Downtown Zoning Recommendations: Not Yet

After three hours of discussion at their Nov. 19, 2013 meeting, Ann Arbor planning commissioners made decisions on the majority of recommendations for revising the city’s downtown zoning ordinance, but adjourned after midnight before completing their final resolution for city council. Though they did not formally vote to postpone action on the resolution, the item is expected to be taken up again at the commission’s Dec. 3 meeting.

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 recommendations 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 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown), which was adopted in 2009. ENP’s Erin Perdu took the lead on this project.

Her report had been originally presented at the commission’s Oct. 8, 2013 working session. [.pdf of consultant's 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]

Commissioners held a public hearing on the consultant’s recommendations that began on Oct. 15, 2013, and continued at their Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. They also discussed the recommendations at a Nov. 12 working session. Based on that discussion, planning manager Wendy Rampson made revisions to Perdu’s original set of recommendations. Rampson drafted a memo and resolution containing these revised recommendations, which served as the basis for the Nov. 19 discussion. [.pdf of Nov. 19 memo and draft resolution]

Commissioners made several amendments during their deliberations on Nov. 19, and adopted the following recommendations, which will ultimately be part of the resolution to the city council. In general, the changes reflect a downzoning in an attempt to lessen the impact of development on adjacent residential neighborhoods:

  • Rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface).
  • Reduce the maximum height in the East Huron 1 Character District (on the north side of Huron, between Division and State) to 120 feet. Include a tower diagonal maximum and consider a “shadow setback” requirement to limit shading on adjacent residential properties to the north.
  • Revise the premium conditions to require compliance with Design Review Board recommendations for a project to receive any premium in the D1 or D2 districts.
  • Reduce the residential premium with the goal of encouraging the use of other existing or proposed premiums to compensate for this reduction, such as open space with landscape, increased energy efficiency certification, active ground floor use, balconies, and workforce housing.
  • Review options in D1 and D2 districts with the housing & human services advisory board (HHSAB) for providing additional affordable housing within mixed-income projects or through other funding mechanisms.
  • Eliminate the affordable housing 900% FAR (floor area ratio) “super premium.”
  • Evaluate the downtown real estate market to determine the effectiveness of premium incentives every 2-5 years.

The only draft recommendation that was not discussed on Nov. 19 was for a parcel located at the southeast corner of Main and William (425 S. Main). A surface parking lot and a building that currently houses DTE offices are located there. Commissioners are expected to weigh two options for that site at their Dec. 3 meeting: (1) Rezone the parcel from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface) and establish a maximum height of 60 feet for D2 zoning in the Main Street Character District; or (2) Change the maximum height in the Main Street Character District to 100 feet when within 20 feet of a residential zoning district and add a tower diagonal maximum and/or “shadow setback” requirement to limit shading on adjacent residential properties.

During a public hearing on the downtown zoning review that drew seven speakers, Andy Klein – who’s one of the owners of that Main and William site – spoke against rezoning the property, calling himself the “lone dissenter.” Other speakers at the hearing were in favor of downzoning.

The late hour (about 12:30 a.m.) persuaded most commissioners to adjourn rather than continue the discussion of this item. Jeremy Peters was the only commissioner voting against adjournment.

After the planning commission finalizes and approves its resolution regarding these downtown zoning recommendations, the resolution will be forwarded to the city council for consideration. The intent is for the council to review the recommendations and give direction to the commission about which recommendations to implement. At that point, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee would work with city planning staff to craft actual ordinance language. Any specific ordinance changes would be reviewed by the full commission and ultimately would require city council approval before taking effect. That process would include additional opportunities for public input.

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]