Stories indexed with the term ‘A2D2 Zoning’

Downtown Zoning Changes Postponed

Final approval to changes in two parts of the Ann Arbor city zoning code affecting the parcel at 425 S. Main, on the southeast corner of Main and William streets, has been postponed by the Ann Arbor city council. The council will take up the zoning question again at its second meeting in September – on Sept. 15.

425 South Main, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle Aerial view of 425 S. Main – outlined in green – between William and Packard. An alley separates the site from a residential neighborhood … [Full Story]

Council Moves on Downtown Zoning Revisions

Recommendations from the city planning commission – to start a formal legislative process to make revisions to zoning regulations in downtown Ann Arbor – have now been accepted by the Ann Arbor city council. And the city council has in turn now directed the planning commission to craft the corresponding zoning ordinance language to reflect the recommendations. The council made some amendments to the recommendations before turning the work back over to the planning commission. [Jan. 21, 2014 zoning resolution, as amended]

Action directing the planning commission to start crafting ordinance language came at the council’s Jan. 21, 2014 meeting. The session included a public hearing, with a dozen people speaking generally in support of the proposed revisions. Many … [Full Story]

Recommendations Set for Downtown Zoning

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Dec. 3, 2013): Following months of public input and review by a consultant hired by the city, Ann Arbor planning commissioners finalized a set of recommendations to revise parts of the city’s downtown zoning. Those recommendations will now be forwarded to the city council, possibly at its Jan. 20 meeting.

Bonnie Bona, Wendy Rampson, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning commissioner Bonnie Bona talks with city planning manager Wendy Rampson before the start of the commission’s Dec. 3, 2013 meeting. Bona was successful in advocating for the downzoning of a parcel at the southeast corner of Main and William. (Photos by the writer.)

In general, the recommendations aim to create more of a buffer between downtown development and adjacent or nearby residential neighborhoods.

Three of the recommendations relate to specific parcels: (1) Rezone the parcel located at 336 E. Ann from D1 (downtown core) to D2 (downtown interface); (2) 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 step-back requirement to reduce the shading of residential properties to the north; (3) Rezone the parcel at 425 S. Main, at the southeast corner of Main and William, 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.

Several other recommendations focused on the issue of “premiums” – certain features that a developer can provide in exchange for additional square footage. Those recommendations are: (1) Revise the premium conditions to require mandatory compliance with core design guidelines for a project to receive any premium in the D1 or D2 districts; (2) Reduce the residential premium with the goal of encouraging the use of other existing or proposed premiums to compensate for this reduction, such as increased energy efficiency certification, open space with landscape, active ground floor use, balconies and workforce housing; (3) Review options in D1 and D2 districts, with the housing and humans services advisory board (HHSAB), for providing additional affordable housing within mixed income projects or through other funding mechanisms; (4) Eliminate the affordable housing 900% FAR (floor area ratio) “super premium”; and (5) Evaluate the downtown real estate market to determine the effectiveness of premium incentives every 2-5 years.

On Dec. 3, commissioners heard from three people during the public hearing – all three of them addressing the issue of zoning at 425 S. Main, including one of the property owners, Andy Klein. Speaking on behalf of the owners was Scott Bonney of Neumann/Smith Architecture, who suggested a third option to consider: Keep the D1 zoning on that site, but reduce the maximum height to 122 feet and add a tower diagonal maximum of 50% of the maximum diagonal dimension of the site. Ted Annis, who lives near that location, called for D2 zoning there.

Bonnie Bona, who’d been involved in the original A2D2 zoning process that’s now being partially reviewed, advocated for downzoning the entire site at 425 S. Main, to provide a buffer between D1 zoning and the nearby residential neighborhood. Some commissioners, including chair Kirk Westphal, wanted more density in the downtown, and noted that the site has allowed for denser development since the 1960s. The final vote on the recommendation for that site was 5-4, with support from Bona, Eleanore Adenekan, Sabra Briere, Jeremy Peters and Wendy Woods. Voting against it were Westphal, Ken Clein, Diane Giannola and Paras Parekh.

Also, because of feedback received from the city’s design review board, commissioners revisited a recommendation that they’d previously settled regarding compliance with design guidelines. They unanimously voted to change the recommendation – so that it would require mandatory compliance with some of the design guidelines. The intent is to develop a process that will clarify the design compliance that will be required in order to receive premiums.

The vote on the full resolution with all of the recommendations, as amended, passed unanimously.

The next step is for the council to review the recommendations and give direction back 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 planning commission and ultimately would require city council approval before taking effect. That process would include additional opportunities for public input.

Also on Dec. 3, commissioners reviewed the 2015-2020 capital improvements plan (CIP). After about an hour of discussion – touching on street lights, sidewalks, the rail station, public engagement, and other issues – they voted unanimously to adopt the updated CIP as a supporting document for the city’s master plan, and to recommend that the city council base its FY 2015 capital budget on the CIP.

The CIP includes a list of major capital projects, both those that are funded and those for which funding hasn’t yet been identified. [.pdf of staff memo and CIP for FY 2015-2020] Most of the updates relate to FY 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014. This year reflects the first-time inclusion of projects undertaken by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor housing commission. [Full Story]

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 … [Full Story]

Feedback on Downtown Zoning Continues

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Oct. 15, 2013): Planning commissioners continued a discussion that began at their Oct. 8 working session over proposed changes to downtown zoning. But they took no action and will pick up the topic at their next meeting, on Nov. 6.

Running Fit, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Running Fit building at East Liberty and Fourth Avenue. A proposal calls for building three additional floors for apartments or condos. The adjacent building owner is concerned about blocking the three windows – barely visible in this photo – that are in apartments facing over the current one-story building. (Photos by the writer.)

Questions and comments covered a range of issues, including potential conflict of interest over a lot next to city hall that’s owned by the University of Michigan Credit Union. Five commissioners are UMCU members, and the credit union president objects to a proposed rezoning of the site. Other discussion points included affordable housing premiums, the use of diagonals as a tool for influencing the shape of tall buildings, and concerns over rezoning public land.

Ten people spoke during a public hearing on the zoning review. Before the 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. 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.

Consultant Erin Perdu of ENP & Associates attended the Oct. 15 meeting and answered questions from commissioners, but her contract for this project has now expired. Planning manager Wendy Rampson indicated that any additional work from Perdu would require city council approval.

In addition to the downtown zoning review, two development projects were on the Oct. 15 agenda. Commissioners recommended approval of an three-floor addition to the Running Fit building at East Liberty and South Fourth. The expansion will create six residential units.

During a public hearing on the project, Ali Almiri – who owns the adjacent building to the west at 119 E. Liberty – raised concerns that three bedroom windows in his building’s residential rental units would be blocked by this new structure. He and his attorney urged that the new project be required to accommodate those existing windows. The issue will continue to be investigated by planning staff, building staff and possibly the city attorney’s office prior to the project’s consideration by the city council.

Another proposal – related to plans for two new restaurants at Briarwood Mall, on the east side of Macy’s – was postponed, because of several outstanding issues that still need to be resolved.

During public commentary, Alex Perlman, a co-owner of the food carts The Beet Box and Cheese Dream, highlighted a project at 1215 S. University – the former location of Pinball Pete’s, which burned down in 2009. The project, called Eat the Hub, would repurpose the space as a temporary food cart yard that would accommodate between three to six carts. Perlman noted that current city ordinances “don’t reflect the ever-changing landscape that mobile food businesses require.” He said he’d appreciate any help to move this project forward. [Full Story]

Downtown Zoning Review Nears Final Phase

Ann Arbor planning commission work session (Oct. 8, 2013): Planning commissioners discussed a consultant’s downtown zoning report at their recent work session, after hearing over 30 minutes of public commentary. The session changed venue because of an anticipated crowd, moving from city hall to the fourth-floor jury assembly room in the Justice Center.

Will Leaf, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Will Leaf was among about two dozen residents who attended the Oct. 8 working session of the Ann Arbor planning commission, which was held in the Justice Center next to city hall. (Photos by the writer.)

Generally, commissioners at the session seemed to favor downzoning certain areas of the downtown. They are looking for ways to create better transitions between residential neighborhoods and property that’s zoned for denser development. They’re also interested in requiring approval from the design review board for projects that are seeking premiums. A premium allows developers to construct larger buildings, in exchange for providing certain features that the city wants to encourage, like affordable housing, pedestrian amenities and public parking. Currently, projects must be reviewed by the design review board, but no approval from the board is needed.

The zoning evaluation was set in motion 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.

Erin Perdu of ENP & Associates attended the commission’s Oct. 8 working session to present her report. After public commentary, commissioners gave feedback on Perdu’s recommendations, which she then used to revise the report. [.pdf of revised downtown zoning report]

Commissioners will take up the topic at their regular meeting on Oct. 15. That meeting will also include a formal public hearing to gather additional feedback.

The recommendations they’ll be considering are: (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.

It’s possible that planning commissioners would wrap up their discussion on Oct. 15 and vote on the recommendations at that meeting, to be forwarded to the city council. But during the Oct. 8 working session, several commissioners indicated that they felt they’d need more time, and were prepared to postpone a vote until a later date. [Full Story]

Priorities Emerge in Downtown Zoning Review

Ann Arbor planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee meeting (Aug. 13, 2013): The committee received an update on the city’s downtown zoning review at a meeting that included about a half hour of public commentary.

Wendy Rampson, Erin Perdu, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning manager Wendy Rampson confers with planning consultant Erin Perdu prior to the Aug. 13, 2013 meeting of the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee. Perdu was on hand to update commissioners about the ongoing D1 zoning review. (Photos by the writer.)

Erin Perdu, the consultant hired by the city to lead this process, briefed the four commissioners who serve on the ordinance revisions committee, as the first phase of this effort draws to a close.

The work is the result of a city council resolution passed on April 1, 2013. It directed the planning commission to address three specific questions: (1) whether D1 zoning is appropriately located on the north side of Huron Street between Division and South State and the south side of William Street between South Main and Fourth Avenue; (2) whether the D1 residential FAR [floor area ratio] premiums effectively encourage a diverse downtown population; and (3) whether a parcel on the south side of Ann Street adjacent to city hall should be rezoned “to the appropriate zoning for this neighborhood.” That parcel, currently a surface parking lot, is now zoned D1, which allows for the highest density development. The council’s resolution set a deadline of Oct. 1 for the planning commission to deliver recommendations to the council.

Based on public meetings, interviews and survey responses, Perdu reported a general consensus that D1 zoning is not optimal. In particular, many people feel that the buildings allowed in D1 zoning districts are too tall and massive, and that other solutions should be explored for the sites mentioned in the council resolution. Possible solutions include rezoning those sites to D2, or making changes to the D1 zoning – such as allowing diagonals as a tool for controlling building shape, lowering the height or adjusting setbacks – so that it worked better with the adjacent neighborhoods. Some people suggested creating yet another type of zoning. “I think those are options that we’ll be exploring in the next phase of this,” Perdu said.

Another big issue that emerged was the design guidelines, Perdu reported, and a lot of people suggested that those guidelines need more teeth. Suggestions included making the guidelines a requirement in order to be eligible for premiums, which allow developers to construct larger buildings in exchange for providing certain features or public amenities.

There was also general agreement that the diversity of housing isn’t being achieved, Perdu said, but “how to fix that is up for debate.” Some ideas include making the premiums more specific, to encourage different types of residential units – that is, not granting a premium for simply any kind of residential development, as is currently the case. Other ideas for premiums include providing open space, or additional environmental and pedestrian amenities.

Perdu’s team will be developing visuals – including 3D models – showing how certain types of buildings might look if changes are made to D1 zoning on the sites mentioned in the council resolution. The consultants will also be doing research on possible options for premiums that would encourage specific kinds of residential development. In addition, they’ll be looking at how design guidelines can be strengthened and better integrated into the process.

Kirk Westphal, the planning commission’s chair who also serves on the ORC, requested that Perdu’s report reflect the history of how the D1 and D2 zoning were developed. During public commentary, several speakers objected to using Perdu’s time in this way. Former planning commissioner Eppie Potts said she felt like that history is being used against opponents of D1 zoning. “Hey, there was a lot of discontent and unhappiness, which nobody chooses to remember,” she said. “There were revolts at some of the meetings. It was not that pretty, as history.”

The next public forum will be held on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. at a venue to be determined. Perdu said she’ll also hold additional focus groups before then. The next ordinance revisions committee meeting will likely take place on Sept. 10. [Full Story]

Main & Ann

Suggestion box at public forum for A2D2 zoning review, in lower level of the county administration building. It’s currently empty. [photo]

Downtown Zoning Review Moves Forward

Ann Arbor planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee meeting (July 31, 2013): On Monday, Aug. 5, the city of Ann Arbor will hold a public forum to update the community on the A2D2 zoning review that started last month.

Erin Perdu, A2D2 zoning, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Consultant Erin Perdu compiles feedback at a July 30, 2013 public forum on the A2D2 zoning review. Participants were asked to write their thoughts on sticky notes regarding what’s working (left side) or not working (right side) with downtown zoning. (Photos by the writer.)

In late 2009, after a multi-year process and much debate, the city council adopted the A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning. The planning commission had for some time been intending to review the zoning, looking at whether the changes have resulted in the kind of downtown development that the city wants.

But interest in a review was heightened by a proposal for the 14-story 413 E. Huron apartment project on a site zoned D1, the highest density allowed. The proposal spurred controversy in part because of its location adjacent to a residential historic district.

So on April 1, 2013, the city council directed the planning commission to review A2D2 and address three specific questions: (1) whether D1 zoning is appropriately located on the north side of Huron Street between Division and South State and the south side of William Street between South Main and Fourth Avenue; (2) whether the D1 residential FAR [floor area ratio] premiums effectively encourage a diverse downtown population; and (3) whether a parcel on the south side of Ann Street adjacent to city hall should be rezoned “to the appropriate zoning for this neighborhood.” That parcel, currently a surface parking lot, is now zoned D1.

On April 1, the council set a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to the council. Councilmembers subsequently approved the 413 E. Huron project on May 13, 2013 on a 6-5 vote.

To lead the A2D2 review, the city hired consultant Erin Perdu of ENP & Associates, who has been holding public forums and interviews with individual stakeholders over the past two weeks. She updated planning commissioners at a July 31 meeting of the ordinance revisions committee, and described her approach to the upcoming Aug. 5 forum.

The Aug. 5 forum starts at 7 p.m. in the lower level conference room of the Washtenaw County administration building at 200 N. Main – at the intersection of Main and Ann. The purpose of that meeting is to review the priority issues that have emerged from feedback so far. The goal is to get confirmation that those issues are, in fact, priorities for the community, she said, and then to have more discussion about those priorities.

The meeting will focus on three main priority issues: (1) height and bulk, with character districts as part of that discussion; (2) premiums, with a focus on housing; and (3) the location of D1 and D2 zoning districts, with a focus on the three sites mentioned in the April 1 city council resolution.

Perdu also addressed technical problems with the online survey on A2 Open City Hall, noting that the issues have been fixed and the deadline extended until 5 p.m. on Aug. 5.

Planning commissioners and staff had a wide-ranging discussion at their July 31 meeting about the feedback they’ve received so far, and the scope of their review. Their discussion touched on design guidelines, historic districts, parking, and housing diversity, among other issues. For example, some critics point to the large amount of student housing that’s being built downtown as a negative outcome of A2D2.

But Kirk Westphal, chair of the planning commission, wondered whether it’s the city’s role to change zoning in respond to these “micro-trends.” He noted that the market might be trending toward student housing now, but in five years that trend might switch to one- and two-bedroom apartments, or offices.

For some additional background on the original A2D2 deliberations, see Chronicle coverage from 2009: “Planning Commission Draws Line Differently“; “Zoning 101: Area, Height, Placement“; and “Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead.” For more recent background on this zoning review, see: “Planning Group Strategizes on Downtown.[Full Story]

A2: Downtown Zoning

An online survey about downtown zoning has been posted on A2 Open City Hall, as part of the current review of A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning. The survey closes at 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2. Survey results will be part of the input considered by the city’s planning commission as it makes recommendations to city council about possible zoning revisions. Public forums, focus groups and coffee hours are other strategies that the city is using to solicit feedback – more details on that are on the A2D2 website. [Link to A2 Open City Hall]

Concerns Raised Over Glendale Condos

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (July 16, 2013): More than 40 residents living near the proposed Glendale Condominiums showed up to voice concerns about the project, slated for a former orchard south of Jackson Avenue next to the Hillside Terrace retirement community.

Glendale Condominiums, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Residents attended the July 16, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission to express concerns about the proposed Glendale Condominiums project. A public hearing on the project lasted about an hour. (Photos by the writer.)

In a public hearing that lasted about an hour, neighbors cited a range of issues, including concerns about increased flooding, the lack of pedestrian access, increased traffic and the loss of landmark trees. One resident told commissioners that she already has a sump pump “that could probably pump pudding to Ypsilanti, it’s so powerful.” She’s concerned it will need to run continuously if the project gets built.

The proposal for the 2.54-acre site at 312 Glendale Drive includes demolishing two single-family homes on the south end of the property and building eight two-bedroom duplexes. Each unit would include a one-car garage, with eight additional surface parking spaces on the site.

The project is located in Ward 5, and both city councilmembers representing that ward – Mike Anglin and Chuck Warpehoski – attended the July 16 meeting. Warpehoski was among the speakers at the public hearing, but was cut off by commissioner Diane Giannola, who cited the commission’s bylaws. The bylaws state: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission as a petitioner, representative of a petitioner or as a party interested in a petition during the Council member’s term of office.” Warpehoski, who had been unaware of that rule, stepped away from the podium but stayed for the remainder of the public hearing and the commission’s deliberations on this item.

After discussing the proposal, commissioners followed a staff recommendation and postponed action on the project, to allow for time to address unresolved issues related to the site plan.

In other action, commissioners recommended approval of a drive-thru addition for the Tim Hortons at the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and Eisenhower, near the I-94 interchange. As a “public amenity,” the owner proposes putting in a 140-square-foot brick-paved area near the intersection, with two park benches and shrubbery. Some commissioners questioned whether anyone would use that spot, given its location next to heavy traffic. Wendy Woods, saying she had family nearby, indicated that there is a fair amount of pedestrian and bike traffic in that area. She also floated the idea of putting public art on that corner, given that it’s a “gateway” to the city. Sabra Briere indicated that the city wouldn’t fund public art on the privately owned site, but would “applaud” the owner if he chose to put artwork there.

Also gaining unanimous approval was a request by the Glacier Hills retirement community for adding 31 parking spaces to its property, near US-23 on the city’s east side. A representative from the nearby Earhart Village spoke against the project, saying that the parking is primarily for commercial uses, even though the area is residential. He argued that Glacier Hills is drawing customers to the property, who use the cafe there and other services, and that it negatively impacts the adjoining neighborhoods. He also complained about changes to the site that can be approved via administrative amendments, with no oversight by the planning commission. One such change – an addition to one of the Glacier Hills “villas” – is currently pending with the planning staff.

Commissioners also approved minor changes to their bylaws, and got updates on the R4C citizens advisory committee and the review of A2D2 zoning. Just prior to the July 16 regular commission meeting, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC) had met with Erin Perdu of ENP & Associates, the Ann Arbor consultant that’s been hired to handle the city council-mandated review of downtown zoning. The work includes a series of events aimed at seeking public input. Upcoming events include Thursday morning coffee hours with consultants that are open to the public from 8-10 a.m. at the new Zingerman’s Deli building, starting on July 25. And two focus groups are scheduled for next week: on Monday, July 29, 8-9:30 a.m. at Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave.; and on Tuesday, July 30, 7-8:30 p.m. at the lower level conference room in city hall, 301 E. Huron St. More events are listed on the city’s website. [Full Story]

Planning Group Strategizes on Downtown

Two major downtown projects – the possible sale of the former YMCA lot, and a review of the A2D2 zoning – were the main focus at a July 9 working session of the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Looking east at the former YMCA lot, which has been owned by the city since 2003 and is used as a surface parking lot. The street in the foreground is Fourth Avenue. William Street is on the right. The reddish brown building at the opposite end of the lot – across Fifth Avenue – is the Ann Arbor District Library. To the left is the construction site for the new Blake Transit Center.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson updated commissioners on the city council-mandated review of downtown zoning. Ann Arbor-based ENP & Associates – consultants Erin Perdu and Megan Masson-Minock – are being hired to handle the process under a $24,500 contract with the city.

The primary concern for the council, as reflected in its April 1, 2013 resolution, is the downtown D1 zoning – which provides for the highest density allowed in city, with the tallest possible buildings. The concern was heightened by the controversial 413 E. Huron development, which the council approved on May 13, 2013. That site, located on a major transit corridor, but also next to a residential neighborhood, is zoned D1.

Rampson described the upcoming work as “fast and furious,” with a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to the council. The consultant will work initially with the commission’s ordinance revisions committee, which next meets on Tuesday, July 16 at 5:30 p.m. in the first floor south conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

Zoning was also a point of discussion regarding the former Y site at 350 S. Fifth, across from the downtown Ann Arbor District Library and south of Blake Transit Center. The city council is exploring whether to sell that city-owned property, which was zoned D1 as part of the original A2D2 process. Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas have been selected to handle the possible sale, as the city faces a $3.5 million balloon payment this year from the purchase loan it holds on that property.

Bonnie Bona floated the idea of developing recommendations to the council regarding what planning commissioners think the city should require in a sale of that site. “I think we have a responsibility as planning commissioners to give them planning advice,” Bona said. Other commissioners agreed, and the item will likely be on the agenda for the group’s Aug. 13 working session for a fuller discussion.

The 2.5-hour July 9 session also included a presentation by two Ann Arbor public art commissioners – John Kotarski and Bob Miller – about the finalists for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. And commissioners were updated by Rampson about the status of various projects and developments. This report focuses only on the Y lot and A2D2 discussions. [Full Story]

Planning Commission Sets Work Goals

Ann Arbor city planning commissioners met earlier this month in a work session focused on two main issues: (1) evaluating the city’s planning manager, Wendy Rampson, and planning staff, and (2) laying out the work plan for both staff and the commission in the coming fiscal year.

Wendy Rampson, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

At a June 4, 2013 work session, Wendy Rampson – the city of Ann Arbor’s planning manager – wrote down topics that the planning staff and commission will address in the short term, including an evaluation of A2D2 zoning. (Photos by the writer.)

The evaluation was positive, with most of the discussion focused on increasing collaboration with the city council and other city boards and commissions. The possibility of holding a joint session with members of the city council was raised, though some commissioners expressed skepticism about it. Ken Clein noted the challenge would be to avoid posturing by councilmembers, saying it might be difficult to have a productive discussion in a public forum. Wendy Woods observed that sometimes the planning commission is used for political cover. If a joint session is “just for show,” she said, then planning commissioners have better ways to spend their time.

Sabra Briere, a Ward 1 councilmember who serves on the planning commission, cited some benefits for a joint session: “If you want to work with council, sitting in the same room and at least getting a sense of where this year’s crop of councilpeople are can’t hurt – and it can help the council.”

Regarding the work plan, commissioners identified projects and issues to tackle in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, as well as longer-range goals.

The most pressing of those short-term projects is the review of A2D2 zoning as directed by the city council, with a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to council. The primary focus of that is the downtown D1-D2 zoning, especially in light of the controversial 413 E. Huron development, which the council recently approved. Rampson said the plan is to bring in a consultant to manage that zoning review, because the planning staff right now doesn’t have the capacity to take it on. It also helps to have someone look at the issue from a fresh perspective, she said.

Other projects for the coming fiscal year include: (1) developing an action plan for the city’s sustainability framework; (2) completing the Zoning Ordinance Reorganization (ZORO) effort; (3) recommending amendments to the R4C/R2A zoning districts; (4) working on certification for the state’s “Redevelopment Ready Communities” program; and (5) making amendments to the city’s master plan for two corridors plans – Washtenaw Avenue and North Main/Huron River.

Several longer-term efforts are on the commission’s work plan too, including amendments to the city’s accessory dwelling unit ordinance and neighborhood outreach.

Commissioners voted to approve the work plan at their regular meeting on June 18. [Full Story]

Council to Commission: Review D1 by Oct. 1

Following a decision made at its March 18, 2013 meeting to give direction to the city’s planning commission to review zoning in the D1 (downtown core) zoning district, the Ann Arbor city council has now enumerated the areas of inquiry the commission is supposed to pursue:
RESOLVED, That City Council requests the City Planning Commission to specifically address these issues:
(i) whether D1 zoning is appropriately located on the north side of Huron Street between Division and S. State and the south side of William Street between S. Main and Fourth Avenue;
(ii) whether the D1 residential FAR premiums effectively encourage a diverse downtown population; and
(iii) consider a parcel on the south side of Ann St. adjacent to north of city … [Full Story]

413 E. Huron, Zoning Review: They’re Back

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 18, 2013) Part 2: In a session that lasted until nearly 2 a.m., lengthy public commentary and council deliberations focused on two related items at the council’s last regular meeting: (1) a possible moratorium on D1 (downtown core) site plans; and (2) the site plan for 413 E. Huron, located in a D1 district. Both items resulted in some unfinished business that will need to be addressed at the council’s April 1 meeting.

413 E. Huron project. Left is the original rendering considered by the planning commission. Right is an updated version presented to the city council on March 18, 2013

Images for the proposed 413 E. Huron project, at the northeast corner of Huron and Division. On the left is the original rendering considered by the planning commission. On the right is an updated version presented to the city council on March 18, 2013. Even more revisions could be presented at the April 1 council meeting.

The council decided to conduct a review of D1 zoning, without imposing a moratorium. But councilmembers left some work on that issue until April 1, when the review’s clear scope of work and timeline are expected to be set.

The lack of any moratorium cleared the way to consider the 413 E. Huron project. Even though councilmembers deliberated in a fair amount of detail on the project, they still had a number of questions they wanted to pursue with the developer. So the council decided to postpone the item until April 1.

The council’s discussion of the 413 E. Huron project included a fine-grained examination of the project’s compliance with zoning code regarding the disturbance of natural features – trees in particular. It was punctuated by a resident shouting “You lie!” as the developer’s representative – Conor McNally of Atlanta-based Carter – responded to questions from councilmembers.

According to a letter sent by the developer to the council on March 29, councilmembers continued to submit additional questions in writing through March 28. That led to a request from the developer to remove the item from the April 1 agenda in favor of April 15, to allow for time to respond to questions. The developer is also hoping to revise 3D renderings to show changes in the building that have been made since March 18.

The developer’s request to pull the item from the agenda can’t be accommodated – because the council voted to postpone until a date certain, which means the item will need to appear on that April 1 agenda. To remove it would require a decision of the council, and that can’t be done administratively at the direction of the planning staff or on the initiative of the city clerk.

So the item will appear on the agenda, although the council may be inclined to make their deliberations brief, if their intent is to postpone it until April 15 – which would be consistent with the developer’s expressed preference. The public hearing on the site plan appears on the April 1 agenda as well, although it was declared closed by mayor John Hieftje on March 18.

This report includes a summary of public commentary and council deliberations on the moratorium and the 413 E. Huron site plan from March 18. A write-up of other agenda items is included in Part 1 of the March 18, 2013 meeting report. [Full Story]

Put Off: Moratorium on Downtown Site Plans

A six-month moratorium on the acceptance of new site plans for developments in downtown Ann Arbor has been postponed by the city council until its March 4 meeting – in a unanimous vote taken at its Feb. 19, 2013 meeting.

At the same Feb. 19 meeting, the council also postponed a resolution that called for reconvening the downtown design guidelines task force to review and make recommendations to city council regarding improvements to the design review process. Currently, developers must follow a mandatory process of review for downtown projects, but are not required to comply with the board’s recommendations. The resolution was added to the agenda about an hour before the meeting started. Members of the task force mentioned in the … [Full Story]

Possible Moratorium To Delay 413 E. Huron?

According to city council sources, a resolution calling for a moratorium on development in downtown Ann Arbor will be placed on the Feb. 19, 2013 meeting agenda. As of Feb. 14, the item had not yet been added.

Ann Arbor zoning. Darker red areas are zoned D1. Lighter brownish areas are zoned D2.

Ann Arbor zoning. Darker red areas are zoned D1. Lighter brownish areas are zoned D2.

If the moratorium were enacted – a pause that might last up to a year – it would delay a controversial proposed residential project at 413 E. Huron. During the proposed moratorium, the planning commission would be directed to review the zoning designations for the D1 (downtown core) and D2 (interface), and make recommendations to the city council for possible zoning changes. During the moratorium, projects for D1 and D2 areas that do not already have a planning commission recommendation of approval could not be considered by the city council. The D1 and D2 zoning is relatively young, having been enacted on Nov. 16, 2009 – as the result of the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) process.

Results of the planning commission’s review of D1 and D2 zoning, according to the Feb. 19 draft resolution, would be due to the city council by the end of August 2013. The maximum length of the moratorium would be a year from the date of enactment. If the council were to change the zoning designation, and if that decision survived any legal challenge, that could ultimately stop the 413 E. Huron project from ever being built.

That project calls for a 14-story, 271,855-square-foot apartment building with 533 bedrooms, marketed primarily to university students. The parcel is zoned D1 – the highest allowable density in the city. The northern edge of the site is adjacent to the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, including historic single-family homes along North Division. [Full Story]

Planning Commission Upholds A2D2 Zoning

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 7, 2012): In their main action item at Tuesday’s meeting, planning commissioners voted unanimously against a rezoning request at 1320 S. University – reaffirming one of the decisions of the contentious, multi-year A2D2 initiative that was approved by the city council in 2009.

Gwen Nystuen, Bob Snyder, Walter

Bob Snyder, with his dog Walter, talks with Gwen Nystuen before the start of the Feb. 7 planning commission meeting. Both Snyder and Nystuen spoke during a public hearing to oppose rezoning of 1320 S. University. (Photos by the writer.)

Currently at the site – on the south side of South University, between Forest and Washtenaw avenues – is the three-story Park Plaza apartment building. It’s owned by Philip Sotiroff, who hoped to construct a mixed-use building  – retail and residential – as tall as 145 feet. That height would allow for a structure between 10-14 stories on the 0.82-acre site. The current zoning is D2 (downtown interface), which does not allow for a structure taller than 60 feet.

Sotiroff is asking the city to rezone the parcel to D1, a zoning district that allows for the greatest density development. Representatives from his development team noted that higher density zoning was allowed prior to 2009, and pointed out that initially the D1 designation had been recommended by the planning commission before the final version of A2D2 was adopted.

The site is adjacent to a D1 parcel to the east, where the Landmark apartment building is being constructed, at 601 S. Forest. But the 1320 S. University property also abuts lower-density residential zoning. Single-family homes are located to the south of the site, and a fraternity is located to the west.

Fifteen people spoke during a public hearing about the rezoning. Most of them were residents and neighborhood leaders who objected to the proposed rezoning, though the request did receive letters of support from owners of the Landmark as well as from the South University Area Association, a merchants’ group.

Planning staff recommended denial. All of the planning commissioners spoke in support of the current zoning, saying that the community had reached a hard-won consensus that was not to be overturned lightly, especially since it was implemented fairly recently. A couple of commissioners noted that the owner could find flexibility within the existing zoning by submitting a planned project – like the 618 S. Main development that planning commission approved at its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting. [Full Story]

Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 16, 2009) Part I: The Ann Arbor city council’s Monday night meeting, which started at its usual 7 p.m. time, stretched to almost 1 a.m. before it concluded. In this part of the meeting report, we focus on planning and development issues, which contributed to the unusually long meeting.

a ball of yarn on somebody's lap

A ball of yarn on the lap of an audience member at city council’s Monday meeting. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) compared his colleagues’ proposed amendments on the A2D2 zoning package to unwinding a tightly-wound ball of string. (Photo by the writer)

On the main planning question before the council – the A2D2 rezoning package for downtown Ann Arbor – the council approved the zoning package with its two basic categories of D1 (core) and D2 (interface) zones.

Neither the effort to postpone consideration of the zoning ordinance – led by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – nor the attempt to reduce maximum height limits in the South University area – led by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – met with any success.

The maximum building height for the majority of D1 areas is thus 180 feet, with the exception of a swatch along East Huron and in South University, which have maximums of 150 feet. D2 areas have a maximum  building height of 60 feet.

There were also no amendments passed to accommodate the request to change the proposed zoning of an individual parcel at 1320 S. University from D2 (interface) to D1 (core), or to change the proposed zoning of an area along East Huron Street from D1 to D2. [Full Story]

Postponed: A2D2, City Place, Moratorium

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (July 20, 2009): Postponements of decisions on A2D2 zoning, the City Place “matter of right” site plan, and a proposed moratorium on development in R4C and R2A zoning districts meant that the most controversial items on council’s agenda were delayed.


Lyric sheet to a song sung by Libby Hunter at the public hearing on the City Place site plan. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Even an apparently mundane proposal from Leigh Greden (Ward 3) to allow for an additional exception to parking on front lawns was not acted on by council. In that case, they referred it to the planning commission.

However, the council did accomplish a substitution of taxable Build America Bonds for the tax-free general obligation bonds already authorized for the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, plus a site plan approval for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s park-and-ride lot at Plymouth Road and US-23.

And finally, Mayor John Hieftje gave an interpretation of council public hearing speaking rules that precludes audience members from joining in a group chorus when a speaker at the podium is singing: To the strains of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah, Density is coming to ya,” Hieftje warned he might “clear the room.”

The meeting was also notable for the closed session conducted in the course of the meeting to discuss attorney-client privileged information – it lasted over an hour, but provided a chance for attendees to mingle. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Allocates Human Services Funding

red ribbon closed loop

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) holds a red ribbon representing the general fund dollars in the Ann Arbor city budget. In the background are Mayor John Hieftje and Jim Mogensen, who gave a presentation during public commentary.

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (April 20, 2009): At its Monday night meeting, Ann Arbor city councilmembers approved around $1.3 million in human services funding (after a “red-ribbon” presentation during public commentary on that subject).

They also heard the 2008 annual report from the chair of the local development finance authority (who was closely questioned by councilmember Marcia Higgins), allowed Tios an early exit to its lease, accommodated the University of Michigan’s request for a lane closure in connection with the football stadium renovation, and rejected the planning commission’s adopted downtown plan (which was expected) – which bumps the final decision on A2D2 zoning to early July.

During public commentary, council again heard support for  public art, a critique of the proposed early-out option for police officers as a part of the proposed budget, a suggestion to remove the East Stadium bridge, as well as Jim Mogensen’s “red ribbon” presentation.

Roger Fraser also gave the official presentation of the city’s budget, which had been presented twice previously last week – at a working session and also at a town hall meeting. [Full Story]

City Council Moves Toward Height Limits

Marcia Higgins looking at laptop screen with Christopher Taylor in background

Marcia Higgins reviews the map showing the street frontage in the South University area as Christopher Taylor (background) proposes an amendment on street frontage.

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting Part I (April 6, 2009): At city council’s meeting Monday evening, there was a clear consensus among councilmembers that they wanted to amend the rezoning package for the downtown that had been recommended by the planning commission. The consensus was to include an absolute building height limit. The deliberations thus focused on the exact nature of the limit and where it would apply.

The outcome of those deliberations was that the final version of the rezoning package – which council will consider for a final vote on June 1, 2009 – will include a 180-foot height limit, roughly 16 stories, for the core downtown (D1) zoning. Exceptions include the South University character area, which was amended on Monday to be split into two different character areas – South U. 1 and South U. 2, to be zoned D1 and D2, respectively. In contrast to other areas zoned D1, South U. 1 is now proposed to have building heights capped at 150 feet.

The second exception to the 180-foot limit is the East Huron Street 1 character area – East Huron was also split into two different character areas last night, but is still zoned D1 in both. For the East Huron 1 area, which is the north side of Huron Street between North Thayer and Division, the building height limit is now also proposed  be 150 feet. [Full Story]