Stories indexed with the term ‘City Place’

Municipal Math: How Tall Is the Schoolhouse?

Today marks the first day of classes for students in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and many other local districts.

drawing of schoolhouse

Figure 1. How tall is the schoolhouse? Note that the drawing is intentionally not to scale. Also note that the definition of “height” in Ann Arbor’s zoning code requires not just performing a sum of two numbers, but also a division.

So I’m taking advantage of the occasion to launch an occasional series that is meant to present math puzzles I’ve stumbled over “in the wild,” in the course of covering local government. It will appear only as time allows, so this could very well be the only installment of the series.

The puzzles are meant to be accessible to kids in high school, junior high, or elementary school – so for many Chronicle readers, they will be trivial.

But these puzzles might offer readers’ children a chance to apply what they’ve learned in math class to an actual, authentic real-life example – drawn from the municipal workings of the city in which they live.

Today’s puzzle has a geometric flavor. The basic question: How tall is the schoolhouse in Figure 1?

First, let’s please agree not to argue about the quality of the drawing. I admit that it may look more like a church than a schoolhouse. I took as my starting point a photograph included in a recent piece by local history columnist Laura Bien.

The drawing is not Laura’s fault, of course. The drawing differs from that photo in many ways. For example, the drawing lacks a belfry and an American flag on the roof. I left them out, because they make the math puzzle more complicated than necessary.

Another reason I left them out: The real-world example – on which the puzzle is based – was not a schoolhouse. I chose a schoolhouse for the drawing just to honor today as the first day of school. The real world-example is a two-building apartment complex called City Place, located on South Fifth Avenue, just south of William Street.  [Full Story]

ZBA Turns Down City Place Appeal

At a hearing before Ann Arbor’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA), the board voted to reject an appeal made by nearby neighbors of the City Place project. The residential project would construct two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot, offering a total of 24 units and 144 bedrooms.

The three-point appeal challenged two decisions made by the city council and one made by the city planning manager in connection with the City Place project. The council decisions that were challenged in the appeal were made at the Oct. 17, 2011 meeting and were subsequently reconsidered with the same outcome at the Oct. 24, 2011 meeting.

One council decision involved the waiver of a landscaping buffer requirement. The other … [Full Story]

City Place: ZBA Appeal Filed

This past week, the block of Fifth Avenue south of William Street received renewed attention from city of Ann Arbor planning and development officials.

On Friday, Nov. 4, the developer of the City Place residential project filed demolition permit applications for seven addresses: 407, 411, 415, 419, 427, 433 and 437 S. Fifth Ave. The demolition permit applications will undergo flood plain review, grading review, historic review, plan review, and zoning review.

Submission of those seven demolition permit applications came after a filing with the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals earlier in the week (on Nov. 1) by owners of nearby properties. The three-point appeal challenges two decisions made by the city council and one made by the city planning manager … [Full Story]

Column: City Council as a Historic Body

By now, most Chronicle readers are likely weary of reading about the controversy involving Heritage Row versus City Place – two proposed developments for Fifth Avenue south of William Street. For my part, I am certainly weary of writing about it. [timeline]

By way of brief recap, Heritage Row was a planned unit development for the site, which would have preserved a row of seven houses to historic district standards (in the version presented to the city council in summer 2010) and constructed three apartment buildings behind them. City Place is a “matter-of-right” project that will likely start construction in the next few weeks. [Most recent Chronicle coverage: "Chapter Added to Fifth Ave. Historic Saga"]

Why will we likely see the demolition of those seven houses instead of their preservation in some form? At the city council’s Oct. 24 meeting, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) called it a failure by the city council to reach a compromise – on something that was less than ideal, but still reasonable.

The functioning of the city council as a body is an issue that has emerged as part of the Ward 2 city council race this year, which is being contested between independent Jane Lumm and Democratic incumbent Stephen Rapundalo. Lumm served on the council in the mid-1990s and has faced criticism from Rapundalo for being part of a group that he contends was characterized by brinksmanship and an inability to work constructively despite disagreements.

The functioning of the city council as a body is one of the themes of a email message written earlier today to members of the city council by Larry Kestenbaum. As far as I’m aware, Kestenbaum is not involved in the campaign of either Ward 2 candidate – that’s not his home ward, and he is not listed as a supporter on either of the candidates’ websites. In any case, the specific point of his email message was about the demolition of the seven houses on Fifth Avenue.

Kestenbaum is known to many in the community as the Washtenaw County clerk, an elected position. But he was not writing to the council as the clerk. He’s also an attorney who has a degree in land use and historic preservation from Cornell University. He served on Ann Arbor’s historic district commission in the 1990s. Also in that decade, he taught a course in historic preservation law at Eastern Michigan University. He lives in Ann Arbor.

Though his message to the council comes now, after the decisions on the South Fifth Avenue development seem to have finally been made, Kestenbaum did not exactly come late to the party as far as expressing his views on that area of the city. Writing on the now defunct ArborUpdate in August 2008, Kestenbaum stated: “I’d redesignate all of the former individual historic properties that were left unprotected after that bad court decision on 9/11/2001. And I think the area immediately south of William Street, along Fifth and Hamilton for example, should be a [historic] district.”

I think Kestenbaum’s recent email is unlikely to persuade any member of the council to take the action he suggests. But in my view, it’s a particularly well-written exposition of the idea that a city council is fairly judged by what it accomplishes as a body, not by the individual actions of its members. I think it’s important to preserve that exposition in The Chronicle’s archives.

It’s also important to preserve in the archives if it turns out that Kestenbaum’s message does manage to convince the council to set a process in motion to establish a historic district for the area.

And that’s why we’re sharing it with readers. Kestenbaum’s message begins after the jump. [Full Story]

Chapter Added to Fifth Ave. Historic Saga

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 24, 2011): Monday’s meeting was added to the council’s calendar specifically for the purpose of taking a second and final vote on the Heritage Row planned unit development (PUD). The project would have rehabbed or reconstructed a row of seven existing houses on Fifth Avenue, south of William Street, and built three new apartment buildings behind them.

Carsten Hohnke Mike Anglin Ann Arbor City Council

In the foreground is Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) as his council colleague Mike Anglin (Ward 5) explained the reasons why he wanted to appoint a historic district study committee for the area south of William Street along Fourth and Fifth avenues.

Heritage Row had been considered and rejected more than once before by the council, with a history in front of Ann Arbor’s legislative body dating back well over a year. The project had been brought back for reconsideration because the demolition of the seven houses was apparently imminent – as part of the construction of City Place. City Place is a different, already-approved project on the same Fifth Avenue site by the same developer.

But by the Friday before Monday’s meeting, all four agenda items related to Heritage Row (site plan, zoning ordinance and their respective public hearings) had been deleted from the agenda. The developer had withdrawn the Heritage Row project.

With the construction of City Place a virtual certainty – along with demolition of the houses – on Monday afternoon Mike Anglin (Ward 5) placed a proposal on the agenda that would have started a procedure to establish a historic district in the area. The related moratorium on demolition in the study area would have, at least temporarily, blocked the City Place development.

But in the end, the council was in no mood to repeat the same exercise it had gone through two years ago. At that time, the council had appointed a historic district study committee, then subsequently rejected the committee’s recommendation that a historic district be established in the neighborhood. Arguing against the establishment of a historic district study committee this time around, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he didn’t want the council to become a joke. Later during deliberations Margie Teall (Ward 4) ventured that already, “We’ve become a bit of a joke.”

Also on Monday afternoon, two other items – which asked the council to reconsider votes it had taken at the Oct. 17 meeting about the City Place project – were placed on the agenda by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Kunselman was not interested in getting the votes reversed, but had questions he wanted answered. While other councilmembers agreed to reconsider the items, the council then dispatched them with unanimous votes after Kunselman’s questions.

That left one item on the agenda – added on Friday after the agenda’s Wednesday publication – that actually resulted in a vote that might change the course of events in the city. The resolution directed city staff to make recommendations on improvements to crosswalks throughout the city. Councilmembers expressed some interest in tweaking a new pedestrian ordinance that it approved on July 19, 2010.

Also at the meeting, the council went into closed session to discuss the city attorney’s performance evaluation. It resulted in no change to city attorney Stephen Postema’s salary, but allowed him to cash out 250 hours of accrued time before Dec. 31, 2011. [Full Story]

Fifth Ave. Historic District Re-Floated, Sinks

At its Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered but rejected a proposal to reappoint a historic district study committee for an area along Fourth and Fifth avenues near downtown Ann Arbor. Subsequently, a separate proposal to enact an emergency moratorium on demolition in the proposed study area was withdrawn. It would have included an area roughly from William south to Madison along Fourth and Fifth avenues, as well as some addresses on Packard Street.

It was another chapter in a years-long saga about the future of the area involving two proposed projects for the same site with the same owner – City Place and Heritage Row. [timeline] Now appearing imminent is construction of City Place, which … [Full Story]

City Place Votes Retaken, Outcome Same

At its Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reconsidered two votes taken at its previous meeting on Oct. 17 about the City Place matter-of-right project on Fifth Avenue south of William Street. The outcome of both votes was the same: approval.

One request from the developer was to waive a landscape buffer requirement that was introduced through an ordinance change made after the project was initially approved in 2009. The second request was for approval of changes to the buildings that included a new window on the upper floors of the north and south-facing sides, and a change from horizontal siding to simulated shingle siding on the dormer.

Both re-votes were prompted by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who had posed … [Full Story]

Council Moves on Future of Fifth Avenue

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 17, 2011): At its meeting last Monday, the Ann Arbor city council acted on two different residential development projects for the block of Fifth Avenue just south of William Street. Both projects are owned by the same developer.

Margie Teall Jeff Helminski

Margie Teall (Ward 4) with Heritage Row and City Place developer Jeff Helminski. (Photos by the writer.)

At the time of their votes – on the matter-of-right City Place and the planned unit development Heritage Row – councilmembers knew that one set of actions would become moot. Only one of the projects, located on the same site, would be built. A few days after the meeting, news emerged that Heritage Row is now off the table and that City Place will move forward, with construction planned to start sometime this fall.

That meant that the council’s action last Monday, to give initial approval to the Heritage Row project, will ultimately have no effect. Developer Jeff Helminski requested that the item be pulled from the council’s Oct. 24 meeting – a meeting that had been added to the council’s calendar specifically to take a second and final vote on the Heritage Row project.

At their Oct. 17 meeting, the council took two actions on the already-approved City Place project – one to allow flexible application of the city’s new landscape ordinance, and a second to approve additional windows on the upper stories and to change the siding. That added to an Oct. 3 decision by the council to allow greater flexibility in the sequencing of City Place construction.

Also on Monday, the council confirmed two appointments to the city’s zoning board of appeals. The ZBA is a body that has purview to hear any challenges to city decisions about the correct application of city ordinances and the appropriateness of administrative decisions, including those associated with matter-of-right projects like City Place.

In other real estate development news out of Monday’s meeting, the council approved changes to the elevations for City Apartments, a residential project at First and Washington scheduled to start construction yet this season. The council is expected to authorize the sale of the city-owned parcel at its Nov. 10 meeting.

The council approved the annexation into the city of a township parcel where Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky has set up shop. A tax abatement for Arbor Networks, a computer network security firm, was also approved by the council.

Another significant item on the council’s agenda was the appropriation of $25,000 from the city’s general fund reserve to keep the warming center open this year, which is operated by the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County in the Delonis Center on Huron Street.

The council also approved a resolution of intent on the use of sidewalk and street millage funds, which voters will be asked to approve at the polls on Nov. 8. The resolution was amended to clarify how funding will work for sidewalk repair adjacent to commercial properties inside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Proposal Withdrawn

According to a city council source, developer Jeff Helminski has withdrawn the revised proposal for Heritage Row, a planned unit development on South Fifth Avenue. A different project, City Place, is now expected to be built on the same site by the same developer, though some possibility exists to contest the City Place project via the city’s zoning board of appeals.

The plan for the matter-of-right City Place would demolish seven houses and construct two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. The two City Place buildings would comprise 144 bedrooms in 24 6-bedroom units. By contrast, Heritage Row would have constructed three buildings behind the row of seven houses and either rehabilitated or reconstructed the seven houses. That project would have included up to 85 units with 180 bedrooms. [Full Story]

City Place, Heritage Row Both Get Action

At its Oct. 17, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered three items related to two different proposed developments at the same site on South Fifth Avenue just south of William Street: City Place and Heritage Row.

It’s still an open question as to which of the two projects, owned by the same developer, will be built. The council approved two requests related to alterations to the City Place project. The council also gave initial approval for the Heritage Row proposal, which will receive a second and final vote at a council meeting scheduled for Oct. 24.

The plan for the matter-of-right project called City Place would demolish seven houses and construct two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. The two City Place buildings would comprise 144 bedrooms in 24 6-bedroom units.

As revised from an earlier proposal rejected by the council 14 months ago, the planned unit development (PUD) Heritage Row project would provide for some manner of reconstruction of the seven existing houses, and construct three additional buildings behind the houses. The project, as revised, would not be required to provide any on-site parking for a total of 85 dwelling units containing up to 180 bedrooms on the 1.23-acre property. The previous proposal would have constructed underground parking, for a total of 60 spaces on site.

Two of the council’s agenda items concerned City Place; the third concerned  Heritage Row.

For City Place, the council approved a request from the developer to waive a landscape buffer requirement that was introduced through an ordinance change made after the project was initially approved. Also for City Place, the council approved a request for changes to the buildings that included a new window on the upper floors of the north and south-facing sides and a change from horizontal siding to simulated shingle siding on the dormer.

For Heritage Row, the council advanced a revised proposal of the PUD to a second reading, which will be held at an extra meeting scheduled on Oct. 24. The vote was 8-3. Voting against the proposal were Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

The project has a long and controversial history dating back four years. The city council voted at its Oct. 3 meeting to reconsider the project, which it had previously rejected around 14 months ago. The council then voted to postpone a decision on the project so that negotiations could take place between the developer, city staff and councilmembers about  possible revisions. By offering concessions that could make the project more financially viable, the council hopes to induce the developer to divert from his imminent intention to construct City Place.

At the council’s Oct. 3 meeting, a letter was discussed which councilmembers had received from the developer, Jeff Helminski. That letter outlined his requirements for concessions that he would need in order to build Heritage Row instead of City Place. At the Oct. 3 meeting, councilmembers expressed clear dissatisfaction with elements of Helminski’s letter. However, all the key points from the letter appear to have been incorporated into the revised proposal.

[.pdf of marked up Heritage Row supplemental regulations as presented on Oct. 17][.pdf of comparison chart between original Heritage Row and revised proposal as presented on Oct. 17] [.pdf of Oct. 3 letter from developer]

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] [Full Story]

Proposed Heritage Row Revisions Available

Added to the Ann Arbor city council’s online Legistar system on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011 are the proposed revisions to the Heritage Row planned unit development (PUD) on South Fifth Avenue.

The council will give initial consideration to the revisions at its upcoming Oct. 17 meeting. If the council chooses to advance the proposal to a second reading, that final consideration would take place at an extra council meeting scheduled for Oct. 24.

As revised, the Heritage Row project would provide for some manner of reconstruction of seven existing houses, and construct three additional buildings behind the houses. The project, as revised, would not be required to provide any on-site parking for a total of 85 dwelling units containing up to … [Full Story]

Heritage Row, Sidewalk Tax Intent in Limbo

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 3, 2011): In spite of the eight public hearings scheduled for Monday night, the council’s agenda was actually relatively light. Six of the public hearings were very similar requests for annexations of property from Scio Township into the city of Ann Arbor. The annexations were all approved with scant comment from the public or the council.

Carsten Hohnke Stephen Kunselman

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) talk before the start of the Oct. 3 council meeting. (Photos by the writer)

But two agenda items – both related to the future of the block of South Fifth Avenue just south of William – resulted in over an hour of deliberations by the council.

An item added late Monday afternoon gave a glimmer of hope to the Heritage Row planned unit development (PUD), which the council last had on its agenda on Dec. 6, 2010 – nearly a year ago. On Monday, the council voted to suspend its rules, then voted to reconsider the project, and finally voted to postpone it until its Oct. 17 meeting.

By Oct. 17, a set of changes proposed by the development team are to be incorporated into the site plan and zoning regulations for Heritage Row. The developer says the changes to Heritage Row would be necessary, in order for him to diverge from his current intention to build City Place, an already approved “matter of right” project at the same location. Those changes include eliminating any on-site parking requirement, increasing the number of residents, relaxing the energy standards, and not making a commitment to the historical preservation of the existing seven houses on the site. [.pdf of letter from developer]

If the council were to give the new version of Heritage Row initial approval at its Oct. 17 meeting, it would then take a second and final vote on it at a meeting now scheduled for Oct. 24.

In a related action, the council approved a revision to the development agreement for City Place that eliminated the need for the developer to complete off-site utility work before being issued a building permit for that project. Now, that utility work would need to be completed later in the process, before the certificate of occupancy is issued. The relaxation of the timeline was undertaken to allow the developer additional flexibility to discuss a modified Heritage Row, as an alternative to City Place.

In other business, the council again delayed action on a resolution of intent for the use of revenue generated by a proposed street and sidewalk repair millage that voters will be asked to approve at the Nov. 8 election. Questions concerned the need for such a resolution at all, as well as the plan for use of the millage inside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district.

A request for rezoning a medical marijuana business on South State Street was denied by the council, but did achieve three votes on the 11-member body.

The council also approved an easement for DTE to replace a gas main along the north side of Fuller Road. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Has Glimmer of Hope

At its Oct. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reconsidered the Heritage Row planned unit development (PUD) for South Fifth Avenue, after declining to do so almost a year ago – on Dec. 6, 2010. This time around the council successfully suspended the council rules to allow for the reconsideration, and voted unanimously to reconsider the project and then to postone it until the council’s Oct. 17 meeting.

At that Oct. 17 meeting, the city staff will have worked with the developer to incorporate the developer’s various requests into the site plan and zoning for the project. The last version of Heritage Row considered by the council would preserve the seven houses and construct three new apartment buildings behind … [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: In Defense of Detail

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

A piece of string too short to use

A piece of string too short to use

Writing on Damn Arbor, a blog maintained by a half-dozen self-described “grad students, townies, and derelicts,” Quinn Davis wondered recently: “So. If a citizen gasps during a city council meeting but no one reads about it, what’s the point?”

Davis posed the rhetorical question in the context of an article she’d written for the Washtenaw Voice, a Washtenaw Community College publication she edits. About that article, her advisor ventured: “I worry that our readership may not be that interested enough to get through 800 words you have so far.”

Here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle, we would also worry about an 800-word article. We’d wonder what happened to the other 5,000 words.

Count that exaggeration as a rhetorical flourish.

In fact, since since June of last year, we’ve routinely published items shorter than 500 words. These  items are outcomes of individual public meeting votes and other civic events – they’re collected in a sidebar section we call the Civic News Ticker. Readers can view all those items in one go on the Civic News Ticker page. Readers who prefer to receive The Chronicle using an RSS feed reader can subscribe to just the Civic News Ticker items with this feed: Civic News Ticker Feed.

But back to the rhetorical question: What is the point of ever including details that most people might not ever read, in an article that tops 10,000 words?  [Full Story]

Council Reduces Fee for Heritage Row

At its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to reduce the application fee to $2,000 from almost $5,000, if the developer of the Heritage Row project resubmits the planned unit development (PUD) within 90 days. Dissenting from the proposal, which was brought forward by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), were Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Dissenting views held by the public included a letter to the city from nearby property owner Tom Whitaker.

To qualify for the fee waiver, the project would also need to include the same revisions that had been reviewed by city staff – after the project had been rejected, and then rejected again upon reconsideration by the city council in the summer of 2010. The resolution notes that to date, the developer of the project, Alex de Parry, has paid the city over $30,000 in review fees.

The residential project, located on the east side of South Fifth Avenue, would renovate seven houses and construct three new 3.5-story apartment buildings behind those houses, with an underground parking garage. The council initially rejected Heritage Row on June 21, 2010, with a 7-4 vote in favor. It required an 8-vote majority for approval, due to a petition filed by adjoining property owners. The city council then reconsidered the project at its July 6, 2010 meeting, and it failed again, on a 7-3 vote. Then at the council’s Dec. 6, 2010 meeting, some councilmembers seemed poised to suspend council rules to allow another reconsideration, but the vote to suspend council rules failed.

The last proposal reviewed by the city includes the following revisions: (1) the top floor of the new south building would be removed from the design; (2) the density would be reduced from 79 units to 76 units and the number of bedrooms would be reduced from 154 to 147; (3) the project would include five affordable units at the 50% AMI (average median income) level, in addition to six affordable units at the 80% AMI level; and (4) the three new buildings would be LEED certified.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Caucus Chess Talk: Building City Place

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday night caucus (Sept. 19, 2010): Most residents who attended the council’s informal Sunday night meeting seemed to be keen to focus the night’s discussion on one of two topics: a possible ban on porch couches; or the future of the Library Lot on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. An underground parking garage is currently being constructed there, but no decision has been made about what, if anything, to build on top.


Front to back: Alex de Parry, Alan Haber, Haskell Rothstein. (Photos by the writer.)

A specific suggestion for one of various amenities that could be constructed on the lot came from Haskell Rothstein: giant chess boards, with giant pieces. Already during pre-caucus chatter, Rothstein had opened the topic of giant chess boards on the Library Lot, and that conversational gambit prompted an interesting revelation from Alex de Parry: It turns out that de Parry’s father was a chess player of some distinction, once playing Bobby Fischer to a draw.

De Parry, of course, is developer of a proposed 154-bedroom residential project called Heritage Row, which would have been located on Fifth Avenue, a few squares south of the Library Lot. Heritage Row was rejected by the council at its June 21, 2010 meeting, on a 7-4 vote in favor of it, falling one vote short of the super-majority needed to approve the planned unit development (PUD) project. The super-majority was needed because of a protest petition filed by nearby property owners.

Heritage Row was brought back for reconsideration at a subsequent council meeting on July 6, 2010, but again failed, that time on a 7-3 vote. It was nearly brought back a third time – on that same evening. But Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) abandoned the effort in the middle of a parliamentary procedure that had appeared momentarily would result in another vote, this time with Hohnke providing the deciding vote in favor of Heritage Row. Hohnke had voted against the project on both previous occasions.

De Parry has an already approved “matter of right” 144-bedroom project in the same location as Heritage Row – called City Place. Approved last year, the City Place project contrasts with Heritage Row in that it would demolish seven existing houses and replace them with a streetscape consisting of two buildings separated by a parking lot. In the Heritage Row project, the seven houses would be renovated, and three additional buildings would be constructed behind them, with parking located under the site.

De Parry would like to begin construction in May 2011 – on either Heritage Row or City Place – and he indicated at the caucus meeting that the necessary lead time for permitting means that work on construction drawings needs to start now. So de Parry’s negotiations with city councilmembers to bring back Heritage Row for reconsideration have entered the end game.

During the caucus conversation, de Parry discussed with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – the only two councilmembers present at the caucus – the meetings and correspondence they’d had with each other and other councilmembers on the possibility that changes to Heritage Row might win a third consideration from the council. Previously, Anglin and Briere had both voted against the project, as did Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). So one of those four would need to see significant enough modifications in Heritage Row to change their vote.

On Sunday evening, however, Briere told de Parry: “As near as I can tell, nobody is budging.” De Parry then indicated to Briere and Anglin: “We’re going to start on the other project [City Place].” Briere’s reply: “I mourn that.”

Additional topics discussed at the caucus included porch couches, panhandling, the future of the Library Lot, religious tolerance, and the format of the caucus meeting itself.
[Full Story]

Development Déjà Vu Dominates Council

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 21, 2010): Heritage Row is a proposed residential project that would have renovated seven older houses along South Fifth Avenue south of William Street, and constructed three new buildings behind the houses.

Alex de Parry

Developer Alex de Parry addresses the Ann Arbor city council in support of the Heritage Row project at council's June 21 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The number of houses to be renovated – called the “Seven Sisters” by some in the community who support their preservation – matched the number of votes the project received Monday night from the 11-member city council.

While that is a majority, the seven votes in favor of Heritage Row did not meet the eight-vote minimum that was required. The super-majority requirement came as a result of a protest petition that was successfully filed on the same day as the council’s last meeting, June 7. On that occasion, the council first considered this newest iteration of the project, but postponed it until their June 21 meeting.

The project rejected by the council on Monday in its 7-4 vote was a planned unit development (PUD), which would have required the city to amend its zoning. That leaves in play an already-approved earlier project at the same location, called City Place. City Place was authorized by the council last year as a “matter of right” (MOR) project – because it was judged to meet all applicable codes and zoning regulations.

The City Place (MOR) would demolish the seven houses and replace them with two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. It’s a project that would be almost certainly denied by the city’s historic district commission – if a historic district were established in the area, as a study committee has recently recommended. The council is expected to make its final vote on the historic district at its July 6 meeting.

But the council gave its initial consideration to establishment of that historic district on Monday night. It’s more customary for councilmembers to vote for proposals on their first reading – to advance a proposal to a public hearing – even if they ultimately plan to vote against it. But Monday’s meeting saw three councilmembers already voting against establishing the district.

The council’s meeting also started off with the theme of historic preservation, as the city’s historic district commission presented its annual preservation awards.

In other business, the council gave a short extension to developer Village Green, which has an option-to-purchase agreement with the city for the city-owned parcel at First and Washington streets. The time for the extension is to be used to work with the city planning staff to put together milestones that need to be met. [Full Story]

S. Fifth Ave: Historic District, Development

On May 17, 2010 the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to the city’s FY 2011 budget.

Also that same evening, at a different public meeting away from the glitz and glamour of budget deliberations, an historic district study committee – appointed by the council in August 2009 – adopted its final report. The report recommends creation of an historic district along South Fifth and Fourth avenues, from William Street down to Packard Avenue, including the south side of Packard.


The colored overlays indicate existing Ann Arbor historic districts. The question mark indicates the general vicinity of the proposed new historic district. (Image links to .kmz file from the city's data catalog, which will open in GoogleEarth, displaying all the current historic districts in the city.)

The council would still need to approve the creation of the district. The issue is currently scheduled to come before the council for a first reading on June 21, followed by a second reading on July 5. A moratorium on all construction work in the area of the study will expire on Aug. 6.

If the historic district is approved, then the Heritage Row project – a planned unit development (PUD) proposed along the east side of Fifth Avenue south of William Street – would need to win approval not just from the city council, but also from the city’s historic district commission (HDC).

Heritage Row is due to come before the city council for its second reading on June 7. It received its first reading approval from the city council on May 3 – with no discussion, but with one dissenting vote from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

This article takes a look at the recommendation of the historic district study committee, primarily through the lens of the public hearing held on May 5 in city council chambers. The conclusion of the hearing found Scott Munzel and Alex de Parry kidding back and forth with Beverly Strassmann – over their respective remarks at the public hearing. Munzel and de Parry are legal counsel and developer for the Heritage Row project, respectively, while Strassmann is president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association.

In his public hearing remarks, Munzel had – somewhat unexpectedly – presented a case that the area recommended as an historic district should, if anything, be larger than the study committee is recommending. The issue of the possible district’s size was already controversial at the point when the committee was appointed, and continues to be a bit of a chaffing point among residents. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Gets Postponed

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Feb. 18, 2010): After a public hearing on the latest iteration of a controversial South Fifth Avenue housing project, planning commissioners voted to postpone action on a project now called Heritage Row.

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree on Fifth Avenue, announcing the Feb. 18 public hearing of the proposed Heritage Row development. (Photos by the writer.)

Developer Alex de Parry is asking to rezone the seven-parcel site, with plans to restore the historic houses there and build three 3.5-story buildings behind them. Commissioners generally were favorable toward the project, citing benefits of restoring the older homes, among other things. A fair amount of  their discussion involved what color of brick to use on those new buildings.

The public hearing drew several neighbors who raised concerns they’d voiced over de Parry’s previous project in the same location, called City Place. Several mentioned the new buildings as being too large for the neighborhood. Another concern: An historic district study committee hasn’t finished its report, which could affect the project.

But before they considered Heritage Row, commissioners discussed proposed changes to Plymouth Green Crossings, a mixed use complex off of Plymouth, west of Green Road. The developers, represented by David Kwan, are asking to alter their original agreement with the city.

Economic conditions, including the departure of Pfizer, have slowed plans to complete the project, which was to include a total of three buildings and a standalone restaurant. Two buildings have been constructed – tenants include Sweetwaters and Olga’s – but a perceived lack of parking has stymied attempts to fill the retail space, Kwan said. He and his partners hope to put in a temporary parking lot on the land that originally was slated for the restaurant.

One commissioner wasn’t too excited by Kwan’s idea. Concerns were also raised about payments to the city’s affordable housing fund, which are being spread out over several years. [Full Story]

Fifth Ave. Project to Meet Historic Standards

Monday evening on the third floor of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, developer Alex de Parry gave residents and neighbors an update on a project he’s been proposing in one form or another since early 2008.

Alex De Parry poining

Alex de Parry describes how the rear of the existing seven homes would in some cases be modified consistent with their period of historical significance. (Photo by the writer.)

The housing development would be located on the east side of Fifth Avenue, just south of William Street.

Previously known as “City Place,” the proposal has been newly baptized as “Heritage Row.” The new nomenclature reflects in part the expressed intent of de Parry’s development team to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation for a row of seven old houses. Behind the row of houses, three new buildings would be constructed. Underground parking would be constructed under the three new buildings.

Previous versions of the project would have either demolished the seven houses or preserved them only in part. Now, the plan is to rehabilitate those houses to historic district standards. [Full Story]

Near North, City Place Approved

Two men stand together at a podium at the Ann Arbor city council

At the podium, Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks Group and Tom Fitzsimmons of the North Central Property Owners Association both express their support of the Near North housing project on North Main. In the background, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 21, 2009): Ann Arbor’s city council approved both major development projects on its agenda, one of them enthusiastically, the other only reluctantly.

Although there was a smattering of opposition expressed to the Near North affordable housing development during the public hearing on the matter, the 39-unit project on North Main Street ultimately won the support of its closest neighbors. That support was reflected symbolically when developer Bill Godfrey and neighbor Tom Fitzsimmons stood side-by-side at the podium as they each addressed the council, which gave the project its unanimous approval.

The “matter of right” City Place project proposed for the block of South Fifth Avenue just south of William was also unanimously approved by the council, but councilmembers took turns criticizing both the project and the developer, Alex de Parry. The council had previously established a historic district study committee and enacted an associated moratorium on demolition and work in the area where the proposed project is located. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) compared de Parry’s decision to bring the project forward despite the moratorium to “stamping feet, being upset you didn’t get what you wanted.”

Many members of the audience held yellow 8×11 paper signs calling on councilmembers to support a resolution that would have released council emails sent during their meetings dating back to 2002. However, council rejected that resolution except for a resolved clause that would in the future provide the public with copies of electronic communications among councilmembers during its meetings – by appending them to the official minutes of the meeting that are eventually posted on the city’s website.

The council also put looming financial issues on the radar by passing a resolution that opposes a recent Michigan budget proposal that would cut state shared revenues to the city of Ann Arbor by about $1.2 million. At the council’s budget and labor committee meeting that was held Monday – before the regular council meeting – Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, floated some possible ideas for meeting that shortfall. [Full Story]

Council Preview: Development, Email

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Sept. 20, 2009): It’s a caucus worth attending when the editor of The Ann Arbor Observer gives the assembly a personal glimpse into a recent spate of  break-ins on the northwest side of the city: burglars of a neighboring property left something interesting behind in his backyard.

But the city council’s Sunday night caucus again found Mayor John Hieftje offering what’s become a customary explanation to the public for the absence of the majority of council members: many of them have family obligations, and it’s not a required meeting of council.

So along with Hieftje, it was only Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 2 Ward 5) who heard brief remarks from residents and the development team on the subject of the Near North affordable housing development on North Main Street. The City Place development team – which is bringing its “matter of right” proposal for housing on South Fifth Avenue back to council – also made themselves available for questions from councilmembers.

Council received an update from Alan Haber, who reported that a group of citizens had met and resolved to respond to the city’s request for proposals for development on top of the underground parking structure to be built along Fifth Avenue.

Finally, the council had no further updates on the communication the city clerk has received from her counterpart with the county, to the effect that revisions to the charter amendment ballot language they approved at their last meeting could not be accommodated – they missed the Aug. 25 deadline. [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]

City Place Delayed, Downtown Plan OKed

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 15, 2009): The council covered a lot of ground at its Monday night meeting, much of it related to streets and transportation. Besides dealing with a raft of garden-variety street closings that generated some unexpected “controversy,” the council put in place a plan to delay the installation of some parking meters in near downtown neighborhoods, launched a safety campaign, and funded a bike path, pedestrian amenities and the city’s portion of a north-south connector feasibility study.

But it wasn’t the bike path that drew more than 20 people to speak at a public hearing. That turnout was for the adoption of the Downtown Plan. It was ultimately adopted as amended by the city’s planning commission so that the D2 buffer in the South University area is a small area in the southeast corner.

The expected vote on the City Place project along Fifth Avenue was delayed again after additional technical errors by planning staff were discovered related to the planning commission’s April meeting. That project will now start over with the planning commission public hearing.

Audience members who waited until the end of the long meeting heard Mayor John Hieftje appoint a subcommittee of councilmembers to meet with the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee to discuss the parking agreement between the city and the DDA.  In the discussion after the jump, we provide a record produced in the preliminary response to a Chronicle FOIA, which dates the renegotiation of the parking agreement to as early as September 2008 and connects it to discussions between the mayor and a candidate for the DDA board, Keith Orr, who was eventually appointed to the board.  The record shows that his appointment was not contingent on a commitment to a particular vote on the parking agreement. [Full Story]

City Place Vote Postponed

Jayne Miller, Scott Munzel, Stephen Postema

In the background before the council meeting started, Jayne Miller (city of Ann Arbor community services director), Scott Munzel (attorney for the developer of City Place), and Stephen Postema, city attorney.

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (June 1, 2009): In a move that contradicted expectations based on the previous evening’s council caucus, at which Mayor John Hieftje had indicated that the council would be voting on the City Place site plan, the item was postponed.

The remaining content of the meeting could be roughly divided into two major themes: (i) transportation – from a new transportation safety campaign, to walkable sidewalks, to street closings, to parking meters, and (ii) environment – from an update on the dioxane plume, to imminent demolition of the former Michigan Inn, to another postponement on the proposed plastic bag ordinance.

Receiving no discussion from councilmembers were two items added to the agenda on the same day as the meeting, involving a redirection of some $17 million from VEBA pre-funding into the retirement pension system.

Introductions to council included numerous awards made by the historic district commission as well as the public art commission. Chronicle coverage of the public art commission’s Golden Paintbrush awards will come in a separate article. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council to Vote on City Place

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (May 31, 2009): At its caucus held last night, the topic of the City Place site plan dominated discussion, with indications that the “by right” proposal will be approved on Monday.

Site plans available for inspection at city hall in Ann Arbor.

However, Scott Munzel, the attorney for Alex de Parry’s 24-unit proposal for Fifth Avenue, expressed disappointment that the project had become a “battle to the death.” He was alluding in part to a letter that council had received asking it to return the project to planning commission to be re-heard and re-voted on by that body, because of a technical violation of rules concerning the public accessibility of drawings in advance of public hearings.

The Chronicle used the occasion of Sunday caucus to pose questions to councilmembers on a range of other topics besides City Place, including the availability of the analyses regarding alternatives to the police early-retirement incentives, the openness of the budget and labor committee’s meetings, the possible re-appointment of Rene Greff to the board of the Downtown Development Authority, and a recent arrest of a citizen for carrying a handgun openly. [Full Story]

Planning Commission: Project Meets Code

At its regular meeting on April 21, Ann Arbor’s planning commission voted 6-3 to recommend to city council that it approve the City Place project proposed along Fifth Avenue. It was the fourth time that developer Alex de Parry had brought the project before the planning commission. The first proposal was a conditional rezoning, while the second two proposals were planned unit developments – which are also rezoning proposals. The proposal sent to city council on Tuesday night did not require any changes or variances from the property’s current R4C zoning – it’s thus what’s commonly referred to as a “by right” project.

No one in the room on Tuesday seemed particularly fond of the project, from neighbors to planning commissioners. Even the developer emphasized that it was not his preferred project to build. If planning commissioners were unenthused about the project, why did a majority of them vote for it? Conversely, if it’s a “by right” project, how could three commissioners vote against it, instead of following Tony Derezinski, city council’s representative to the commission, who stated flatly: “I feel constrained to follow the law.”

On Tuesday evening, commissioner Eric Mahler couched the answer to the first of these questions in terms of chickens – the kind that come home to roost. As for the second question, the legal basis of dissenting commissioners could be playfully paraphrased as this: All those chickens that come home to roost will have no place to park their cars. [Full Story]

Residents Organize to Defeat City Place

Kevin McDonald in the city attorney's office explains how the petition was handled

Kevin McDonald, from the city attorney's office, explains how the protest petition was vetted, which forced the requirement of an 8-vote majority on the City Place PUD.

City Council Meeting (Jan. 5, 2009, Part I) At a meeting where dozens of citizens have gathered to take a turn speaking their piece at a public hearing, it is somewhat odd to hear an elected public official declare: “The problem is the speaker.”

In context, though, that made perfect sense Monday night, because the speaker in question was the one spewing static in the council chamber’s sound system, used by CTN to record the proceedings.

As previously reported in The Chronicle, Monday’s council meeting resulted in a 0-10 vote for the City Place planned unit development (PUD) application. The public hearing on the matter, plus deliberations on a possible postponement, followed by discussion of the substantive issues, took up the majority of the meeting, which lasted until around 11:30 p.m [Full Story]

City Place PUD Fails

Scott Munzel, attorney for Alex de Parry on the City Place PUD application, discusses the signatures on the petition with Jayne Miller, director of community services with city of Ann Arbor.  Eagle-eyed readers of the Chronicle will know what kind of pass is hanging around Miller's neck.

Scott Munzel, attorney for Alex de Parry on the City Place PUD application, discusses the signatures on the petition with Jayne Miller, director of community services with city of Ann Arbor.

The City Place PUD application failed on an 0-10 vote (councilmember Sandi Smith was unable to attend the meeting due to family illness).

This, after neighbors had successfully petitioned to force the PUD proposal to achieve an 8-vote majority (instead of a simple 6-vote majority).

The late-hour petition resulted in a motion by coucilmember Stephen Rapundalo to postpone for two weeks, but that motion was supported only by the two councilmembers seated to Rapundalo’s left – Leigh Greden and Christopher Taylor. [Full Story]

Council Focuses on Development Issues

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Jan. 4, 2009): Sunday night’s regular caucus focused on development issues: (i) a proposed PUD, City Place, to be built along Fifth Avenue, and (ii) redevelopment proposals for the city-owned property at 415 W. Washington. The caucus was bookended by remarks from representatives from two of the design teams for the 415 W. Washington, Peter Allen and Peter Pollack. [Full Story]