Planning Group Hears More on Downtown Zoning

For the third time in the past month, Ann Arbor planning commissioners heard public input on a consultant’s report with recommendations to changes in the city’s downtown zoning. The item on the commission’s Nov. 6, 2013 agenda included the continuation of a public hearing that began on Oct. 15, 2013. The commission will take up the issue again on Nov. 11 12 with an eye toward eventually making a recommendation to the city council.

The majority sentiment among the nearly dozen people who addressed the commission was that the consultant’s recommendations did not adequately address the need for buffering between areas zoned D1 and those zoned residential. However, the owner of the property on the southeast corner of William and Main did not share that sentiment. He offered his perspective that the parcel should not have zoning applied that splits the parcel between D1 and D2 zoning, which is the consultant’s recommendation.

Planning commissioners did not themselves engage in substantive discussion on the issue. Instead they focused on how to delay consideration of a resolution that would make a recommendation to the city council. The inclination to delay stemmed from a request from two commissioners who were absent due to illness – Sabra Briere and Wendy Woods.

The outcome of the scheduling discussion was to postpone consideration until the commission’s next working session on Nov. 11 12 – which will start at 7 p.m. in one of the basement conference rooms in city hall. The public will be heard at the end of the commission’s working session discussion. Indications from commissioners at the Nov. 6 meeting were that they expected they’d need more than just one additional discussion to come to a consensus on what the recommendation to the city council should be. They won’t be voting on anything at the working session.

The report had been originally presented at the commission’s Oct. 8, 2013 working session. [.pdf of downtown zoning report] [.pdf of Appendix A: city council resolution regarding zoning review] [.pdf Appendix B: list of downtown development projects since 2000] [.pdf of Appendix C: public input results]

In general, the recommendations – prepared by consultants ENP & Associates – call for some sections of the downtown to be downzoned, to create better transitions between residential neighborhoods and property that’s zoned for denser development. The recommendations also call for mandatory approval from the city’s design review board for any projects that are seeking premiums.

The recommendations reviewed on Oct. 15 and Nov. 6 include: (1) rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface); (2) rezone the Municipal Center parcel from PL (public land) to D2; (3) reduce the maximum height in the East Huron 1 Character District (on the north side of Huron, between Division and State) to 120 feet and add a tower diagonal maximum of 130 feet; (4) rezone the D-zoned parcels on the block bounded by Huron, Division, Ann and Fifth Avenue (where city hall is located) from East Huron 2 Character District to East Huron 1 Character District; (5) change the maximum height in the Main Street Character District to 150 feet when within 20 feet of a residentially zoned area and add a tower diagonal requirement of 50% of the maximum parcel diagonal; (6) rezone the south half of the parcel at 425 S. Main (between William and Packard) from D1 to D2.

In addition, several recommendations relate to premiums: (1) require approval of the design review board for a project to be eligible for any premium; (2) revise the residential premium to be more specific about the types of units that will be eligible for premiums; (3) revise the affordable housing premium so that the provision of affordable housing is mandatory for receiving any premiums; (4) eliminate the affordable housing 900% FAR (floor area ratio) “super premium”; and (5) include other types of premiums in addition to those currently available.

This zoning evaluation began earlier this year, following a city council directive to the planning commission that was prompted in part by the controversial 413 E. Huron development. Planning consultant ENP & Associates was hired to gather public input and evaluate certain aspects of downtown zoning known as A2D2, which was adopted in 2009. ENP’s Erin Perdu has taken the lead on this project.

The commission will eventually vote on a final set of recommendations to be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

The decision to postpone consideration from the commission’s Nov. 6 meeting until its Nov. 11 12 working session means that the previously scheduled topic for that working session will need to be shifted to a future session. That topic was to have been a presentation on legal issues by assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald, who specializes in land-use matters.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, where the planning commission holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]