Stories indexed with the term ‘density’

Townhouse Zoning Goes Back to Planning

A request to zone a 2.95-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, as R3 (townhouse dwelling district) has been referred back to the Ann Arbor planning commission. The city council elected to make the referral at its Feb. 4, 2013 meeting instead of giving the zoning its final approval. The property was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.

The city’s planning commission had voted to recommend the rezoning at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting and the city council gave initial approval at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting.

When the council gave its initial approval, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) had indicated that while he was voting for the zoning on that occasion, he wanted to alert his council … [Full Story]

Effort to Overhaul R4C Zoning Continues

Ann Arbor planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee meeting (Dec. 27, 2012): With the goal of delivering recommendations to the Ann Arbor planning commission this spring, a subset of planning commissioners have been meeting regularly for several months to work through issues related to R4c/R2A zoning districts.

Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, R4C/R2A zoning, city ordinances

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Bonnie Bona, center, and Diane Giannola at the Dec. 27 meeting of the commission’s ordinance revisions committee. (Photos by the writer.)

The Dec. 27 meeting of the commission’s ordinance revisions committee was the latest in a long, politically fraught process of overhauling the city’s R4C/R2A zoning – with an eye toward encouraging density while preserving the character of the neighborhoods.

R4C allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings, while R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. Although both types of zoning are being addressed, R4C zoning is receiving the most attention. That type of zoning classification – which allowed for the controversial City Place development on South Fifth Avenue – has been characterized by city planners as “broken,” and in 2009 the city council formed an advisory committee to study the issue. That group presented a final report in May of 2012 to the planning commission, with a set of recommendations and analysis.

Since then, planning commissioners who are members of the commission’s ordinance revisions committee have been reviewing the recommendations and talking through other possible changes as well.

On Dec. 27, ORC members met again, this time focusing on parking requirements. Generally, commissioners seemed to lean toward discouraging parking on site. But commissioner Bonnie Bona felt the advantage of keeping parking requirements is that the city can then offer incentives for property owners to satisfy the requirements without actually providing on-site parking – by including other alternatives on site, like covered bike parking, or by paying into a fund that would support the launch of programs like car-sharing, for example. Commissioner Diane Giannola expressed concern about the impact of parking on residential streets. She also noted that in general, some of these changes might not be appropriate for all neighborhoods that are zoned R4C.

Commissioners reached a consensus to explore linking the parking requirement to the square footage of a structure. The current approach links the parking requirement to the number of units in a structure. Also related to square footage, commissioners briefly recapped a previous discussion they’d had about a possible approach to accessory structures. The idea would be to encourage owners to fix up their accessory structures, by allowing them to renovate or replace the buildings – as long as the renovated or new structures conform to the same size as the existing structures, and are on the same location within the site. Commissioners expressed interest in allowing these structures to be used as accessory dwellings, acknowledging that the previous effort to do that – floated in the 1990s – was strongly opposed by some community members and never taken up by the city council.

These ideas for R4C/R2A zoning are still being developed and are not yet even in draft form. The ORC is working toward a goal of crafting a final set of recommendations for the full planning commission to consider, possibly in March. If the recommendations receive planning commission approval, the next step would be for city councilmembers to take action on specific ordinance changes. [Full Story]

Townhome Project Raises Density Concerns

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (June 19, 2012): A proposal to build townhomes on a parcel along Ellsworth Road drew harsh criticism from nearby residents, who argued that this part of Ann Arbor already has more housing units than the city’s services and infrastructure can support.

Claudia Myszke

Claudia Myszke, managing agent of the Forest Hills Cooperative, spoke on behalf of residents there who have concerns about a proposed townhome project on Ellsworth. (Photos by the writer.)

The annexation request for the site of the Summit Townhomes project was recommended for city council approval by the planning commission. However the planning commission postponed action on a related zoning and area plan proposal.

The 2.95-acre site at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road, east of Stone School Road, is currently located in Pittsfield Township. The developer wants to remove an existing single-family home and detached garage, and build 24 townhomes in four, two-story buildings, with attached single-car garages for each unit. The plan calls for R3 (townhouse dwelling district) zoning.

Several residents from the nearby Forest Hills Cooperative townhouse complex came to the June 19 meeting to speak in opposition to the project. They argued that this area is already densely developed, with several major housing developments and a lack of services, like places for children to play. Traffic along Ellsworth was also a concern, especially in light of the soon-to-open Costco on that road, west of South State Street.

In part based on that feedback, commissioners unanimously voted to postpone the zoning and area plan proposals, and asked city planning staff a range of questions that they’d like to have answered before considering those requests. The concerns related to zoning options, traffic volume, the location and amount of parkland in that area, and the capacity of utilities to handle increased density. However, the annexation request will move forward to be considered by the Ann Arbor city council. It was recommended for approval on a 6-1 vote, with Erica Briggs dissenting. Eric Mahler and Wendy Woods were absent.

Briggs also dissented on another request considered by the the planning commission at its meeting – to approve the rezoning and site plan for an expansion of Knight’s Market, and Spring and Miller. The proposal – which had been originally discussed, but ultimately postponed, at the planning commission’s May 15, 2012 meeting – won approval from the other six commissioners, and will be forwarded to the city council for their consideration. Several commissioners expressed concerns, but felt comfortable enough to approve the rezoning and site plan. Briggs said the potential for future commercial expansion and other issues made it impossible for her to support the project.

In other action, the commission unanimously approved their annual work plan, as well as a resolution affirming the city’s master plan. Both actions are required annually under the planning commission’s bylaws.

It was the final meeting for Briggs, who is ending her term this month. She did not request reappointment. Her colleagues on the commission praised her work, with Bonnie Bona saying: ”You may not realize it, but you’ve had a strong influence on all of us.” Ken Clein – a principal with Quinn Evans Architects – has been nominated to replace her and will likely receive city council confirmation at the council’s July 2 meeting. [Full Story]

Planning Group Weighs R4C/R2A Report

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (May 8, 2012): Nearly a year after planning commissioners were briefed on a draft report for zoning changes for Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods, commissioners were presented this month with the final report from the R4C/R2A zoning district study advisory committee, which has been working on the issue since December 2009.

Matt Kowalski

Matt Kowalski, right, gives a report on recommendations from the R4C/R2A advisory committee at a May 8, 2012 work session of the Ann Arbor planning commission. Next to him is Tony Derezinski, a planning commissioner and city council member who served on the advisory committee. To the left is Wendy Carman, an advisory committee member who took issue with some aspects of the final report. Two other committee members – Eppie Potts and Julie Weatherbee – attended the working session.

Both kinds of zoning districts were established in the 1960s, and applied to existing neighborhoods. R4C allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings, while R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. Planning manager Wendy Rampson described the R4C zoning as “broken” –and most of the committee recommendations relate to R4C districts.

Concerns about R4C/R2A districts have been raised since at least the mid-1980s, and are tied to the question of how dense these areas can be. Although there were smaller projects that caused concern,  two more recent large housing proposals – The Moravian, and City Place – brought the issue to the forefront for people on both sides of the density debate.

In particular, the controversial City Place project on South Fifth Avenue, which combined multiple lots and demolished seven residential houses to build two apartment buildings, has been cited as an example of the need to address R4C zoning. City Place changes the streetscape of that neighborhood, but is analyzed as conforming to current zoning code.

The final committee report includes 10 recommendations, with accompanying analysis. [.pdf of recommendations] The major recommendations relate to: (1) rebuilding structures that don’t conform to existing zoning; (2) rezoning certain areas from R4C to R2A; (3) reducing minimum lot sizes and minimum lot widths; (4) exploring the creation of zoning overlay districts; (5) revising density calculations; (6) revising parking standards; and (7) changing requirements for lot combinations.

Commissioners praised the work of the committee, but much of the discussion related to future process: What are the next steps to take, now that the report has been completed? It’s likely that the group’s ordinance revisions committee will tackle the job of making recommendations for specific ordinance language to implement the changes. Those ordinance revisions would then be reviewed by the planning commission, which would forward its recommendations to city council.

In terms of content, commissioners mostly focused on the idea of overlay districts, which would be a way of preserving the character of different, distinct R4C neighborhoods. Commissioner Bonnie Bona floated the concept of form-based code as an option. Described in a very general way, a form-based approach tends to be more proscriptive regarding the types of buildings that the community wants to see in a particular district, including their design. In contrast, traditional zoning typically sets an allowable range of uses, sizes, placements, and other aspects for a development, but generally leaves the details of those decisions to the developer.

It was generally acknowledged that either approach – form-based or one with overlay districts – would be a complex issue to tackle.

Three advisory committee members – Wendy Carman, Ethel “Eppie” Potts, and Julie Weatherbee – attended the May 8 session. Carman and Potts spoke during public commentary to amplify written comments they had provided as supplements to the report, expressing concerns that some aspects of the report don’t accurately reflect the committee’s views.

During the May 8 session, commissioners also were updated on the city’s sustainability goals, which they’ll be asked to vote on at their May 15 meeting. This report focuses only on the R4C/R2A portion of the working session. [Full Story]

No Consensus on Residential Zoning Changes

A committee that’s worked for a year and a half to develop recommendations for zoning changes in Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods has been unable to reach agreement. So it’s now likely that the city’s planning commission will weigh in on the controversial issue. The outcome of changes – if approved by the city council – could affect the density of residential development in the city.

R4C City of Ann Arbor Zoning

The dark red areas are those areas zoned R4C in the city of Ann Arbor. (Image links to Google Map)

At a recent working session, planning commissioners were briefed on a draft report from the R4C/R2A advisory committee, which has been meeting since December 2009. Both kinds of zoning district were established in the 1960s: R4C allows for multiple-family residential dwellings, such as apartment buildings, while R2A zoning limits density to two-family residential structures. The committee was unable to reach consensus on its recommendations, nearly all of which relate to the R4C districts.

At the June 14 planning commission working session, two commissioners who serve on the committee – Jean Carlberg and Tony Derezinski – expressed frustration at the outcome. The draft recommendations don’t provide any guidance about where the city might encourage greater density, Carlberg said.

Derezinski, who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, added that many committee members worked hard, but were interested in protecting what they’re used to, especially concerning density and parking in their neighborhoods. As it stands, he said, the report won’t be helpful to the city council. Derezinski supported the idea of having the planning commission study the issue and make its own recommendations.

Commissioner Evan Pratt suggested that the first question to ask is whether there should be greater density, and where – the answer to that would guide the recommendations.

In a follow-up phone interview with The Chronicle, Wendy Rampson – the city’s planning manager, who also attended the working session – said there are several possibilities that planning commissioners might pursue. They could discuss the report at one of their regular meetings and make their own recommendations or comments about it. Those recommendations and comments could be made either informally – communicated to the council via Derezinski – or through a formal resolution or memorandum.

Another option would be for the commission’s ordinance revisions committee to tackle it first, developing specific ordinance language that the full commission could then review and possibly recommend to the city council. Or commissioners could ask to hold a joint session with the council, she said, to talk through these issues directly.

Regardless of how the planning commission proceeds, Carlberg will no longer be at the table. The June 14 working session was her last meeting as a commissioner. Her term ends on June 30, and she did not seek reappointment. The former city councilmember served 16 years on the planning commission, overlapping with her 12 years (1994-2006) as a Democrat representing Ward 3 on the council. Eleanore Adenekan was nominated during the council’s June 20 meeting as a replacement for Carlberg – her nomination is expected to be confirmed at the council’s July 5 meeting. [Full Story]

Approval Postponed on Arbor Hills Crossing

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (June 7, 2011): The main action item on the planning commission’s agenda was a resolution to approve the site plan for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw.

A rendering of Arbor Hills Crossing at Platt and Washtenaw

A rendering of one of four buildings planned at Arbor Hills Crossing, located on the southeast corner of Platt and Washtenaw. This view is looking northwest from the center of the site. (Image by ReFORM Studios)

The project involves tearing down several vacant structures and putting up four one- and two-story buildings throughout the 7.45-acre site – a total of 90,700-square-feet of space for retail stores and offices. Three of the buildings would face Washtenaw Avenue, across the street from the retail complex where Whole Foods grocery is located. The site is also directly north of the new location for Summers-Knoll School. Planning commissioners had approved the Summers-Knoll project at their May 17 meeting.

Comments from commissioners about Arbor Hills Crossing ranged from disappointment in the lack of density to concerns about pedestrian safety. Commissioners generally expressed the sense that they were glad to see the site developed.

Citing some outstanding issues, planning staff recommended postponing action on the plan. Several commissioners raised other issues they’d like to see addressed before the site plans come back to the commission for approval. Among those issues: future plans for bike lanes along Washtenaw Avenue, as identified in the city’s non-motorized transportation plan; and possible pedestrian access to a wetland area. The vote to pospone was unanimous.

Later in the meeting, planning manager Wendy Rampson got feedback on a draft memo to Pittsfield Township, providing input from the commission on the township’s draft master plan. In part, the memo states an objection to the township’s description of itself as “providing an Ann Arbor mailing address while placing a much lower tax burden on businesses.” The memo points out that the plan could be improved by emphasizing regional cooperation. [Full Story]

AHP Zoning Revisions Go to City Council

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (July 8, 2010):  The 4th of July holiday caused some reshuffling of city meeting times and locations, and sent planning commissioners to the Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday night to conduct their business.

Wendy Rampson, Eric Mahler

Wendy Rampson, head of the city's planning staff, and Eric Mahler, newly elected chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission, at the commission's July 8, 2010 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

That business included approval of revised area, height and placement (AHP) standards that have been under review for more than two years. The revisions have pulled back from some of the original proposals – for example, there’s no longer an uncapped building height in certain districts. It’s the first significant overhaul of these standards in roughly 50 years, with the goal of reflecting prevailing community values. The recommendations will now be forwarded to city council for final approval.

The planning commission also voted to postpone action on a project at the Kroger on South Maple. The grocery is adding a drive-thru pharmacy, and needs city approval to reconfigure its parking lot to accommodate the drive-thru lane. A few unresolved issues led commissioners to push back consideration until their July 20 meeting.

And the commission elected a new slate of officers, with local attorney Eric Mahler replacing architect Bonnie Bona as chair. [Full Story]

Moving Ahead on Zaragon Place 2

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (June 15, 2010): With only minor suggestions from planning commissioners, the 14-story Zaragon Place 2 apartment complex was unanimously approved by the commission, and will next be considered by the city council, likely at one of their August meetings.

Bonnie Bona

Bonnie Bona, chair of Ann Arbor's city planning commission, listens to a presentation about Zaragon Place 2. A rendering of the proposed project is on the screen in the background, viewed from the William Street perspective. (Photos by the writer.)

The project – to be located at the southeast corner of William and Thompson, next to Cottage Inn restaurant – drew support from two representatives of neighboring businesses, who said they were eager for new residents to arrive as potential customers. The site has been vacant and considered blighted for more than a decade.

Unlike recent proposals for two other residential developments – Heritage Row and The Moravian – Zaragon Place 2 does not require special zoning and has not faced opposition from neighborhood groups.

Some of the discussion by commissioners centered on the 40 parking spaces to be provided within the structure, as well as 40 spaces for bikes in a secured storage room. The ground level will include retail space fronting William. Also as part of the project, the city’s parks unit is asking the developer for $48,000 to help pay for new parks in the area, or to enhance existing parks.

In other business, the commission approved a special exemption use for Big Shot Fireworks to set up a tent in front of the Quarter Bistro, in the Westgate Shopping Center. Commissioners were schooled in fireworks-related legislation – anything that spins, explodes or leaves the ground can’t be sold in Michigan to the general public.

And a rezoning of a previously unzoned parcel on Jackson Avenue – site of the former Barnard Plating factory, next to Hillside Terrace Retirement Center – passed without discussion.

Finally, the commission discussed and passed a resolution that more formally outlines their plan to work with the city’s environmental and energy commissions toward the goal of building a sustainable Ann Arbor. It’s the outgrowth of a joint meeting the three commissions held in April, and was characterized by planning commission chair Bonnie Bona as the beginning of a community conversation about sustainability. [Full Story]

Six-Vote Majority Leaves The Moravian Short

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 5, 2010) Part 1: In a six-to-four vote on Monday night, the Ann Arbor city council did not give The Moravian development the required 8-vote super-majority it needed for approval. A petition signed by greater than 20% of adjoining property owners meant that the project needed eight instead of the six votes it actually received to win the council’s endorsement.

The pen of Tom Luczak

On an architect's scale model of the neighborhood, Tom Luczak points to a house on Fourth Avenue, next to the proposed project, The Moravian. The view is roughly from the northwest. Luczak spoke in opposition to the project. (Photos by the writer.)

The five-story, 62-unit building proposed for the section of East Madison Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues near downtown Ann Arbor had come before the council with the recommendation of the city’s planning staff and a 7-1 vote recommendation from the city’s planning commission.

The public hearing on The Moravian included remarks from around 90 people on both sides of the issue. The Moravian alone – counting the public hearing, plus the deliberations by the council – took up over four hours of the meeting, which lasted well past 1 a.m.

Besides The Moravian, the council’s business included an item that would have reconsidered its recent decision to replace the entire Ann Arbor housing commission board. The motion for reconsideration was voted down, with no support, not even from its two sponsors – Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Kunselman cited the late hour as part of the reason for his lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter.

The council also tabled a proposed city ordinance that would ban cell phone use while driving. The council had postponed the measure to a specific date a few times previously. The tabling means that the ordinance can be brought back for consideration by the council, but by council rule it will die unless it is brought back within six months.

Also receiving brief discussion was a possible council rule on email that the council is now forced to  consider publicly at its next meeting under terms of a recent lawsuit settlement.

In Part 1 of this report, we focus exclusively on The Moravian. [Full Story]

Packing Pyramids: UM and Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which makes it different from other similar-sized Midwestern cities lacking a world-class research institution. You can’t swing a dead Greek philosopher without hitting someone in this town who can tell you how significant the connection is between Ann Arbor and UM.

Elizabeth Chen

Elizabeth Chen assembles a tetrahedron from connectors and straws. (Photos by the writer.)

In that way, at least, Ann Arbor is densely packed.

This is a story about that town-gown connection. It’s a story that connects a recent UM mathematics PhD thesis defense to the Ann Arbor planning commission – and takes a continuous path though topics like Klingons, grocery bags, affordable housing, yard waste collection and Valentine’s Day.

We begin with Elizabeth Chen, who successfully defended her PhD dissertation last Friday in East Hall on the UM campus. Her presentation included several hands-on assignments for those in the audience of around 30 people – several of whom assured The Chronicle that hers was an “unconventional” thesis defense.

Chen exhorted the assembled mathematicians to paste together plastic pyramid shapes with gummi putty to help them get an intuitive feel for the shapes: “It’s not so scary!” she admonished them. After half an hour, one member of her thesis committee prodded her to get to the mathematics part – he really had “better things to do.” The Chronicle, however, did not. [Full Story]

Hotel/Conference Center Ideas Go Forward

On Thursday evening, the city of Ann Arbor’s committee reviewing proposals for the Library Lot decided to continue consideration of only two of the five proposals remaining. A sixth proposer had formally withdrawn before the interviews.

Sam Offen Margie Teall

Sam Offen makes an argument for bringing along Dahlmann's park proposal to the next phase of consideration – he was not successful in convincing his colleagues to do so. At right is Ward 4 councilmember, Margie Teall. (Photos by the writer.)

After the meeting, eight people crammed into an elevator on the sixth floor of city hall, where the committee had met. The eight included The Chronicle, two councilmembers on the committee (Stephen Rapundalo and Margie Teall), along with Alan Haber – who had helped put forward the Community Commons, one of the proposals eliminated by the committee.

As the elevator doors closed us in for the trip down to the lobby, Haber mused that here in the elevator, we had, for a brief moment, a commons.

The committee’s decision had come after two days of public interviews earlier in the week when each proposer was given 30 minutes for a presentation, 30 minutes to respond to questions from the committee, and 30 minutes to respond to questions from the public. The interviews took place on Jan. 19-20 and were followed by a public open house on the evening of Jan. 20.

At the Thursday evening committee meeting, Stephen Rapundalo, the committee’s chair, reported that the request for qualifications sent out by the city to provide consulting services on the remaining proposals – the hotel/conference center proposals by Acquest and Valiant – had resulted in seven responses. The next meeting of the committee will take place on Feb. 16 from 10 a.m.- noon. Letters will be sent to the three proposers whose projects will not be given further consideration by the committee. [Full Story]