624 Church St. Gets City Council OK

A 14-story, 116,167-square-foot building with 123 units and about 230 bedrooms – to be built at 624 Church St. in downtown Ann Arbor – has received approval from the Ann Arbor city council. The apartment building would extend to the southeast corner of Willard and Church, where the building’s entrance will be located. Existing buildings at 624 Church Street and 1117 Willard would be torn down.

624 Church, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rendering of 624 Church apartments, looking south from South University. Zaragon Place is pictured to the west, immediately next to the proposed 624 Church building. (Image included in the planning commission meeting packet.)

The project will be located south of South University Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor, next to and over the two-story Pizza House restaurant on the west side of Church. A previous version went through the planning review process and was given approval by the city council almost a year ago at its March 4, 2013 meeting.

The council’s action approving the new version of the project came at its meeting on Jan. 21, 2014, after about 90 minutes of deliberations, primarily about the parking permits that the project has been granted.

The original plan for the development was for an 83,807-square-foot, 14-story building addition with 76 residential units. But after the original plan received site plan approval, the developer purchased an adjacent parcel at 1117 Willard to expand the project. The Tice family, which owns Pizza House, is partnering with Opus Group of Minnetonka, Minnesota, and 624 Partners LLC. When Pizza House expanded in 2006, the project included foundations that would allow for a taller building eventually to be constructed. [.pdf of site plan] [.pdf of draft development agreement] [.pdf of staff memo]

Premiums offered in the D1 zoning district – for buildings with residential uses, and LEED silver certification – are being used to allow a larger structure than would otherwise be permitted, gaining an additional 267% in floor area ratio for a total of 667% FAR. To use the residential premium, each bedroom must have a window directly to the outside.

The project includes a 1,491-square-foot outdoor dining area for Pizza House, which will be built underneath the apartment structure on the south side of the restaurant, opening onto Church Street. It will be partially enclosed, with large garage-style overhead doors along the front property line opening to the sidewalk.

Other features of the project and development agreement include:

  • Two small offices for building management on the ground floor of the addition, with a solid waste/recycling room and bicycle parking room at the rear. There will be no new retail space.
  • The top floor will include a small “club room” for residents and a rooftop patio with benches, a small grilling area, and garden trellis.
  • The second floor will contain a fitness room, study lounge and five apartments. Other floors will have 11 apartments each. The apartments will be divided into: 23 one-bedroom (19%); 88 two-bedroom (72%); and 11 three-bedroom (9%). The units will range in size from 490 to 1,100 square feet.
  • The developer will make a contribution of $47,120 to the city’s parks and recreation unit for improvements to the nearby Forest Plaza, adjacent to the Forest Avenue parking structure.
  • The development agreement includes a requirement to disconnect 27 footing drains as part of the city’s footing drain disconnect program. That’s an increase from the 20 that were required for the previous version of the project.

The new version of this development was evaluated by the city’s design review board, which was generally supportive of the project. [.pdf of September 2013 DRB report]

The development requires 53 parking spaces under the city’s zoning. Five of those will be provided in spaces underneath the building. The previous proposal had no on-site parking. At its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority granted the owner the ability to buy a total of 48 monthly parking permits in the Forest Avenue parking structure, through the city’s contribution in lieu (CIL) program. That program requires the developer to pay 20% more than the standard rate for monthly parking permits. The DDA had already granted a request for 42 permits under the original version of the project.

At its Jan. 8, 2014 meeting, the DDA board approved a request that gave the developer the option to extend the monthly parking contracts for three five-year periods. Opus had wanted the ability to extend the contract’s 15-year commitment to instead cover a 30-year financing period – based on feedback from firms that would be providing the financing. This was the point of controversy during the council’s lengthy deliberations on Jan. 21, which still resulted in unanimous approval of the project. [Details of those deliberations are reported in The Chronicle's live updates from the meeting.]

The previous development proposal had drawn concern from representatives of the adjacent Zaragon Place apartments, at 619 E. University. The concerns stemmed in part from the fact that under the previous plan, the new building would have been built up to the lot line next to Zaragon Place. The current proposal calls for a setback of 10 feet and 20 feet from that property line. According to planning staff, the city hasn’t received any feedback from adjacent property owners about this current proposal.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]