413 E. Huron: 9-Point Booklet

When the Ann Arbor city council recessed its May 6, 2013 meeting around 11:30 p.m., to resume on May 13, the council was poised to deliberate on the site plan approval for 413 E. Huron St. – a proposed 14-story, 216-apartment building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets.

During the lengthy public hearing at the city council’s May 6 session, some opponents of the 413 E. Huron project presented their case against the project in terms of a nine-point booklet they’d distributed to councilmembers.

On May 10, Ann Arbor city planning staff provided responses to the nine points. The nine points presented in the booklet  – titled “The Facts” – are summarized as follows, with a brief synopsis of the planning staff response in italics. In all cases, the material in the booklet, as well as the planning staff response, were longer than the brief overview presented here.

  1. The 413 E. Huron site plan is not in compliance with applicable Michigan statutes. [It is correct that the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act guides the development of municipal zoning ordinances. ... [But] This section of state law does not provide any explicit requirements for site plans.]
  2. The site plan is not in compliance with Ann Arbor city codes and ordinances. [Staff review has determined that all city code requirements have been satisfied.]
  3. The developer’s Citizen Participation Report failed to include required detail. [Initial submission did not include responses to citizen comments; however, a supplement added later included those responses.]
  4. Special exception use for underground parking was not approved. [The underground parking use is not a principal use, but rather an accessory to the residential use, and thus does not require approval as a special exception.]
  5. Construction will kill a 250-year-old legacy Burr Oak tree. [This site does not meet the definition of Woodland per Chapter 57, and is therefore not a native forest fragment. The area covering the critical root zone of the tree after construction will be landscaped with other trees or shrubs as contrasted with the current conditions, which is a paved parking lot.]
  6. The proposed building imposes a traffic safety hazard. [The traffic impact study was reviewed by the city’s traffic engineer, as well as the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and was determined to meet all city and MDOT requirements.]
  7. Allowable construction noise level is a health hazard. [Noise levels at construction projects are periodic, not constant, and the standards apply uniformly across the city for all construction projects.]
  8. The site plan does not explain how the Sloan Plaza foundation will be protected from damage. [Site plans aren't required to provide engineered construction details of the same kind that will be required at the building permit stage.]
  9. Lack of solar access on adjacent properties is a violation of city code. [The design guideline noted in the objection is not a code requirement, but a voluntary guideline to be used in designing a site.]

The developer has also provided a point-by-point response to the booklet in a letter to the city council dated May 10, 2013.

The 413 E. Huron site plan will be the first item considered by the council when the May 13 session of the May 6 meeting resumes.


  1. May 11, 2013 at 12:24 am | permalink

    I remarked at the time that one way to get around the 3 minute speaking limit is to divide your time among a dozen plus speakers who are all quoting from the same script. It was quite a performance.

  2. May 11, 2013 at 8:32 am | permalink

    I don’t think that they were “all quoting from the same script”. Rather, they coordinated delivery of a very complex and many-parted argument which was itself a team effort that involved many different perspectives and voices. The intent was to highlight all the facets of the proposal that violated some portion of the planning code or of community expectations for the planning process. The same material was in printed form, but it is well understood that Council’s ability to absorb volumes of printed material may be circumscribed by the heavy burdens placed on them.

    I thought it was a stunning presentation, and I was so proud of my fellow citizens in their multitude of voices.

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    May 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm | permalink

    With regard to Item 8, the City of Ann Arbor’s Land Development Regulations, which are referenced in the City Code, specifically require the detailing of all fences and walls on a site plan. Clearly it is in the public interest that these elements be evaluated at the site plan approval stage since they are often the most prominent eye-level feature of the completed project. In many cases, such as this one, the wall or fence is close to, or right on the property line which, at a minimum can raise boundary questions or at worst, if the wall structure is significant, could cause concern over potential structural impacts on neighboring properties. This is why this requirement is in the development regulations and should not be ignored by staff or deferred to the building department.

    Planning staff also deferred to the building department on several issues on the City Place project and the result was two buildings installed 12″ higher in elevation than the approved site plan, a fence on the north and east sides that was not on the approved site plan, and a boundary dispute (compounded by the elevation change) on the north that resulted in a legal claim.

    In the case of site plans, City Council and the Planning Commission are supposed to represent the public interest and provide a check on staff to ensure that staff interpretations of laws, codes and regulations are complete and accurate, and that those interpretations comport with the intent of the code and regulations as described in our master plans.

    In the case of 413 E. Huron, there is a retaining wall indicated to be installed immediately adjacent to the foundations of Sloan Plaza, but the height and type of construction of this wall was not provided in the site plan submission and therefore did not receive the necessary scrutiny of staff, the owners of Sloan Plaza and their hired experts, the public, nor the planning commission. I raised this issue at the planning commission meeting, but was ignored.

    Because of this omission, it is not possible for City Council to now declare that this project meets all of the requirements of the code, nor can Council determine that the project would not have a detrimental effect on Sloan Plaza.

    From the Regulations:

    Section 1:4: Site Plan and PUD Site Plan Requirements. Applications for site plan and PUD site plan approval shall include 15 copies of a development program, a community analysis, a site analysis, and general information as required for an area plan and PUD zoning district above in Section 1:3, together with a detailed site plan drawn to a scale of one inch = 50 feet or larger, which includes the following:

    (7) Placement, height and type of construction of all fences and walls, in compliance with Chapter 104 of the Ann Arbor Code of Ordinances.

  4. By Lynns
    May 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm | permalink

    “Look what they’ve done to my town, Ma
    Look what they’ve done to my town
    Well it’s the only thing they could do half right
    And it’s turning out all wrong, Ma
    Look what they’ve done to my town”
    When these buildings are 50 years old and empty are they going to be turned into Senior Living Facilities?