Stories indexed with the term ‘moratorium’

Ann Arbor Delays on Digital Signs

Final approval to changes in the city’s sign ordinance – to allow for only a limited type of digital signs – has been delayed by the Ann Arbor city council. And because a council-enacted moratorium on applications for digital signs was set to expire on April 11, 2013, the council decided to extend that moratorium until July 1, 2013.

The ordinance revisions were postponed until the council’s first meeting in May – on May 6.

According to the resolution approved by the council, the purpose of postponing a decision on the ordinance amendment and extending the moratorium was to allow for additional time to review the proposed amendments and to “gather input from the public and interested parties, and to promote the public health, … [Full Story]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Downtown Ann Arbor Moratorium

The Ann Arbor city council has given direction to the planning commission to review downtown zoning – without imposing a moratorium on approval of site plans for downtown Ann Arbor. A moratorium had been contemplated in the council’s original resolution. The action took place at the council’s March 18, 2013 meeting.

[Full Story]

Council’s Meeting Dominated by Downtown

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 4, 2013): The council had five items on its agenda related geographically to downtown Ann Arbor – but delayed voting on two of them.

Architect Brad Moore (left) talks with resident Ray Detter. Moore is architect for two projects that were on the council's March 4 agenda – Blue Heron Pond and 624 Church St. The councils approval of both site plans indicates the council is not contemplating imposing a Moore-atorium on site plans.

Architect Brad Moore (left) talks with resident Ray Detter. Moore is architect for two projects that were on the council’s March 4 agenda – Blue Heron Pond and 624 Church St. The council’s approval of both projects indicates the governing body is not contemplating a Moore-atorium on site plans. (Photos by the writer.)

On one of those items, the council voted to postpone its initial consideration of changes to Chapter 7 of the city code, which governs the way the tax increment finance (TIF) capture is calculated for Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority. The revisions to Chapter 7 would also affect the composition of the DDA board, excluding elected officials from service.

The council also postponed until its next meeting, on March 18, a possible moratorium on site plan review for projects in the downtown. The possible moratorium previously had been postponed from the council’s Feb. 19 meeting. After hearing extensive public commentary on the topic on March 4 – from residents and representatives of the developer of a proposed 14-story residential project at 413 E. Huron – the council went into closed session.

On emerging from the closed session, the council voted, without deliberation, to postpone the item. The wording in the resolution provides an exemption from the moratorium for site plans that already have a recommendation for approval from the city planning commission. If enacted, the moratorium as worded would still apply to the 413 E. Huron project, because the planning commission’s 5-3 vote for approval fell short of the six it needed for a positive recommendation. The 413 E. Huron site plan is now expected to be on the same March 18 meeting agenda when the moratorium will be re-visited.

Eluding the impact of the proposed moratorium’s wording was another downtown project, which appeared on the March 4 meeting agenda. The site plan for a 14-story apartment building at 624 Church St. was approved at the council’s meeting – but that project would not have been impacted by the moratorium as it’s currently proposed. That’s because it had received a recommendation of approval from the city planning commission.

The council also voted to reconstitute a task force to re-evaluate the downtown design guidelines, which supplement the city’s zoning regulations.

In the final downtown-related item, the council voted to direct the city administrator to issue a request for proposals for brokerage services to possibly sell the city-owned parcel at Fifth and William streets – the location of the former Y building. It’s currently used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system.

While the city is contemplating the sale of that site, which it purchased for $3.5 million, the council voted to buy a much less expensive parcel outside the downtown, near the Bluffs Nature Area. The council approved a purchase price of $115,000 for the parcel, which is located off Orkney Street.

The council also approved two other site plans for projects not in the downtown – although the four-unit project at 515 N. Fifth is near the downtown. The council also approved the Blue Heron Pond development, a 64-unit project on the western side of town, located at Liberty and Maple.

In other business, the council approved receipt of a federal grant to demolish two of the buildings on the city-owned property at 721 N. Main. The buildings are in the floodway. A third building, in the flood fringe, is being studied by the city for possible reuse.

The property at 721 N. Main is a former maintenance yard. So none of the 44 vehicles authorized for purchase by the council at the March 4 meeting will be maintained there. Total cost of the vehicles was $928,499.

None of the vehicles authorized for purchase was a plug-in electric vehicle. However, the council passed a resolution in support of preparing city infrastructure for plug-in vehicles. Two-other energy-related agenda items included one supporting the city’s participation in Earth Hour, and another one supporting use of the city’s energy fund for energy improvements in connection with community projects.

An item that drew considerable discussion before approval related to street closings associated with the June 9, 2013 Ann Arbor marathon. [Full Story]

Site Plan Moratorium: Commentary, No Action

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 19, 2013): Land use was the predominant theme of the meeting, linking several different agenda items – but the council chambers were filled mostly with people interested in just one of them.

Orange Almonds

The architecture of councilmember snacks at the Feb. 19, 2013 meeting provided a nutritional buffer against zoning out during the meeting: a stacked configuration of units for fruit and nuts. (Photos by the writer.)

The item drawing that interest was a proposed six-month moratorium on site plan review by the city for projects in the D1 (downtown core) zoning district. After holding a nearly one-hour closed session to review written legal advice from the city attorney’s office, the council decided to postpone the issue until March 4, its next regular meeting.

Exceptions to the proposed moratorium are provided for projects that have already received a recommendation of approval from the city’s planning commission. While that exception applies to a large residential project at 624 Church St., it does not exempt a larger project at 413 E. Huron. Planning staff had concluded that the East Huron project meets all the zoning requirements. But the planning commission’s vote on 413 E. Huron was only 5-3 in favor of recommending approval – one vote short of the six it needed. Ordinarily developers can, on their own initiative, bring a site plan to the city council for action, even without the planning commission’s recommendation.

If the resolution is enacted, then during the period of the moratorium, the planning commission would be directed to review the D1 zoning standards against site plans submitted since 2009, when new zoning regulations were established. The commission would be asked to make recommendations by June 4, its first meeting in June. The postponed resolution states that the council is supposed to take any action by Aug. 19, its second meeting in August.

Legal counsel for the 413 E. Huron developer addressed the council, intimating that if a moratorium were enacted, then a lawsuit would be filed against the city. Attorney Susan Friedlaender expressed skepticism about a provision in the postponed resolution that provided a way for an aggrieved party to have a hearing before the council. The council will take up the moratorium again on March 4.

Also postponed was a related resolution to reconvene the design guidelines task force, which would be asked to recommend improvements in the design review process. That resolution also will be taken up on March 4.

In another item related to downtown land development, the council completed an accounting step – establishing a project budget – in connection with roughly $9 million of bonds recently sold by the city. Those bonds are funding the public parking deck portion of the private City Apartments project now under construction at First and Washington. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will be making the bond payments.

Another land use issue postponed by the council was the proposed purchase of a parcel immediately adjacent to the Bluffs Nature Area. The postponement was based on council questions about the need for additional access from the west side of the nature area, and the price to be paid out of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. Related to that same millage, the council approved applying to the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) for matching funds to acquire development rights on two farms as part of the city’s greenbelt program.

In other land zoning issues, the council gave final approval to the owner-requested rezoning of some residential properties in the Arbor Hills neighborhood. The council also gave initial approval to a rezoning that would allow a retail project called The Shoppes to be built near the junction of Plymouth and US-23.

The council took action related to city-owned land at 721 N. Main, approving a $30,000 physical study of the main building on that former maintenance yard, to see if it can be re-used. At least part of that site is slated to become part of an Allen Creek greenway.

Across the street from 721 N. Main stands a collection of vacant houses that were supposed to be demolished to make way for the Near North affordable housing project. With that project now defunct, the city is moving to demolish the houses as nuisances. The council’s action on Feb. 19 was to accept about $96,000 in additional federal funds through a community development block grant, which can be used only for demolition of houses on the former Near North site.

In other action, the council formally adopted a sustainability framework that now will be part of the city’s master plan. And related to sustainability, the city council authorized the issuance of up to $1 million in bonds for the property assessed clean energy program (PACE). The PACE program provides low-interest loans for owners of commercial properties to invest in energy saving improvements.

Changes to the city’s living wage ordinance also were on the Feb. 19 agenda. The council had previously contemplated but ultimately postponed those changes. This time around, they were tabled. That means the issue will not come back, unless the council proactively decides to take up the proposal again in the next six months.

Also as a result of council action on Feb. 19, the municipal airport will get new fencing. [Full Story]

Put Off: Moratorium on Downtown Site Plans

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

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

Possible Moratorium To Delay 413 E. Huron?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann Arbor Imposes 180-Day Ban on Digital Signs

At its April 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council unanimously voted to impose a 180-day moratorium on two things: (1) city staff consideration of applications to erect digital billboards; and (2) the erection of digital billboards.

Coming under the temporary moratoria are “billboards commonly referred to as ‘electronic message centers,’ ‘electronic message boards,’ ‘changeable electronic variable message signs,’ or any billboard containing LEDs, LCDs, plasma displays, or any similar technology to project an illuminated image that can be caused to move or change, or to appear to move or change, by a method other than physically removing and replacing the sign or its components, including by digital or electronic input.”

The resolution passed by the city council acknowledges that such … [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]

Licensing or Zoning for Medical Marijuana?

At the Aug. 5, 2010 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, councilmembers considered a resolution originally drafted by city attorney Stephen Postema to impose a temporary moratorium on the dispensing and growing of medical marijuana. The city council ultimately passed a modified version of the moratorium, with exemptions for patients and caregivers, a grandfathering-in of existing facilities in the city and a reduction in the length of the moratorium from 180 to 120 days. The moratorium ends Dec. 3.

Ann Arbor ordinance review committee

Ann Arbor planning staff and members of the planning commission's ordinance revisions committee discuss existing zoning areas and implications of ordinance changes at their Sept. 13 meeting. Clockwise from left: Wendy Rampson, Jill Thacher, Kirk Westphal, Jean Carlberg. (Photo by the writer.)

The resolution passed by the council also directed the city staff and planning commission to look at possible zoning ordinance changes, with the intent of regulating medical marijuana in Ann Arbor. The resolution does not mention other regulatory approaches, such as licensing.

Since then, the city’s planning staff and the ordinance revisions committee of the planning commission have been developing recommendations to change the city’s zoning code. The changes would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as well as marijuana grown by registered caregivers as a “home occupation.”

At a Monday, Sept. 13 meeting of the ordinance revisions committee, the group mentioned a parallel track that’s being pursued by the city attorney’s office: licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries. Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning department, said that Postema has also been working with the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys regarding an approach to licensing medical marijuana. Postema is president of that group. [Full Story]

Demolition Moratorium for Two-Block Area

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Aug. 6, 2009): Two kinds of moratoria were on council’s agenda for Thursday’s meeting – which had been rescheduled to accommodate the Aug. 4 Democratic primary elections in Wards 3 and 5. The first was a moratorium on new development in districts zoned with the classification of R4C (multi-family residential) or R2A (two-family residential). The second was a moratorium on demolition, attached to the creation of a study committee for a possible historic district in a two-block area just south of William Street on Fourth and Fifth avenues.

Council voted down the more general prohibition on new development in R4C/R2A residential districts, but approved the historic district study committee with its attached moratorium on demolition. It’s a case where the vote tally alone doesn’t tell the whole story – or even an accurate one: Counter to what one might expect, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) voted against the R4C/R2A moratorium, while Leigh Greden (Ward 3) voted for it.

A third major agenda item facing council was also related to new development: the Near North planned unit development (PUD) proposed for North Main Street just south of Summit Street, which is an affordable housing project that includes the nonprofit Avalon Housing as a partner. The council voted to move Near North on to a second reading, when a final decision will be made.

But probably the most important matter considered by council on Thursday appeared on the agenda as an “introduction” by the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, who spent around a half hour telling the city council why the city’s projected financial condition is worse now than it had been when the FY 2010 budget was adopted in the spring. Crawford’s presentation was characterized during commentary from the public later in the meeting as the “first salvo in a PR campaign” for a city income tax.

A bit of breaking news from Crawford’s report: bonds for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage were issued on Aug. 5. [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]