Traverwood OK’d, More Heard on D1 Zoning

Ann Arbor planning commission's downtown zoning review to be continued at Nov. 12 working session; large new apartment complex on city's north side moves to city council for approval

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Nov. 6, 2013): In its one matter involving a substantive vote, the commission recommended all necessary approvals for the Traverwood Apartments project – a planned complex of 16 two-story buildings on the west side of Traverwood Drive, north of Plymouth Road. Commissioners recommended approval of the site plan, development agreement, rezoning and wetland use permit.

Kirk Westphal

Planning commission chair Kirk Westphal. (Photos by the writer.)

In a non-voting item, the commission was presented with a possible change to its bylaws – that could clarify whether someone is allowed to speak more than once at the same public hearing. The bylaws themselves prescribe that changes to the bylaws can only be voted on after their presentation at a previous meeting. The city council would need to give final approval to any bylaws changes.

The following evening, on Nov. 7, the city council delayed consideration of an earlier bylaws change that the planning commission had approved (dealing with accessibility issues) – to allow for the possibility that the council could eventually approve both changes in one action.

The bylaws issue involving public hearings had stemmed from an Oct. 15, 2013 debate among commissioners about the ability of a person to address the commission more than one time during the same public hearing. The Oct. 15 public hearing involved the downtown zoning review that the planning commission was directed by the city council to complete by Oct. 1. That public hearing continued at the commission’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. It marked the third time in the past month that commissioners have heard public input on a consultant’s report with recommendations to changes in the city’s downtown zoning.

The commission didn’t vote on the zoning review item, however. It will be taken up again at a Nov. 12 work session, with an eye toward eventually making a recommendation to the city council.

The majority sentiment among the nearly dozen people who spoke to the commission about the zoning review on Nov. 6 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 building on property at the southeast corner of William and Main – where DTE offices are located – 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 engage in substantive discussion on the downtown zoning review. Instead they focused on what procedure to use in delaying consideration of a resolution that would make a recommendation to the city council. The inclination to delay stemmed from a request by 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. 12 – which will start at 7 p.m. in a basement conference room at city hall. The public will be heard at the end of the commission’s working session discussion. Commissioners at the Nov. 6 meeting indicated that they’ll likely 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 Nov. 12 working session.

This report also includes material on the downtown zoning review from the meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board earlier in the day on Nov. 6. 

Traverwood Apartments

At its Nov. 6 meeting, the planning commission considered the Traverwood Apartments project – a complex of 16 two-story buildings on the west side of Traverwood Drive, north of Plymouth Road. Commissioners had three separate items in front of them for consideration: a site plan and development agreement, a rezoning request, and a wetland use permit.

Traverwood Apartments, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of proposed Traverwood Apartments at 2225 Traverwood Drive, north of Plymouth Road.

The project is being developed by Ann Arbor-based First Martin Corp. Action had been postponed at the commission’s Sept. 17, 2013 meeting due to outstanding issues related to utilities, natural features, connections from the site to adjacent properties, and wetland mitigation. Those issues have been addressed, according to the city’s planning staff.

Subsequently, First Martin decided to donate the 2-acre high-quality woodland portion on the north end of the site to the city for parkland. It would be an addition to the Stapp Nature Area, which was created when First Martin sold another parcel to the city in 2003.

Due to that donation of land, the Traverwood Apartment site was reduced from 21.8 acres to 19.82 acres, which is currently vacant. The site is made up of two parcels: a nearly 16-acre lot that’s zoned R4D (multi-family residential), and an adjacent 3.88-acre lot to the south that’s currently zoned ORL (office, research and light industrial). The smaller lot needs to be rezoned R4D.

The project, estimated to cost $30 million, would include 16 two-story buildings for a total of 216 one- and two-bedroom units – or 280 total bedrooms. Eight of the buildings would each have 15 units and 11 single-car garages. An additional eight buildings would each have 12 units and 8 single-car garages.

The complex will include a 6,150-square-foot community building near the center of the site, with a leasing office, meetings rooms, a small kitchen and an exercise facility. An outdoor pool with patio will be located adjacent to the building. There will also be a play area with playground structures and benches.

The project could be constructed in phases, with the first phase consisting of 11 buildings and the community center. The site will include 336 parking spaces – 152 spaces inside garages and 184 surface parking spaces.

According to a staff memo, the property has several significant natural features. About 40 landmark trees will be removed for construction. An additional 165 trees will be planted on the property to mitigate the trees that will be removed. The owner will also put in a woodchip path connecting to the adjacent Stapp Nature Area to the north.

There are three wetlands on the site, and one will be removed. The owner must secure a wetland use permit from the city and a permit for wetland disturbance from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. The project includes removing 1,800 square feet of a regulated wetland, which currently leads from a natural pond to a regional detention basin. An underground piping system will be installed there. In addition, a new 2,700-square-foot wetland will be created at the southern edge of the preserved native woodland on the north end of the site.

Traverwood Apartments: Commissioner Discussion

City planner Jill Thacher reviewed the details of the project for the commission, noting that all outstanding review issues had been addressed. Thacher concluded her remarks by pointing out that the donation of land was scheduled for action by the city council before the end of the year. She stressed that the land donation was an entirely separate transaction from site plan review process.

No one addressed the commission during the public hearing.

First the commission considered the rezoning [ORL to R4D] and the site plan with its associated development agreement. That was followed by a vote on the wetland use permit.

Bona Bona led off by asking about the pavement plan and the sidewalks. At the podium available to answer questions was Earl Ophoff of Midwestern Consulting. She thanked him for doing the sidewalk identification drawing, saying it was tedious but made it easier to visualize. She wanted to know about sidewalks adjacent to a parking space – where the front of vehicles would extend out over the sidewalk, reducing width available for pedestrians. How does that work, she asked, with a 7-foot-wide sidewalk?

Ophoff noted that the standard sidewalk width is 5 feet, and he indicated the 7-foot width is meant to accommodate the possibility of vehicular overhang. Bona complimented that aspect of the development. Bona also inquired about the wood chip paths, and whether they will end up connecting with a sidewalk in every case or to the path system on the adjacent park property. Ophoff described the drawing as informal, with the actual layout to be done in the field – as a joint exercise with city park staff.

City of Ann Arbor planning manager Wendy Rampson and Mike Martin

City of Ann Arbor planning manager Wendy Rampson and Mike Martin of First Martin Corp.

Citing the project’s stormwater management features, Ken Clein asked if the intent was to undertake the southern half of the project as phase 1, with phase 2 contingent on marketing of the buildings in phase 1. Mike Martin, with First Martin Corp., indicated that the intent was to build the whole project in one phase, but there’s phasing described in order to give First Martin some flexibility.

Clein also inquired about the trash pickup areas. He asked Ophoff to review how that would work. He wanted an explanation about the distance of the pickup locations from the buildings.

Ophoff described how the types of containers used by the city for trash and recycling required access for trucks to be able to pull straight in as well as to access from the side. So he’d worked with city solid waste manager Tom McMurtrie to make sure that the trucks would have adequate access. He ventured that if a development has more than 30 units, it’s a requirement that such dumpsters be provided. Clein expressed concern that it might result in a bit of a walk for some residents to the trash receptacles.

Jeremy Peters said he was glad to see that the petitioner was able to provide information about the sidewalks that had been requested last time. He was also glad that wetland mitigation has been sorted out with the city staff.

Kirk Westphal asked about a possible impact to the Leslie Woods Nature Area. He sought confirmation that there was not an adverse impact to a steep slope. Ophoff described the tests that had been done to determine whether the site contained a woodland or not – and it did not.

Outcome: The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning [ORL to R4D] and the site plan with its associated development agreement. That was followed by a unanimous vote on the wetland use permit.

Planning Commission Bylaws

Commissioners at their Nov. 6 meeting weighed a bylaws revision that would attempt to clarify the rules for speaking turns at public hearings. The commissioners had debated the question at their Oct. 15, 2013 meeting, when commission chair Kirk Westphal had indicated that speakers who addressed the commission during the public hearing at that meeting would not be able to speak again when the matter was postponed and the public hearing was continued.

The idea of the bylaws change would be to clarify the definition of a public hearing so that when a matter is postponed, its public hearing is continued – as opposed to starting a fresh public hearing. Applying a time limit of three minutes for each speaker would effectively rule out a situation where a person could speak multiple times in a public hearing on the same matter.

But the bylaws revision being considered by the commission could explicitly rule out multiple speaking turns by the same person at a public hearing. The possible revision, which was considered but not decided at the Nov. 6 meeting, also provides a mechanism for an exception.

The proposed revision, which commissioner Jeremy Peters had crafted for consideration by his colleagues, would add two items to the rules on public hearings (Article VIII). [Italics indicates a portion of the proposal that at least some commissioners seemed inclined to delete from the new sections]:

Section 6. If an item on the agenda which has a public hearing attached to it is postponed or continued at a later date, the public hearing on the later date will be deemed to be a continuation of that original public hearing.

Section 7. Members of the public may only be allowed to speak once during the entirety of a single public hearing, but shall not be precluded from speaking at multiple public hearings on separate agenda items. The Chair may entertain a motion from the Commission to modify this rule to allow a second turn at comment, as it pertains to an individual agenda item, as the Commission deems appropriate, by majority vote.

The revisions would clarify a process that was debated by commissioners on Oct. 15, during the middle of a public hearing on downtown zoning changes. Before that hearing began, planning commission chair Kirk Westphal stated that the hearing would likely continue at a future meeting, but that speakers would be allowed only one turn during the entire hearing – either that night, or at a subsequent meeting. Midway through the hearing, Sabra Briere raised an objection to Westphal’s ruling, and commissioners spent about 20 minutes debating the issue.

During that Oct. 15 debate, planning manager Wendy Rampson reported that the commission’s bylaws are silent on this issue. The commission ultimately voted to allow for people to speak more than once when the public hearing is continued, over the objection of Westphal, Diane Giannola and Wendy Woods.

The commission will likely vote on the proposed revisions at some upcoming meeting.

The bylaws were most recently revised at the commission’s July 16, 2013 meeting. Those changes related to the order of agenda items, and the length of time required for special accommodations, such as sign language interpreters. The changes approved by commissioners on July 16 appeared the city council’s Nov. 7 agenda for approval. However, the council postponed consideration of those changes (until Dec. 16) in light of this possible new bylaws revision. [.pdf of planning commission bylaws on Nov. 7 city council agenda]

Planning Commission Bylaws: Commission Discussion

Under the bylaws themselves, the mechanism for changing the planning commission bylaws is first to present changes at a meeting of the commission, and to vote on those changes at a subsequent meeting. So the Nov. 6 discussion was not meant to lead to a vote that night. Commissioners engaged in considerable back-and-forth on the question.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson summarized the proposed change to the bylaws by noting that commissioner Jeremy Peters had drafted language to explain what it means when a public hearing is continued – for example, when the matter for which the public hearing is being held is postponed by the commission. A continued public hearing would be the same public hearing that started at the previous meeting, she explained: If you speak at the public hearing that started at one meeting, then when the public hearing is continued at the next meeting, you wouldn’t have an opportunity to speak again, she explained.

That new bylaw doesn’t preclude a person speaking at that meeting on other topics, she said. So the proposed bylaws change does allow people to speak multiple times at the same meeting, just not at the same public hearing. The commission’s customary practice in the past has been to allow people to speak more than once at a public hearing on the same project, she said. Rampson noted that the city council’s rule on speaking turns doesn’t limit a speaker to one turn, but rather three minutes. She ventured that if a person spoke 1.5 minutes they might be able to speak later for another 1.5 minutes at a city council public hearing. No one has ever done that, she said. Westphal quipped: “City council thanks you for that invitation!”

Rampson said the intent is to clarify what the rules are, and the point is to make it crystal clear. A provision to allow people to speak again is included, Westphal noted, if the commission takes a majority vote.

Peters stressed that the proposed change in the bylaws didn’t arise out of an interest in limiting comment but rather an interest in providing clarity and a desire to match the practice at city council as closely as possible. That way a clear standard would exist for all public bodies.

Commissioner discussion turned to the upcoming work session on Nov. 12 and how the possible continuation of a public hearing on the downtown zoning review would be handled. Ken Clein ventured that the public hearing would not be continued for the working session. Public hearings are only for the commission’s business meetings, he said. Westphal concurred, saying that it would simply be called public commentary.

Peters wondered if it would be of interest to get a legal opinion with respect to Michigan’s Open Meetings Act – on the question of not having the public hearing at the working session. He didn’t think it would violate the act, but wondered if a legal opinion would be useful.

Rampson indicated that she didn’t think a legal opinion was necessary: As long as an opportunity is provided for members of the public to address the commission in some fashion – not necessarily in the context of a formal public hearing – the conditions of the OMA are met. Reasonable limits can be put on time and extent of public comment, she said.

Clein appreciated the work Peters had done, and stated that he was in favor of creating bylaws consistent with expectations of other public bodies. He echoed Peters’ sentiment that the idea is not to limit public input. Paras Parekh worried about possible time lags between continuations of the same public hearing. Changes to a project might take place that could cause people to want to weigh in again. Peters indicated that the provision of an exception was meant to address that possibility. Rampson pointed out that if a project has taken longer than six months, the public hearing would need to be re-noticed.

Midwestern Consulting

Before the Nov. 6 meeting started, planning commissioner Paras Parekh (left) talked with Earl Ophoff of Midwestern Consulting. Ophoff was at the meeting to answer questions about the Traverwood Apartments project.

Commissioner discussion then turned to the possibility of making the planning commission’s bylaws more consistent with the city council’s rule – by not explicitly stating a limit on the number of speaking turns. Peters ventured that to achieve that parallel with the city council’s approach, this clause could be eliminated: “… may only be allowed to speak once during the entirety of a single public hearing, but …”

If the 3-minute rule, as applied by the city council, prevented people from speaking on more than one occasion, that should be sufficient for the planning commission, too. Clein ventured that Peters’ approach made sense. Diane Giannola noted that it made sense, but was not clear to others.

Westphal ventured that it made sense to match the council’s approach, but it sounded like the council’s rules are not ideal. Peters said he wanted  to withdraw the proposal.

Rampson suggested that commissioners could take time at their Nov. 12 working session to hammer out the language, but that people had now been put on notice. Westphal said he hoped the bylaws change could be voted on at the next regular meeting, which falls on Nov. 19.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Downtown Zoning Review

The Nov. 6 meeting marked the third time in the past month that 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 agenda included the continuation of a public hearing that began on Oct. 15, 2013.

A consultant’s 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 – which were 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 (city hall and Justice Center) 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; and (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 on April 1, 2o13 that was prompted in part by the controversial 413 E. Huron development. The council’s direction was to make a recommendation to the city council by Oct. 1. 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.

Downtown Zoning Review: DDA Meeting

The Nov. 6 meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – which took place at noon, or seven hours earlier than the planning commission’s meeting – also featured some discussion of the ongoing zoning review. That discussion is included in this report.

Reporting out from the downtown citizens advisory council, Ray Detter reviewed what he called the “mistakes” that were made during the A2D2 process that resulted in the current downtown zoning adopted in 2009. The CAC had based its analysis on a basic approach that would minimize the extent to which high-rise developments create negative impacts on neighbors in terms of height, scale, massing, shading and harm to natural and historic resources. Those are all considerations already in the city’s downtown plan, he said. The consultant for the review, Erin Perdu, has done a good job, Detter said. He added that he was going to call the issues “mistakes,” which he’d identify subsequently because he thought they were, in fact, mistakes that had resulted from the “rush” to enact the A2D2 zoning.

The first mistake, Detter said, was that the parcel currently occupied by the University of Michigan Credit Union [formerly the Ann Arbor News building, at the southwest corner of Division and Huron], should have been zoned D2 not D1. He noted that D2 has a height limit of 60 feet, compared to D1, which has a height limit of 180 feet. The parcel is clearly in an interface area, he contended, across the street from residential and historical properties in the Old Fourth Ward that require protection. That’s also true for the properties to the west of the UM Credit Union along the south side of Ann Street all the way to North Fourth Avenue, he said.

The second mistake, according to Detter, had been made obvious by the 413 E. Huron proposal, he said. The parking lot east of Sloan Plaza and west of Campus Inn should not be zoned D1 [which in that part of D1 zoning has an overlay reducing the height limit to 150 feet]. Rather, it should be D2 or some appropriate hybrid, he said, with a height limit of 120 feet and some combination of setback and diagonal requirements that keep it at least 25 feet away from Sloan Plaza. Detter said the goal was to prevent a structure from being built that would destroy the livability of Sloan Plaza or to the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. Detter said that the owner of Campus Inn and the parking lot in question, Dennis Dahlmann, supports the zoning change.

The recommendation by the consultant, Detter said, is to include the frontage of Huron Street on its north side all the way to Ashley in this reduced zoning. Detter allowed that it was not part of the charge given by the city council to consider these properties, but the Ahmo’s property at the northwest corner of Division and Huron should not be zoned D1 with a height limit of 180 feet, Detter said. Rather, it should have some kind of hybrid zoning with a limit of 120 feet appropriate to the sites across from it, which Detter called one of the most historic sites in the city.

The third mistake that had been made in the 2009 A2D2 zoning, Detter said, was the property at the southeast corner of Main and William streets across from Ashley Mews. That should not be zoned D1 at 180 feet, Detter said, but rather D2 or some hybrid with reduced height and setbacks and diagonal requirements that would protect the historic properties on East William Street, he said. There are other mistakes as well, Detter said.

About the changes recommended in the consultant’s report, Detter said that the Ann Arbor community “wants this.” He also said it’s important not to continue to award premiums for additional floor area ratio (FAR), if the premiums depend on things that “we don’t want.” Among those things he said that the community doesn’t want is student housing. What the community does want are things like more open space, and perhaps affordable housing, Detter concluded.

DDA board member Roger Hewitt responded to Detter’s remarks by focusing on Detter’s contention that the A2D2 process had been “rushed.” Having served on a steering committee for the A2D2 process, Hewitt said, it was not rushed compared to what’s going on now – it had lasted several years. Hewitt stated that the A2D2 process was certainly not a rushed process. The decisions that Detter was describing as “mistakes” had not been described as mistakes at the time, Hewitt noted. The A2D2 decisions had broad-based community support, Hewitt said. At that point Detter interjected that he wanted to respond to Hewitt, but board chair Sandi Smith told him that of course he could not.

Mayor John Hieftje followed up a bit later in the meeting on Hewitt’s remarks, saying that the A2D2 process took around six years. He pointed to the work of a downtown residential task force that was established in 2004, Hieftje characterized the amount of public input and workshops that went on for a number of years as unprecedented. At the time, the community had reached a consensus, he said. Hieftje allowed that, as Detter was pointing out, “we didn’t get everything right,” but he said not every detail was expected to be right. Some of those details are being worked through now, Hieftje said.

Downtown Zoning Review: Planning Commission Public Hearing

At the planning commission meeting, Ray Detter reprised the comments he’d made earlier in the day at the DDA board meeting. Several other people commented as well.

Norm Tyler told the commission he wanted to share some information that had first been put together by Doug Kelbaugh, a professor of architecture and urban planning at the University Michigan. Tyler showed the planning commission a superposed map of zoning revisions.

Norm Tyler

Norm Tyler.

[It's a similar map to the one described by Kelbaugh at the Feb. 19, 2013 city council meeting during his commentary on the 413 E. Huron project. Tyler owns a property just to the north of the 413 E. Huron project.] Tyler said he was speaking on behalf of Kelbaugh. The idea was based on simplifying the boundaries between D1 and other zoning designations.

It included a new D1.5 designation north of Huron Street as a transition area, Tyler said. A height limit there was recommended of 120 feet with a 10-foot setback from sidewalks. The existing D2 is used elsewhere as a transition between the core and surrounding residential areas. The proposal has been discussed by a group of representatives from the downtown and near downtown neighborhoods, he said. Tyler called the map a consensus map that had evolved from that discussion. He offered the map as a reference guide for the conversation.

Ethel Potts said that there’d been some substantial changes recommended by the consultant. She said the consultant was very good and managed a series of meetings quite open to the public. But Potts claimed that the council had limited the scope of the review, so the report is very limited. She saw this report as the first stage of a comprehensive evaluation of the D1 and D2 zoning designations. There are other locations – besides those included in the scope laid out by the council – at the edge of downtown where a buffer is needed, Potts said. Amendments are needed to the D2 zoning definition, because it does not function as a buffer. The flaws need to be corrected, she said, otherwise we will continue to have controversy.

Ted Annis introduced himself as a resident of 414 S. Main (Ashley Mews). He supported the proposed zoning map that was shown by Norm Tyler. That map solves a nasty problem for him, Annis said, allowing that he was looking after his own interests – because he had just bought a condo. Annis had a sense that the planning commission is reluctant to change the Perdu report, but he reminded the commissioners that the people addressing the commission that evening were “the neighborhood speaking to you.”

Andy Klein introduced himself as one of the owners of the DTE building at Main and William – he was the “K” in KRG Investments, he said. His father had developed the property in the early 1980s when interest rates were over 18%, and took a considerable risk to develop it. Klein said he’d built in the community for 25 years. He’d participated in the interview process done by the consultant, and had done the online surveys. Throughout his participation, he said, he’d talked about how he believed in development that is harmonious with surrounding areas. But he thought that cutting the allowable height of part of the property (through the split D1/D2 zoning) by 66% was a harsh reaction to recent undesirable projects. The split D1/D2 zoning would create an awkward situation for future development, he said.

So Klein supported an earlier recommendation by the consultant, which maintained the D1 zoning but reduced the height to 150 feet and used diagonals as a way to control the shape of the building. D2 is inconsistent with the other three buildings on the corner, he said. The consultant’s earlier recommendation had been a reasonable solution. It’s not possible to know what will happen with the property, but it’s important to preserve flexibility, he said.

Reducing the zoning could have a significant impact on taxes and limit creativity. Creativity is “what development is all about,” Klein said. The parcel could house a corporate headquarters, or become a landmark building that’s a gateway to the city. Applying D2 zoning there is not urban planning, he said, but rather a knee-jerk reaction to previous projects. He hoped that planning commissioners would consider a reasonable solution that benefits everyone.

Steve Bellock told the commissioners that he owned the 11-unit historic home immediately to the north of the 413 E. Huron project. He had loads of questions about how a town like Ann Arbor could come up with a building like 413 E. Huron, which was 150 feet tall. He had asked for a sun and shade study to see what effect the building would have, and contended that the study showed at 12 noon his house would be in shade 12 months of the year. That’s a 150-foot tall building without any regard for neighbors, he said. He cited the city council deliberations on the 413 E. Huron project, when Sabra Briere (Ward 1) had said she’d heard 9 hours of testimony of people only talking about how they didn’t like the project, but councilmembers voted for it because they feared the city was going to be sued. He ticked through the councilmembers who voted against the 413 E. Huron project, who had just won re-election: Briere, Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Marcia Higgins had voted for it the project. [She was a Ward 4 incumbent but lost the Democratic primary in August to Jack Eaton.]

Christine Crockett introduced herself as president of the Old Fourth Ward Association. She responded to Klein’s support for maintaining the denser zoning on the grounds that it allowed more creativity, by saying that she didn’t think developers had shown much creativity. Instead she called the result “big shoeboxes in the sky.” Reconsidering the zoning now is good process and good planning, Crockett said. Zoning isn’t a matter of maximizing property value, she said. She didn’t have any cash in the “development game,” but she’d made an investment in time and effort and thought. She encouraged the commission to consider the review with great thoughtfulness. Ann Arbor’s zoning should allow for development while respecting the special atmosphere of this community, she said.

Gwen Nystuen told commissioners she lived on the edge of the South University district. That area had been left out of consideration in the current zoning review, she complained. Downtown still has places where there are no D2 buffers. She was very much in support of the map that Norm Tyler had shown.

Ellen Ramsburgh, who serves on the city’s historic district commission, echoed Nystuen’s remarks. This is the beginning of the discussion about problems that are inherent in the zoning, Ramsburgh said. She described some of the impacts of recent development on historic resources – The Varsity and how it affects the adjacent First Baptist Church. And 413 E. Huron affects the historic district of Ann and Division, she said. She generally agreed with the consultant’s recommendations about Ann and Huron streets. But the recommendations for Main and William will cause the same problems for that neighborhood as the 413 E. Huron project caused, and would affect the sustainability of that historic neighborhood, she said. Ramsburgh supported having a member of the HDC on the design review board. She reminded planning commissioners that in the past year, the HDC had sent two resolutions to the planning commission and the city council about the importance of upholding the historic district ordinance as well as the city’s zoning ordinance.

Jeff Crockett supported the map that Norm Tyler had presented earlier. He thought that the current zoning review is a good step, but said there are some further considerations that need to be made. He contended that the 413 E. Huron project had illustrated how city regulations offered no protection from impact on landmark features, and how traffic safety did not have an impact on the approval process. He asked the commission to consider the loopholes in the planning process that work to the advantage of developers.

Eleanor Linn introduced herself as a resident of Forest Court, in the South University area, which is zoned R4C, and abuts properties zoned D2 and D1. She thought those adjacent properties they should all be rezoned to D2. An interface is needed wherever D-type zoning meets residential properties, she said. Requiring a stepback on higher floors, but only setbacks on ground level, can’t preserve the usability of first-floor residential, she said, because it deprives residents of air and light.

Cy Hufano told commissioners he’d been a resident of Ann Arbor for 67 years, and he now lives at 505 E. Huron (Sloan Plaza) as a new resident there. He hadn’t previously been as involved in issues of city government and community as he has since moving downtown. When he speaks at these settings, he said, he doesn’t come at it from the technical side. He told commissioners they have a real struggle with balance. He encouraged them to focus on the balance between what’s good for citizens as human beings and what’s good for the city as a government and an entity. There’d been an enormous amount of human response to the 413 E. Huron project, he said, and his sense of it is that it’s not going to go away. He was not advocating against profit. But he encouraged commissioners to think about the balance in their deliberations. He cautioned against taking positions that are compromised by threats of being sued.

Downtown Zoning Review: Planning Commission Discussion

Due to the absence of Sabra Briere and Wendy Woods, commissioners were inclined to postpone a vote. Their back-and-forth centered on whether to use their upcoming working session, on Nov. 12, to deliberate on their recommendation to the city council. That meant that the originally planned topic for the session – a review of legal issues by assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald – would be shifted to a future working session. That’s what the commission decided to do.

Outcome: Commissioners postponed consideration of the downtown zoning review until their Nov. 12 working session. 

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Paras Parekh, Jeremy Peters, Ken Clein. Also: City planning manager Wendy Rampson.

Absent: Sabra Briere, Wendy Woods.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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