Stories indexed with the term ‘Redevelopment Ready Communities’

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]

Church Addition Gets Planning OK

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Oct. 1, 2013): With three members absent, the planning commission quickly dispatched its main agenda item – an addition for the Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church at 1717 Broadway St.

Ann Arbor planning commission, University of Michigan urban planning, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning manager Wendy Rampson, center, talks with students in the University of Michigan masters of urban planning program. About 30 students attended the planning commission’s Oct. 1, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Five existing buildings at the back of the church – originally built as classrooms for a private school that moved out in 2003 – would be torn down and replaced with a 12,850-square-foot, two-story addition to be used primarily for the church’s educational activities.

Bonnie Bona urged the church to consider ways the space could be used as much as possible, not just for Sunday school and evening programs. Sabra Briere encouraged the church to explore adding permeable pavement to at least some of the parking area.

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of the site plan, which will next be considered by the city council. A special exception use was also unanimously granted, and does not require additional council approval.

In updates from the planning manager, Wendy Rampson reported that the Traverwood Apartments proposal – which was postponed at the commission’s Sept. 17, 2013 meeting – won’t be coming back to the commission for a few weeks. The developer, First Martin Corp., now wants to donate the two-acre high-quality woodland portion on the north end of the site to the city for parkland. So before the apartment project moves forward, the process of acquiring the parkland will unfold. That includes working through the park advisory commission’s land acquisition committee, she said, and then through city council.

Rampson also reminded commissioners that they’ll be getting a draft report on the downtown zoning review at their Oct. 8 working session. Then, based on feedback from that meeting, the report will be revised for commissioners to consider formally at their Oct. 15 regular meeting.

And a project on which commissioners had been briefed during their Sept. 10 work session – the city’s effort to be certified in Michigan’s “Redevelopment Ready Communities” program – will be on the city council’s Oct. 14 work session agenda.

The commission’s Oct. 1 meeting was notable for the crowd it drew, including about 30 University of Michigan students and at least one student from Skyline High. The UM students were in the masters of urban planning program. [Full Story]

Planning Commission OKs Non-Motorized Plan

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting and work session (Sept. 10, 2013): Planning commissioners acted on a change to the city’s master plan, by approving an update to the non-motorized transportation plan.

Ken Clein, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Architect and Ann Arbor planning commissioner Ken Clein shows evidence of his non-motorized transportation – his bicycle helmet. In the background is commissioner Diane Giannola. (Photos by the writer.)

Items in the city’s master plan must receive approval from both the planning commission and the council, so councilmembers will be asked to vote on the update as well. [.pdf of draft 2013 non-motorized transportation plan update]

The 79-page document includes sections on planning and policy, as well as recommendations for short-term and long-term projects, such as bike boulevards, crosswalks, sidewalks and larger efforts like the Allen Creek greenway and Border-to-Border Trail. An additional document – over 100 pages – outlines the update’s public participation process, including emails and comments received during public meetings.

Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, briefed commissioners on this update, and much of their discussion centered on how to prioritize and implement the items in the plan – especially the funding for sidewalk “gaps.”

Cooper pointed out that implementation relies on including these projects in the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP), which the planning commission reviews and recommends for approval each year. City planning manager Wendy Rampson suggested that the commission could reconvene its CIP committee to talk about these issues.

In its other item of business, commissioners unanimously recommended approval of a proposed expansion to the U-Haul business at 3655 S. State St., south of the I-94 interchange. It will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

The relatively short meeting – lasting about 90 minutes – was followed by a working session focused on Michigan’s “Redevelopment Ready Communities” program, in which the city of Ann Arbor is participating. [.pdf of program overview]

Rampson described the program as a tool to help communities put in place elements that would allow redevelopment to happen. Those things include master plans that are clear about what community expectations are for new developments, and zoning needs to reflect those expectations in a very specific way. It means that when developers look at a specific property, they’ll be able to know exactly what they can do.

If the city completes the state’s evaluation successfully, Rampson said, then it would be certified as a “Redevelopment Ready” community. This is a relatively new program, but the state has indicated that communities with this certification could receive priority points on grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

Before the staff can proceed, Rampson explained, the city council must pass a resolution stating that the city can participate. On Oct. 14, the issue will be on the agenda for a joint city council and planning commission working session, although the main topics will be the current downtown zoning review and R4C/R2A zoning revisions.

Commissioners discussed how this program might be received by the community, with Sabra Briere – who also serves on the city council – pointing out that for some people “redevelopment ready” sounds like “tear down all the old stuff.” She noted that development is a very sensitive topic right now.

The issue of development also arose during a brief update from Rampson about the ongoing downtown zoning review. The consultants who are leading this effort – Erin Perdu and Megan Masson-Minock – have put together a workbook that they’ve been presenting at public forums. [.pdf of workbook] The same information is part of an online survey that’s underway through Sept. 17. A final public forum to review all of the feedback gathered so far will be held on Thursday, Sept. 19 starting at 7 p.m. at Workantile, 118 S. Main in downtown Ann Arbor.

The goal is to review the consultants’ recommendations at an Oct. 8 planning commission working session, and then take action on those recommendations at the commission’s Oct. 15 regular meeting. At that point, the recommendations will be transmitted to the council, Rampson said. [Full Story]