Next Step Taken in Downtown Zoning Change

Ann Arbor planning commissioners have voted to recommend rezoning a large parcel at the southeast corner of Main and William – another step in a review of downtown zoning that began last year. That vote, taken at the commission’s May 6, 2014 meeting, was unanimous.

The recommendation is to rezone the site at 425 S. Main from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface), a lower-density zoning. Currently, a two-story 63,150-square-foot office building – where DTE offices are located – stands on the southern part of that site, with a surface parking lot on the north portion. [.pdf of staff memo on 425 S. Main rezoning]

In a separate action, after considerable discussion during the four-hour meeting, commissioners were unable to reach consensus on adding new requirements to the Main Street Character Overlay District, where 425 S. Main is located. The commission voted 6-3 to recommend changes that include setting a maximum height of 100 feet for properties in that district that are zoned D2, and requiring upper story setbacks from any residential property lines. Dissenting were Sabra Briere, Ken Clein and Jeremy Peters. [.pdf of staff memo on overlay district]

These recommendations had been brought forward by the commission’s ordinance revisions committee. Members are Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal and Wendy Woods.

In response to a council directive, the planning commission had studied and developed a broader set of recommendations for zoning changes in specific parts of the downtown. The overall intent was in large part to buffer near-downtown residential neighborhoods. The commission had unanimously approved those original recommendations at its Dec. 3, 2013 meeting.

That set of recommendations included a proposal to rezone 425 S. Main to D2. However, those original recommendations had called for a maximum height of 60 feet for D2 zoning in the Main Street Character District – lower than the 100 feet put forward on May 6. The site’s current D1 zoning allows for a maximum height of 180 feet. The previous zoning, prior to 2009, set no limits on height.

The city council voted to accept the planning commission’s recommendations on Jan. 21, 2014 – and directed the planning commission to begin implementing changes by proposing specific rezoning or ordinance revisions.

During deliberations on May 6, Briere pointed out that the 60-foot maximum height had been cited specifically in the council directive, and she opposed raising the height. The 425 S. Main property would be the only D2 site in the Main Street Character District, if the city council approves the rezoning recommendation. Because the requirements would apply to just one site, it seemed like spot zoning to her.

Neighbors and others had previously raised concerns that D1 zoning – which allows the highest level of density downtown – would result in a negative impact to that part of town, and had supported downzoning to D2. Several neighborhood advocates attended the May 6 meeting and again supported D2 rezoning, but strongly opposed the 100-foot maximum height.

Andy Klein, one of the property owners of 425 S. Main, also attended the meeting, saying that the site would be unbuildable with D2 zoning and a 60-foot height limit, and that the property’s value would be destroyed. He supported the 100-foot maximum.

Members of the ORC defended the proposal, saying that the combination of D2 zoning with a taller height would allow for more flexible design and less massive structures.

At this time, no new development has been proposed for this site.

The recommendations approved on May 6 will be forwarded to the city council for consideration. In the coming months, the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee will tackle other aspects of the council’s Jan. 21 directive.

For additional background on this downtown zoning review, see Chronicle coverage: “Feedback on Downtown Zoning Continues”; “Downtown Zoning Review Nears Final Phase”; “Priorities Emerge in Downtown Zoning Review”; “Downtown Zoning Review Moves Forward” and “Downtown Zoning Review to Wrap Up Soon.”

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St., where the planning commission held its May 6 meeting. A more detailed report will follow: [link]