possible legal action if the council were to enact the moratorium. [.pdf of Feb. 28, 2013 letter from Pat Lennon] [.pdf of March 4, 2013 letter from Susan Friedlaender]

In a related item at the March 4 meeting, on which the Ann Arbor city council actually took action, the council passed a resolution that called for reconvening the downtown design guidelines task force. The task force will review and make recommendations to city council regarding improvements to the design review process. Currently, developers must follow a mandatory process of review for downtown projects, but are not required to comply with the board’s recommendations.

The resolution on the design guidelines task force had been postponed from the council’s Feb. 19 meeting. Members of the task force mentioned in the resolution are: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4 city council), Tamara Burns (architect), Dick Mitchell (architect), Bill Kinley (construction contractor), Norm Tyler (architect), Kirk Westphal (planning commission chair), and Doug Kelbaugh (University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning).

This brief was filed shortly after the council’s meeting concluded. A more detailed report will follow: [link]