Stories indexed with the term ‘corridor planning’

Planning Commission Reviews 2014 Priorities

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Jan. 7, 2014): At a thinly attended working session – the first of the year – planning commissioners reviewed the status of their 2013-2014 work plan, and discussed priorities for the next six months of the fiscal year.

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

City planning manager Wendy Rampson and Kirk Westphal, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission, at a Jan. 7, 2014 working session in the basement of city hall. (Photos by the writer.)

Planning manager Wendy Rampson gave the mid-year update, reporting on items that were moving ahead, delayed or stalled. Some projects – like the downtown zoning review – had taken more time than anticipated, she reported. That meant some other projects didn’t get as much attention. [.pdf of work plan status report]

Two projects on the work plan have been completed: (1) an update to the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, and (2) the second-year update to the capital improvements plan (CIP). Other work – like the years-long effort to reorganize the city’s zoning ordinances, known as ZORO, continues to languish. That project is being overseen by the city attorney’s office, with support from planning staff.

Based on feedback from the four commissioners at the working session, as well as input from other commissioners via email, some items on the work plan will be tweaked.

City staff have drafted an action plan to implement goals of the city’s sustainability framework, which was approved last year. Planning commissioners are interested in moving that forward.

Commissioners also expressed interested in forming a new committee to explore the impact of pending changes to mandated floodplain insurance, with a cross-section of representatives from planning, the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office, the city’s historic district commission and local creekshed groups.

In addition, Rampson was asked to explore the possibility of forming a joint planning commission with representatives from the four jurisdictions along the Washtenaw Avenue corridor – the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township. A right-of-way report for that corridor will be completed soon, which will be reviewed by the commission.

Commissioners also directed Rampson to develop a list of pros and cons for eliminating drive-thrus as a by-right option in certain zoning districts, and instead requiring developers to seek a special exception from the planning commission in order to build one. Some commissioners think that drive-thrus – especially for fast food restaurants – make an area less pedestrian-friendly. Also of concern are the emissions generated from idling vehicles.

More immediately, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee will be reviewing recommendations from an advisory committee on R4C/R2A residential zoning. There will also likely be work on ordinance revisions for downtown zoning, depending on what direction is given by the city council. A set of recommendations already approved by planning commissioners is on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda. [Full Story]

South State Street Corridor Plan Delayed

The addition of the South State Street corridor plan to Ann Arbor’s master plan has been postponed by the city council. The action to postpone took place at the council’s July 1, 2013 meeting.

The city planning commission had voted unanimously to adopt the plan at its May 21, 2013 meeting. More commonly when the planning commission votes on a matter, it’s to recommend action by the city council. For master plans, however, the planning commission is on equal footing with the council: both groups must adopt the same plan.

Planning commissioners and staff have been working on this project for more than two years. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "State Street Corridor Study Planned," “Sustainability Goals Shape ... [Full Story]

South State Street Plan To Be Distributed

A draft of Ann Arbor’s South State Street corridor plan has been authorized by the city council for distribution to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, such as the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The vote took place at the city council’s Feb. 4, 2013 meeting. The planning commission had voted to recommend the corridor plan’s distribution at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting [.pdf of draft South State corridor plan]

The plan includes more than 40 overall recommendations for the corridor, which stretches about 2 miles between Stimson Street at the north end down to Ellsworth in the south. Recommendations are organized into categories of the city’s sustainability framework: Land … [Full Story]

Next Steps Taken on S. State Corridor Plan

Moving ahead on a project that’s been long in the works, Ann Arbor planning commissioners have now recommended that the city council distribute a draft of the South State Street corridor plan to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, such as the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. It’s the next step toward adopting the corridor plan’s recommendations into the city’s master plan. The vote took place at the commission’s Jan. 3 meeting [.pdf of draft South State corridor plan]

The plan includes more than 40 overall recommendations for the corridor, which stretches about 2 miles between Stimson Street at the north end down to Ellsworth in the south. Recommendations are organized … [Full Story]

Ideas Floated for South State Corridor

An informal session with University of Michigan urban planning students gave Ann Arbor planning commissioners more ideas for possible changes to the South State Street corridor.

Danielle Thoe, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle, South State Street corridor, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning

Danielle Thoe, a University of Michigan graduate student in urban planning, explains a concept for creating a boulevard for pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate better the I-94 overpass along South State Street. (Photos by the writer.)

The Nov. 27 meeting included a presentation by four graduate students in urban and regional planning. They had analyzed the corridor between Ellsworth and Stimson, which the city has also been studying. The presentation came in the context of a draft report currently under review by planning commissioners, with more than 40 recommendations to improve the corridor. [.pdf of draft report]

The students approached their work by identifying changes that could have an immediate impact on the corridor, while also looking at more visionary, long-term goals. Shorter-term suggestions included replacing and widening sidewalks, and adding new sidewalks in sections where there are none.

A more ambitious idea is to transform the broad center turn lanes on the I-94 overpass into a protected bicycle/pedestrian median. Currently, navigating the freeway interchange on foot or by bike is daunting. The approach could serve multiple purposes. If bioswales and landscaping were in place along the outer edges, it would help with stormwater management and provide a physical barrier between vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists. The greenery would also have visual impact for people exiting the freeway, indicating that you’re entering a city that values the environment and alternative transportation, according to the students.

Creating a sense of identity along the corridor was a common theme, with an additional focus on safety issues, stormwater management, and functionality/aesthetics.

The meeting was attended by four of the eight current planning commissioners, as well as planning manager Wendy Rampson. The commission is expected to make a recommendation on the city’s draft corridor plan at either its Dec. 18 or Jan. 3 meeting. The Ann Arbor city council would need to approve the plan before any action is taken toward implementing its recommendations. [Full Story]

Sustainability Goals Shape Corridor Study

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Sept. 18, 2012): Two projects converged at the most recent planning commission meeting: A draft report of a South State Street corridor study, and next steps toward incorporating the city’s new sustainability goals into its master plan.

Ann Arbor planning commission work session

The Sept. 18, 2012  Ann Arbor planning commission work session focused on South State Street – an aerial map of the corridor is spread out on the table. To the right is Kristin Baja, who provided staff support for the project. She’ll be leaving the city to take a job in Baltimore, and was praised by commissioners for her work. (Photos by the writer.)

Eric Mahler recalled that both projects had been highlighted at a planning commission retreat two years ago, and that in some ways their completion marked a new era in city planning. The corridor study is the first project that incorporates the sustainability goals. The study’s recommendations are organized into the four main sustainability categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community.

The recommendations themselves cover a wide spectrum of issues, from traffic and walkability to public art and zoning. [.pdf of draft report] Planning commissioners spent nearly two hours reviewing the recommendations in a working session immediately following their regular Sept. 18 meeting. They’ll likely address the project again before it’s forwarded to city council.

Also during the Sept. 18 meeting, planning manager Wendy Rampson reviewed highlights from an annual report of planning activities for the fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, 2012. The report reflected an increase in development activity within the city. As one example, there were 28 site plans submitted during the year, up from 13 in FY 2011.

Several University of Michigan students attended the commission’s regular meeting on Sept. 18. Responding to a query from Tony Derezinski, they reported that they are graduate students in urban planning, taking a class from professor Dick Norton. Coming to this meeting had been part of a class requirement. [Norton had also been a speaker on some of the panel discussions related to the city's sustainability efforts.] [Full Story]

South State Corridor Gets Closer Look

As one of Ann Arbor’s primary north-south corridors, South State Street is being studied with an eye toward improving what some see as a congested, unwelcoming gateway to the city. City planning staff are seeking input and developing recommendations for changes along that 2.5-mile stretch, from Stimson at the north end – where The Produce Station is located – all the way south to Ellsworth.

The intersection of South State and Stimson, looking north

The intersection of South State and Stimson, looking north. A study of the South State corridor runs south from Stimson to Ellsworth. (Photos by the writer.)

A diverse range of land uses can be found between those two points, including small commercial enterprises, a large apartment complex, University of Michigan sports facilities, an auto dealership, high-rise office buildings, Briarwood Mall, the snarled I-94 exchange, sprawling research and industrial parks, and the soon-to-open Costco at the southern end, in Pittsfield Township.

The city held a forum recently to update the public about plans for improving South State and to seek input for possible changes. And the Ann Arbor planning commission’s retreat last week focused on the corridor, and included a van tour of the area.

This report covers both of those meetings.

Observations made by planning commissioners about the South State Street corridor at their retreat included: a lack of cohesion; a negative environment for pedestrians and bicyclists; and a sense that the corridor doesn’t reflect the character of Ann Arbor. Several commissioners noted that the stretch is just plain ugly – not an area that evokes the street as a major gateway into Ann Arbor. Suggestions ranged from improved landscaping and wayfinding signs to updating the city’s master plan, reflecting land use goals more in line with the city’s current priorities and sustainability efforts.

This isn’t the only corridor that’s getting attention – efforts to take a strategic look at North Main and Washtenaw Avenue are also underway.

For the South State study, the planning staff expects to develop draft recommendations by the end of this year, with additional public meetings, review by the planning commission, and consideration by the city council. If approved by the council, city staff would begin implementing recommendations. [Full Story]

South State Corridor Study Gets Started

At their Oct. 11, 2011 working session, Ann Arbor planning commissioners were briefed on city staff’s efforts to conduct a study of the South State Street corridor, a 2.15-mile section from Ellsworth to Stimson. The corridor is the city’s main gateway from the south. The stretch includes an I-94 interchange, entrances to Briarwood Mall, and other retail, commercial and office complexes. Although there is one large apartment complex along the corridor, it is not a densely residential area.

A previous proposal called for an outside consultant to conduct the study, and about $150,000 had been set aside for that purpose. However, some city councilmembers were reluctant to make the expenditure, and the project was put on hold until now.

Rather than use a … [Full Story]

Planning Group Gets Stormwater Tutorial

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 3, 2011): Tuesday’s meeting featured a presentation on stormwater management by the city’s new water quality manager, Jennifer Lawson.

Jennifer Lawson

Jennifer Lawson, Ann Arbor's new water quality manager, gave a presentation to planning commissioners about the city's stormwater management issues. (Photos by the writer.)

Lawson described the city’s efforts to reduce or eliminate pollutants from entering the Huron River because of stormwater runoff, and fielded a range of questions from commissioners. Her presentation was likely the only time that the term “poo water” and a quote by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle have occurred during the same public meeting.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved minor revisions to the city’s master plan, as part of a process that occurs each May. No one spoke during a public hearing on the revisions.

Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, told commissioners that efforts to seek a consultant for a South State Street corridor study have been put on hold, following concerns raised by some city councilmembers over the project’s cost.

In other business, a public hearing was announced for the commission’s May 17 meeting regarding a request by Summers-Knoll School for a special exception use. If granted, the special exception would allow an office building at 2203 Platt Road to be converted into a private school. [Full Story]

State Street Corridor Study Planned

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (April 12, 2011): Moving ahead on a project they’ve discussed for more than a year, planning commissioners gave feedback on a draft request for proposals (RFP) for a South State Street corridor study.

state street corridor

State Street runs north-south. Ellsworth, which runs east-west, is at the bottom of the frame. The large paved area northwest of the I-94/State Street interchange is Briarwood Mall. The proposed area of study extends farther north to Stimson. (Image links to Bing Map.)

The RFP, which will likely be issued next week, will solicit a consultant to develop a comprehensive plan for the 2.15-mile section between Stimson Street to the north – near a railroad crossing and the Produce Station – and Ellsworth to the south.

The corridor is the city’s main gateway from the south – the stretch includes an I-94 interchange, entrances to Briarwood Mall, and other retail, commercial and office complexes. Although there is one large apartment complex along that road, it is not a densely residential area.

Also at Tuesday’s working session, commissioners and staff discussed plans for an April 26 retreat that will focus on another major corridor: Washtenaw Avenue. [Full Story]

What Does Washtenaw Corridor Need?

At the Ann Arbor city council’s March 7, 2011 meeting, a visitor from the east – Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber – spoke during a public hearing, calling Washtenaw Avenue a “lifeline” between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The road cuts through four jurisdictions: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township. The four local governmental units have been collaborating over the last two years to find ways to improve how the Washtenaw corridor functions – in terms of traffic flow, and future business/residential development.

City of Ann Arbor Planner Jeff Kahan Washtenaw Corridor Improvement Authority

City of Ann Arbor planner Jeff Kahan explains that even though the proposed district boundaries of a Washtenaw Avenue corridor improvement authority would, at its western end, not include properties adjoining the right-of-way, the right-of-way could still receive the benefit of improvements. (Photos by the writer.)

That’s what the public hearing was about. The Ann Arbor city council is considering whether to work with the other three communities to establish a corridor improvement authority (CIA) along Washtenaw Avenue. Schreiber was at Ann Arbor’s meeting to encourage the council to consider forming a CIA, thus joining with his city and the two other municipalities along Washtenaw. The council took no action on March 7 – by state statute, they cannot take the step to establish a CIA until 60 days after the public hearing.

A corridor improvement authority is a tax-increment finance district, similar to a downtown development authority – but specifically designed for commercial corridors instead of downtown areas. [.pdf map of proposed Washtenaw Avenue CIA district ] At the March 7 public hearing on establishing a Washtenaw Avenue CIA, Schreiber was one of only two people to speak.

But five days earlier, on March 2, around 20 people attended a presentation by city of Ann Arbor planners at Cobblestone Farm. And they were joined late in the meeting by Stephen Rapundalo, who represents Ward 2 on the Ann Arbor city council. Washtenaw Avenue is a boundary between Ward 2 on the north and Ward 3 on the south. Some of those 20 residents aired their criticisms as well as support of the CIA proposal. In addition to some concerns about the administration of the authority, attendees expressed disagreement with each other about the kinds of solutions the corridor needs.

Some agreed with the conclusions of a joint technical committee that’s been working on the issue: The corridor would benefit from added transit infrastructure and greater accessibility to non-motorized transportation, as well as increased residential density. Others saw that stretch of Washtenaw Avenue as needing mainly additional lanes in the roadway to improve traffic flow.

On the administrative side, city planner Jeff Kahan explained that the possibility of establishing a CIA along Washtenaw Avenue would be greatly helped by a revision to the relatively new state statute that allows such CIAs to be created – a revision that would explicitly articulate that the four jurisdictions could form a single authority. As the statute is currently written, four separate authorities would need to be formed, and then operated under some kind of inter-governmental agreement.

So where did this idea come from that four separate units of government might collaborate on creating a corridor improvement authority for Washtenaw Avenue? It pre-dates by at least two years Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent call for greater collaboration among government entities. But Snyder was at least indirectly involved in providing some impetus behind the effort. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Parks Plan Moves to City Council

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 15, 2011): Planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the city’s Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan on Tuesday, and gave parks planner Amy Kuras a round of applause for her work updating the document over the past year.

Evan Pratt, Jeff Kahan

Ann Arbor planning commissioner Evan Pratt, left, gets a handout from Jeff Kahan of the city's planning staff prior to the commission's Feb. 15 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Earlier in the evening, the plan was also approved by the city’s park advisory commission. Both groups suggested minor revisions, and the document will next be forwarded to the city council for final approval in early March.

Updated every five years, the PROS plan is a comprehensive look at current assets and future needs. The current update spans 2011 through 2015. It’s a document required by the state to qualify for grant funding.

Discussion of the PROS plan was the main agenda item at Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted less than an hour. The commission also set a public hearing for its March 1 meeting, regarding a request by Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity to convert the church at 730 Tappan Ave. into a fraternity house.

During his communications, commission chair Eric Mahler reported that the city’s Library Lot review committee – the group that’s evaluating potential development atop the city-owned underground parking structure being built on South Fifth Avenue – will meet next on March 3. Tony Derezinski, who serves as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, highlighted two upcoming public forums regarding a Washtenaw Avenue corridor improvement authority, set for Feb. 23 and March 2.

No one spoke during public commentary on Tuesday, but nine students from Skyline High School attended the meeting as part of a class assignment.  [Full Story]

City Council Mulls Zoning: Marijuana, Height

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Oct. 18, 2010): On Monday night, the council gave an initial approval to a set of zoning laws that are intended to regulate medical marijuana use in the city. It also gave the city attorney direction to pursue the development of a license for medical marijuana facilities. All ordinances require an initial approval – a first reading – followed by a second and final reading at a later meeting.


Before the meeting, Marcia (spelling corrected) Higgins (Ward 4) chats with Sue McCormick (seated), the city's public services area administrator. McCormick is filling in for city administrator Roger Fraser, who is ill. (Photos by the writer.)

Also related to zoning was the council’s second-reading consideration of changes in the city’s zoning code for areas outside the downtown, across most of the city’s zoning classifications. The changes affect area, height and placement (AHP). The final approval of the AHP zoning overhaul had been postponed from council’s first meeting of the month, on Oct. 5, at the request of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

At Monday’s meeting, Higgins brought forth amendments that confined a height cap on buildings to areas adjacent to residential areas. The amendments would allow taller buildings in some non-residential areas, like Briarwood Mall. After some deliberation on the merits of the amendments, Higgins withdrew them, and the council elected to postpone the measure. With Higgins’ amendments, the proposal would be substantively different from the proposal that had already received council approval at first reading, and would thus require an additional reading before final adoption.

In other matters before the council, it was also Higgins who provided much of the impetus for conversation. Two items involved modification to the city’s budget by drawing upon the general fund reserve. One involved a $153,116 expenditure for the city’s planning department to fund corridor planning, and the other was a $160,000 item to purchase furniture for the 15th District Court, which will soon take up residence in the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron. The planning department money was approved over Higgins’ dissent, while the court’s expenditure was postponed, pending the production of an itemized list of what’s being purchased. The two items prompted discussion of the projected budget deficit for FY 2012, which the city’s CFO had estimated in May to be $5 million.

In other business, the council took the final step to enact a special assessment of property owners along Washtenaw Avenue to fund a portion of a new non-motorized path. The council also approved its part of a two-year extension to the consent agreement with Glen Ann Place, which gave site-plan approval for a project at the corner of Glen and Ann streets. Council also gave initial approval to stricter stormwater management rules for impervious surfaces in residential zoning districts.

Council chambers were filled at the start of the meeting with many members of the community who came to hear a proclamation and watch councilmembers vote on a resolution giving council’s support to a similar Michigan Civil Rights Commission resolution. The MCRC condemned the conduct of assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, who has written blog posts targeting Chris Armstrong, an openly gay University of Michigan student leader. The Ann Arbor city council’s resolution also calls upon the state legislature to pass a proposed comprehensive hate crime bill and a school anti-bullying law currently before the state Senate. [Full Story]