Draft of Revised Downtown Zoning Ready

Draft recommendations for possible changes to zoning in downtown Ann Arbor are now available, in advance of an Oct. 8, 2013 working session of the Ann Arbor planning commission. The 25-page report was prepared by ENP & Associates, the consultants hired by the city earlier this year to conduct a downtown zoning review. [.pdf of draft recommendations]

ENP & Associates, Ann Arbor planning commission, zoning, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

An example of a possible development on East Huron – between Sloan Plaza and Campus Inn – with proposed zoning changes. (Image from draft report by ENP & Associates.)

By way of background, in late 2009 – after a multi-year process and considerable debate – the city council adopted the A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning. The intent was to review the zoning after a year, to see whether the changes resulted in the kind of downtown development that the city wants. However, in part because relatively few projects were brought forward in the first year or two after the A2D2 zoning was put in place, an A2D2 evaluation was not conducted in the original timeframe.

Interest in a review was heightened by a proposal for the 14-story 413 E. Huron apartment project on a site zoned D1, the highest density allowed. The proposal spurred controversy in part because of its location adjacent to a residential historic district.

So on April 1, 2013, the city council directed the planning commission to review A2D2 and address three specific questions: (1) whether D1 zoning is appropriately located on the north side of Huron Street between Division and South State, and on the south side of William Street between South Main and Fourth Avenue; (2) whether the D1 residential FAR [floor area ratio] premiums effectively encourage a diverse downtown population; and (3) whether a parcel on the south side of Ann Street adjacent to city hall should be rezoned “to the appropriate zoning for this neighborhood.” That parcel, currently a surface parking lot, is now zoned D1.

On April 1, the council set a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to the council. Councilmembers subsequently approved the 413 E. Huron project on May 13, 2013 on a 6-5 vote.

Over the past few months, the consultants – Erin Perdu and Megan Masson-Minock – have been conducting public forums, focus sessions, surveys and other means of getting feedback on the current zoning, as well as on ideas for zoning changes. The work has taken longer than anticipated, so the council will likely receive a final report in November. According to the draft report, the consultants heard from 131 individuals in person and received 142 survey responses. The draft recommendations are based on that feedback, as well as discussions with planning commissioners.

The recommendation are:

  • Rezone the Ann Street site from D1 to D2, a zoning designation that has a lower height – 60 feet, compared to 180 feet. The consultants also recommend rezoning the city-owned property on a portion of parcels on the south side of Ann Street – where the city hall, Justice Center and fire station are now located. The recommendation is to rezone the northern half of those parcels from D1 to D2.
  • Reduce the maximum height of the East Huron 1 character district – on the north side of Huron, between Division and State – from 150 feet to 120 feet, but add diagonal requirements to allow for a building with a “tower” of up to 160 feet. [Diagonals are a method of controlling shape, and typically allow for taller but less massive buildings.]
  • Change the height maximum in the Main Street character district to 150 feet – compared to the existing 180 feet maximum – when within 20 feet of a residentially zoned area, and add diagonal requirements. This would affect the zoning requirements for the area along William Street.
  • Require approval of the Design Review Board for a project to be eligible for any premium. Premiums are considered “by right” increases to FAR [floor area ratio] if certain criteria are met. For example, in D1, the basic “by right” FAR is 400% – meaning that if a building covered the entire lot, it could be four stories tall. If the use of the property is residential, that can increase the FAR to 700%. This reflects a priority on residential buildings. This recommendation also proposes changes to the current design review process, to more clearly define certain aspects of the review.
  • Revise the residential premium to be more specific about the types of units that will be eligible for premiums.
  • Revise the affordable housing premium so that providing affordable housing is mandatory in order to receive any residential premium. Eliminate the affordable housing 900% FAR “super-premium.”
  • Include other types of premiums in addition to the those currently available. Some options might be providing an incentive for developers to include balconies on new residential developments, providing a premium for certain types of retail on the ground floor of new developments, or allowing/encouraging open spaces that are managed and programmed privately rather than merely requiring a contribution to the parks fund (or dedication of public spaces).

The draft report also identifies some issues that should receive additional attention from the city, but that were outside the scope of this particular project. Those issues are: (1) consider a review of D1 zoning for other “sensitive” properties that were not identified in the city council resolution, such as some areas of  South University and Thayer; (2) survey what other communities have done to regulate the shading impacts of new high-rise developments, in addition to requiring step-backs and diagonals; and (3) further study of the sewer and stormwater infrastructure, and the connection between new development and requiring city residents to disconnect their footing drains.

The consultants plan to present their draft report to the planning commission on Oct. 8, with commissioners considering the recommendations formally at their Oct. 15 regular meeting. For more background, see Chronicle coverage: “Priorities Emerge in Downtown Zoning Review” and ”Downtown Zoning Review Moves Forward.”