Stories indexed with the term ‘zoning ordinance’

Planning Agenda: Art, Eats, Drive-Thrus

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 1, 2014): Ordinance revisions, site plan approval and a look at proposed artwork for the East Stadium bridge filled the planning commission’s first meeting in April.

Catherine Widgery, Ann Arbor public art commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

An image by artist Catherine Widgery for artwork on the East Stadium bridge. This night view shows how the structures would be lit from below, illuminating the images of trees that are etched into louvered glass panels.

John Kotarski and Bob Miller of the city’s public art commission presented images of a revised design for public art on the East Stadium bridge, a $400,000 project that includes columns of louvered glass panels on the bridge as well as underneath it, along South State Street. The artist – Catherine Widgery, who’s based in Massachusetts – had changed her original proposal at the request of a selection committee. The public art commission is seeking feedback on this new design, including at a public forum on Monday, April 21 at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

The public art commission likely will vote on a recommendation at its April 23 meeting. The proposal would then be forwarded to the city council for approval.

Also heading to city council is the site plan for a new Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which planning commissioners voted to recommend on April 1. The plan involves major renovations to the existing building at 314 S. Fourth Ave., which most recently housed the Dream Nite Club that closed in 2012. The renovations include adding a second-floor mezzanine level to the front of the building.

Part of the planning commission’s discussion focused on whether there might be outdoor dining in front of the restaurant. The project’s architect, Stephen Fry, indicated that at this point, outdoor seating wouldn’t be appropriate, in part because of bus traffic. The building is located near the Blake Transit Center, a hub for public transportation. “Ruth’s Chris is about a known and consistent dining experience,” Fry said, “and we just don’t feel we can control it out there.”

Fry also reported that the restaurant will likely be using valet parking, with valets positioned in front of the building. “So we’re going to activate the street with humans that are dressed up and looking good,” he said.

Commissioners also reviewed proposed ordinance revisions related to drive-thrus, and recommended that the city council approve the changes. The amendments would add a definition of a “drive-thru facility” to Chapter 55 of the city code. Currently, the term used throughout the code is “drive-in,” which is not explicitly defined in the code.

In addition, the changes would require that drive-thru projects obtain a special exception use from the planning commission, and would be allowed only in the O (office), C2B (business service) and C3 (fringe commercial) zoning districts. Basic layout requirements would also be added to the ordinance. Currently, drive-thrus are allowed in C3 districts without a special exception use. They are allowed as special exception uses in the C2B district.

The changes will give planning commissioners more discretion in approving drive-thru businesses, including restaurants, banks, pharmacies and other types of drive-thrus. [Full Story]

Zoning Changes in the Works for Drive-Thrus

The Ann Arbor planning commission has recommended approval of several amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance related to drive-thrus. The action took place at the commission’s April 1, 2014 meeting.

If approved by the city council, the amendments would add a definition of a “drive-thru facility” to Chapter 55 of the city code. Currently, the term used throughout the code is “drive-in,” which is not explicitly defined in the code.

In addition, the changes would require drive-thrus to obtain special exception use permits, which would be allowed only in the O (office), C2B (business service) and C3 (fringe commercial) zoning districts. Basic layout requirements would also be added to the ordinance. Currently, drive-thrus are allowed in C3 districts without a special exception use. … [Full Story]

Council Moves on Downtown Zoning Revisions

Recommendations from the city planning commission – to start a formal legislative process to make revisions to zoning regulations in downtown Ann Arbor – have now been accepted by the Ann Arbor city council. And the city council has in turn now directed the planning commission to craft the corresponding zoning ordinance language to reflect the recommendations. The council made some amendments to the recommendations before turning the work back over to the planning commission. [Jan. 21, 2014 zoning resolution, as amended]

Action directing the planning commission to start crafting ordinance language came at the council’s Jan. 21, 2014 meeting. The session included a public hearing, with a dozen people speaking generally in support of the proposed revisions. Many … [Full Story]

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]

Downtown Zoning Review to Wrap Up Soon

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Nov. 19, 2013): The main agenda item for the commission’s most recent meeting was a list of draft recommendations that would complete the current phase of a months-long downtown zoning review.

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

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Eleanore Adenekan and Ken Clein sign papers attesting that these high school students had attended the Nov. 19 meeting. The class assignment did not require that the students stay for the entire meeting, which adjourned at about 12:30 a.m. (Photos by the writer.)

Planning commissioners made decisions on the majority of recommendations for revising the city’s downtown zoning ordinance, but adjourned after midnight before completing their final resolution for city council. Though they did not formally vote to postpone action on the resolution, the item will be taken up again at the commission’s Dec. 3 meeting. [.pdf of revised draft recommendations to be considered on Dec. 3]

Generally, the changes reflect a downzoning in some locations in an attempt to lessen the impact of development on adjacent residential neighborhoods.

A public hearing on the downtown zoning review drew seven speakers, all of whom had previously addressed the commission on this topic. Andy Klein – one of the owners of a site at the southeast corner Main and William, which is being considered for downzoning – spoke against rezoning that property, calling himself the “lone dissenter.” Other speakers at the hearing were in favor of downzoning in general, including at that site. The recommendation for that property – possibly one of the most controversial – was not debated or acted on by commissioners at their Nov. 19 meeting.

Attached to the commission’s Dec. 3 agenda was a communication from Scott R. Bonney of Neumann/Smith Architecture, written on behalf of KRG Investments, the owners of the Main and William property. It suggests a third option to consider as a compromise, and indicates that Bonney will attend the Dec. 3 meeting to make a presentation about this proposal in person. [.pdf of Bonney's letter]

After the planning commission finalizes and approves its resolution regarding these downtown zoning recommendations, the resolution will be forwarded to the city council for consideration. The intent is for the council to review the recommendations and give direction to the commission about which recommendations to implement.

At that point, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee would work with city planning staff to craft actual ordinance language. Any specific ordinance changes would be reviewed by the full commission and ultimately would require city council approval before taking effect. That process would include additional opportunities for public input.

In addition to downtown zoning, three other projects were on the Nov. 19 agenda. Commissioners recommended approval of a proposal to build two restaurants adjacent to Macy’s at Briarwood Mall. They also recommended approval of a four-story addition to the existing two-story building at 210-216 S. Fourth Ave., between East Liberty and East Washington in downtown Ann Arbor, known as the Montgomery Building. The expansion will create 32 new housing units, including four studios, 14 one-bedroom, and 14 two-bedroom units.

One project that didn’t move forward was a proposed expansion of Germain Motors – the former Howard Cooper dealership on South State Street. Owner Steve Germain and his daughter Jessica Germain attended the meeting and described the growth of their business, with a 55% increase in combined sales compared to last year. They indicated that expanded showrooms and additional parking and vehicle display areas are needed to accommodate future growth. However, planning staff recommended postponement to address several outstanding issues, and commissioners acted on that advice. [Full Story]

Planning Group Hears More on Downtown Zoning

For the third time in the past month, Ann Arbor planning commissioners heard public input on a consultant’s report with recommendations to changes in the city’s downtown zoning. The item on the commission’s Nov. 6, 2013 agenda included the continuation of a public hearing that began on Oct. 15, 2013. The commission will take up the issue again on Nov. 11 12 with an eye toward eventually making a recommendation to the city council.

The majority sentiment among the nearly dozen people who addressed the commission was that the consultant’s recommendations did not adequately address the need for buffering between areas zoned D1 and those zoned residential. However, the owner of the property on the southeast corner of William … [Full Story]

Draft of Revised Downtown Zoning Ready

Draft recommendations for possible changes to zoning in downtown Ann Arbor are now available, in advance of an Oct. 8, 2013 working session of the Ann Arbor planning commission. The 25-page report was prepared by ENP & Associates, the consultants hired by the city earlier this year to conduct a downtown zoning review. [.pdf of draft recommendations]

ENP & Associates, Ann Arbor planning commission, zoning, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

An example of a possible development on East Huron – between Sloan Plaza and Campus Inn – with proposed zoning changes. (Image from draft report by ENP & Associates.)

By way of background, in late 2009 – after a … [Full Story]

R4C/R2A Committee Focuses Its Work

Ann Arbor R4C/R2A advisory committee meeting (Aug. 28, 2013): At its second of four meetings since being reconstituted by the city council this summer, the committee tasked with giving advice on possible changes to the R4C/R2A residential zoning districts moved closer to prioritizing final recommendations to deliver to the planning commission and city council.

Julie Weatherbee, R4C, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Julie Weatherbee is chair of the R4C/R2A advisory committee, which met most recently on Aug. 28, 2013. The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11. (Photos by the writer.)

Two main priorities have emerged as areas of concern: lot combinations, and a proposed “group housing” overlay district. Parking is also a concern, but several committee members noted that there isn’t time to reach consensus about parking recommendations. Only two more two-hour meetings are scheduled – on Sept. 11 and Sept. 25.

The committee’s original report had recommended imposing a maximum lot size of 6,525 square feet. This would limit the ability of a developer to combine lots in order to build larger structures. It would be a way to limit the size of developments within R4C districts.

The planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee made a different recommendation, however, which was adopted by the full commission. Rather than requiring a specific lot size limit, lot combinations would be approved on a case-by-case basis. Review standards would be developed, as well as standards for design and massing, to ensure that new development is compatible with the neighborhood. The planning commission has not yet developed details of how what standards would be used. Advisory committee members didn’t like this approach, saying that it seemed too arbitrary.

There are even fewer details at this point about a proposed group housing district, which planning commissioners envision as a future phase of R4C ordinance revisions. The planning commission recommendations call for a new zoning overlay district, located south and west of the University of Michigan’s central campus. It would be roughly an area outlined in the city’s Central Area Plan, but with final boundaries to be determined. [.pdf of Central Area Plan] The idea is to address issues that are somewhat unique to neighborhoods with a large amount of student housing.

In general, the new district would be intended to allow for flexibility by putting limits on density, but with premiums provided in exchange for community benefits such as pedestrian-friendly character and conformance with architectural design standards. For example, parking might be based on a building’s total floor-area ratio (FAR), independent of the number of units in a structure. The commission’s recommendations call for details of this new district to be fleshed out in a second phase, after other ordinance changes are made that are seen as more straightforward.

Advisory committee members were extremely skeptical of this approach, which one member characterized as “redlining.” Targeting housing for a particular type of resident – in this case, students – made many members uncomfortable. There was also uncertainty about the exact intention behind the recommendation.

Committee members have invited planning commissioner Bonnie Bona, who also serves on the commission’s ordinance revisions committee, to attend their Sept. 11 meeting. Their hope is to get clarity about the commission’s recommendations, as well as the intent behind those recommendations.

Several committee members stated that their overarching goal is to protect the character and integrity of existing neighborhoods, and to prevent older houses from being demolished. That’s the scenario that unfolded when seven houses were torn down along South Fifth Avenue to make way for the City Place apartments – a controversial development that was part of the impetus for the R4C/R2A review. [Full Story]

D1 Downtown Zoning Review Meetings Set

A range of public forums and focus group meetings have been scheduled in September for the ongoing review of downtown Ann Arbor zoning.

  • Friday, Sept 6: Downtown zoning evaluation community coffee, 8-10 a.m. at Espresso Royale Cafe, 324 S. State St.
  • Monday, Sept. 9: Downtown zoning evaluation brown bag lunch, noon-1 p.m., at the A2Y chamber boardroom, 115 W. Huron St.
  • Monday, Sept. 9: Downtown zoning evaluation public focus group, 5-6 p.m. at the Traverwood Library multipurpose room, 3333 Traverwood Dr.
  • Monday, Sept. 9: Ann Arbor planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee, 6:30 p.m. in the basement conference room of city hall, 301 E. Huron.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 10: Downtown zoning evaluation public focus group, 5-6 p.m. at Pizza House, 618 Church St.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 10: Downtown citizens … [Full Story]

R4C/R2A Advisory Committee Meetings Set

The first meeting of the re-established R4C/R2A advisory committee, with slightly different membership from its original iteration, has been scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 14 from 7-9 p.m. in the basement conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to reconstitute the citizens committee, which had previously worked to provide input on possible changes to zoning in the R4C/R2A (multi-family) zoning districts. That action followed the planning commission’s vote at its April 16, 2013 meeting to send recommendations to the city council for revisions to the R4C zoning areas – but without the actual wording of the ordinance changes. Those recommendations, which were crafted with input from the original … [Full Story]

Downtown Zoning Review Moves Forward

Ann Arbor planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee meeting (July 31, 2013): On Monday, Aug. 5, the city of Ann Arbor will hold a public forum to update the community on the A2D2 zoning review that started last month.

Erin Perdu, A2D2 zoning, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Consultant Erin Perdu compiles feedback at a July 30, 2013 public forum on the A2D2 zoning review. Participants were asked to write their thoughts on sticky notes regarding what’s working (left side) or not working (right side) with downtown zoning. (Photos by the writer.)

In late 2009, after a multi-year process and much debate, the city council adopted the A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning. The planning commission had for some time been intending to review the zoning, looking at whether the changes have resulted in the kind of downtown development that the city wants.

But interest in a review was heightened by a proposal for the 14-story 413 E. Huron apartment project on a site zoned D1, the highest density allowed. The proposal spurred controversy in part because of its location adjacent to a residential historic district.

So on April 1, 2013, the city council directed the planning commission to review A2D2 and address three specific questions: (1) whether D1 zoning is appropriately located on the north side of Huron Street between Division and South State and the south side of William Street between South Main and Fourth Avenue; (2) whether the D1 residential FAR [floor area ratio] premiums effectively encourage a diverse downtown population; and (3) whether a parcel on the south side of Ann Street adjacent to city hall should be rezoned “to the appropriate zoning for this neighborhood.” That parcel, currently a surface parking lot, is now zoned D1.

On April 1, the council set a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to the council. Councilmembers subsequently approved the 413 E. Huron project on May 13, 2013 on a 6-5 vote.

To lead the A2D2 review, the city hired consultant Erin Perdu of ENP & Associates, who has been holding public forums and interviews with individual stakeholders over the past two weeks. She updated planning commissioners at a July 31 meeting of the ordinance revisions committee, and described her approach to the upcoming Aug. 5 forum.

The Aug. 5 forum starts at 7 p.m. in the lower level conference room of the Washtenaw County administration building at 200 N. Main – at the intersection of Main and Ann. The purpose of that meeting is to review the priority issues that have emerged from feedback so far. The goal is to get confirmation that those issues are, in fact, priorities for the community, she said, and then to have more discussion about those priorities.

The meeting will focus on three main priority issues: (1) height and bulk, with character districts as part of that discussion; (2) premiums, with a focus on housing; and (3) the location of D1 and D2 zoning districts, with a focus on the three sites mentioned in the April 1 city council resolution.

Perdu also addressed technical problems with the online survey on A2 Open City Hall, noting that the issues have been fixed and the deadline extended until 5 p.m. on Aug. 5.

Planning commissioners and staff had a wide-ranging discussion at their July 31 meeting about the feedback they’ve received so far, and the scope of their review. Their discussion touched on design guidelines, historic districts, parking, and housing diversity, among other issues. For example, some critics point to the large amount of student housing that’s being built downtown as a negative outcome of A2D2.

But Kirk Westphal, chair of the planning commission, wondered whether it’s the city’s role to change zoning in respond to these “micro-trends.” He noted that the market might be trending toward student housing now, but in five years that trend might switch to one- and two-bedroom apartments, or offices.

For some additional background on the original A2D2 deliberations, see Chronicle coverage from 2009: “Planning Commission Draws Line Differently“; “Zoning 101: Area, Height, Placement“; and “Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead.” For more recent background on this zoning review, see: “Planning Group Strategizes on Downtown.[Full Story]

A2: Downtown Zoning

An online survey about downtown zoning has been posted on A2 Open City Hall, as part of the current review of A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning. The survey closes at 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2. Survey results will be part of the input considered by the city’s planning commission as it makes recommendations to city council about possible zoning revisions. Public forums, focus groups and coffee hours are other strategies that the city is using to solicit feedback – more details on that are on the A2D2 website. [Link to A2 Open City Hall]

Planning Commission Signs Off on R4C Draft

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 16, 2013): Moving ahead on a project that’s been years in the works, planning commissioners took action at its meeting to adopt a set of changes to the city’s R4C/R2A residential zoning districts.

Commissioners unanimously recommended that the city council adopt the draft changes, and that the council direct the planning staff and commissioners to develop ordinance language that would implement these recommendations.

Wendy Woods, Matt Kowalski, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Wendy Woods consults with city planner Matt Kowalski prior to the April 16 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting, which Woods chaired. The commission’s chair, Kirk Westphal, was absent. (Photos by the writer.)

Eight people spoke during a public hearing on the recommendations, including several who’d served on an R4C/R2A advisory committee. They raised a variety of concerns primarily related to lot combinations, parking requirements, and a proposed “group housing” district.

Related to lot combinations, several speakers urged commissioners to institute a maximum lot size of 6,525 square feet, equal to an allowable density of three units. This had been a recommendation of the advisory committee, in an effort to prevent future projects like the large City Place apartment buildings on South Fifth Avenue.

In contrast, the planning commission’s recommendations call for more flexibility in combining lots, but don’t yet provide much detail about how that approach would work. The approach would require planning commission approval of lot combinations as part of a project’s site plan review. Review standards would still need to be developed, as well as standards for design and massing – to ensure that any new development is compatible with the neighborhood.

The proposed group housing district was another point of concern for speakers during the public hearing, and was the focus for much of the commission’s deliberations. The recommendations designate a new zoning district, located south and west of the University of Michigan’s central campus. It would be roughly an area outlined in the city’s Central Area Plan, but with final boundaries to be determined. [.pdf of Central Area Plan] The idea is to address issues that are somewhat unique to neighborhoods with a large amount of student housing.

In general, the new district is intended to allow for flexibility by putting limits on density, but with premiums provided in exchange for community benefits such as pedestrian-friendly and architectural design standards. For example, parking might be based on a building’s total floor-area ratio (FAR), independent of the number of units in a structure. The recommendations call for details of this new district to be fleshed out in a second phase, after other ordinance changes are made that are seen as more straightforward.

Commissioners discussed the terminology for this proposed district, with some preferring the term “flexible housing” rather than “group housing,” which was the phrase used in the Central Area Plan. Commissioners appeared to reach consensus in directing Matt Kowalski – the city planner who’s taken the lead on this project – to clarify the group housing term as one that’s based on the Central Area Plan. Kowalski intends to make some other minor revisions to the draft report, based on feedback from commissioners, before forwarding it to the city council for consideration.

If the recommendations meet with council approval, the planning staff would then work with the city attorney’s office to develop specific ordinance revisions to implement the recommendations. Those ordinance changes would also be reviewed by the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee before being voted on again by the full planning commission and then the city council.

Related to this R4C ordinance process, some commissioners are concerned about how that work flow would fit in with the ongoing ZORO (zoning ordinance reorganization) project. At a five-hour retreat on April 23, several commissioners expressed frustration that ZORO seems to be languishing in the city attorney’s office. The ZORO project, which started in 2009, is a comprehensive zoning code review aimed at streamlining the development-related city code, clarifying terminology, and eliminating inconsistencies and outdated material. The commission intends to convey its concerns to the city council, hoping to push the project toward completion.

In other action at their April 16 regular meeting, commissioners recommended approval of two residential annexations on the city’s northwest side, and moved forward a project to replace outdated electrical equipment at the Barton Pump Station. The station pumps raw water from Barton Pond to the city’s water treatment plant about two miles away.

Commissioners also recommended that the city council approve distribution of the city of Ann Arbor’s draft non-motorized plan for feedback from neighboring jurisdictions. [.pdf of staff report and draft non-motorized plan] This is an update of a plan that was initially approved in 2007. It makes policy recommendations as well as specific project proposals, primarily related to pedestrian and bicycle travel. [Full Story]

R4C Revisions Move to City Council

At their April 16, 2013 meeting, Ann Arbor planning commissioners recommended that the city council approve a set of changes to the city’s R4C/R2A residential zoning districts. The commission also recommended that the city council direct the planning staff and commissioners to develop ordinance language that would implement these recommendations.

Any specific ordinance changes would require separate review by the planning commission and approval by the council. That process is likely to take several months, at least. [.pdf of staff report and R4C/R2A recommendations]

The R4C/R2A recommendations were made by the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC), informed by an advisory committee that had made a separate report last year. Planning commissioners had been briefed on the recommendations at their April … [Full Story]

Deliberations on DDA Pave Way for Final Vote

Ann Arbor city council meeting (April 1, 2013): The council’s first meeting in April featured some progress on items that have appeared repeatedly on its agenda in the last several weeks.

From left: Jane Lumm (Ward 2), assistant city attorney Mary Fales and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

From left: Jane Lumm (Ward 2), assistant city attorney Mary Fales and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). (Photos by the writer.)

After two postponements, the council gave initial approval to a set of changes to the ordinance that establishes the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The changes can be divided into those that affect board composition and those that relate to the computation of the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture.

The tax calculations have implications of roughly $1 million a year for the DDA and the taxing jurisdictions whose taxes are captured by the DDA. Those taxing jurisdictions include the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College and the Ann Arbor District Library. The vote was 7-3, as mayor John Hieftje, Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) voted no. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was absent. The final vote will likely come at the council’s April 15 meeting. Councilmembers are not obligated to vote the same way the second time around.

The council also wrapped up an issue that has appeared on its agenda for several meetings. At its March 18 meeting, the council had finally decided not to enact a moratorium on site plan applications in D1 (downtown core) zoning districts. Instead, the council had directed the planning commission to conduct a review of D1 zoning. But councilmembers had left open the question of the exact scope of work and the timeframe for its completion by planning commissioners. At the April 1 meeting, the council allowed the commission six months, until Oct. 1, to review the following: the appropriateness of D1 zoning on the north side of Huron Street between Division and South State and the south side of William Street between South Main and Fourth Avenue; the residential premiums; the zoning for the University of Michigan Credit Union parking lot.

Other business was further delayed by the council. At the developer’s request, the council postponed for a second time the 413 E. Huron project, a proposed 14-story, 216-apartment building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets. That project will come back before the council at its April 15 meeting. A new public hearing on the 413 E. Huron site plan application was started on April 1 and will continue on April 15.

The council also postponed a second and final vote on changes to the city’s sign ordinance. The changes would prohibit any new billboards, and allow only a limited range of digital signs. That won’t come back before the council until May 6. Several people addressed the council during the public hearing. All of them worked for Adams Outdoor Advertising, and spoke in opposition to the changes. Because of the postponement, the council extended a moratorium on digital sign applications, which has now been in place for a year.

The council also extended a moratorium on spending of monies that have been set aside under the city’s Percent for Art ordinance. A revision to that ordinance, which would likely eliminate the public art set-aside but still allow for aesthetic elements to be built into a project, is expected to be brought forward in the next few weeks. The public art ordinance revisions are being crafted by a council committee that was tasked with that responsibility in December of 2012.

At its April 1 meeting, the council also approved contracts for renovations at the Gallup Park canoe livery, and the Argo and Geddes dams. In addition, the council approved a lease for additional parking in connection with the Argo Cascades.

Other business at the meeting included council approval of the notice to issue bonds for the city’s drinking water system. The council also authorized contracts in connection with street reconstruction and sidewalk repair work for the 2013 season. [Full Story]

R4C Draft Readied for Planning Commission

Changes to parking requirements, lot combinations, and creation of a possible new “group housing” zoning district are among the draft recommendations  that have been presented to Ann Arbor planning commissioners for the city’s R4c/R2A zoning districts. It’s a project that’s been years in the works. [.pdf of staff memo and proposed R4C/R2A draft recommendations]

R4C, Ann Arbor zoning, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

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

An April 9, 2013 working session was a first chance for all commissioners to have a look at the recommendations, which will be formally presented at the commission’s April 16 regular meeting.

The commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC) has been working on draft recommendations since the summer of 2012. The committee’s work follows a report delivered in May 2012 by an R4C/R2A zoning district study advisory committee that had worked on the issue since December 2009. [.pdf of advisory committee report.

For more background on the issues leading up to this current study – which dates back several decades – see Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Weighs R4C/R2A Report" and "Effort to Overhaul R4C Zoning Continues"] [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]

No on Chalmers Parking, Maple Cove Delayed

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 1, 2012): A nearly 3.5-hour meeting was devoted in large part to public commentary – hearings on two projects drew two dozen speakers.

Len Nadolski, Tony Derezinski

Len Nadolski, left, talks with city councilmember Tony Derezinski before the start of the May 1, 2012 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting. Nadolski owns the Chalmers Place Retail Center on Washtenaw Avenue and hopes to add a parking lot behind the center. The proposal was rejected by the planning commission, on which Derezinski serves. (Photos by the writer.)

About half of those speakers came out to oppose a parking project for the Chalmers Place Retail Center on Washtenaw Avenue, located next to Paesano restaurant in the former Arbor Dodge lot. The owner – Len Nadolski of Howell – asked to rezone a vacant parcel behind the center to P (parking), from its current single-family residential zoning. He said the center has been unable to lease all of its stores because tenants are concerned about a lack of parking.

Commissioners expressed sympathy for the owner, but voted against recommending the rezoning. The majority of commissioners did not feel that the situation warranted overriding the master plan, which calls for that property to be zoned residential. Erica Briggs said the situation added urgency to plans to make the Washtenaw Avenue corridor more safe and amenable to walking and biking.

Eric Mahler cast the lone vote in favor of rezoning. He said he normally wouldn’t support a proposal that was essentially “spot zoning,” but in this case he voted for the plan because he didn’t see any viable alternatives for the owner.

Another project that drew public commentary had previously been recommended for approval by the commission: Maple Cove Apartments & Village development, located on North Maple near Miller Road. The commission had approved the project at its March 20, 2012 meeting. But that vote was rescinded when it was discovered that Scio Township residents on Calvin Street had not been included in an original public notice mailed out for the commission’s March meeting.

Nearby residents voiced several concerns about the project – including density, flooding, aesthetics, traffic and a lack of sidewalks from North Maple back to the seven houses. Those issues were echoed by some of the commissioners, who also complained about the lack of responsiveness from the property owner, Muayad Kasham of Dynasty Enterprises. He has not attended the commission’s meetings to address concerns.

But it was the two proposed entrances off of North Maple – separate entrances for the apartments and the single-family homes – that prompted the most discussion among commissioners, and ultimately the move to postpone. Wendy Woods pointed out that the city’s traffic engineer had advised that a single entrance would be preferable. The city code allows for two entrances, however, based on the property’s lineal frontage. The owner has indicated a commitment to two entrances in order to market the apartments and single-family homes separately, and the city code allows for two entrances based on the property’s lineal frontage.

No date has been set for when the project will next appear on the planning commission agenda.

The commission also approved the city’s 2013-2018 capital improvements plan (CIP), with only minor modifications from the previous year. But commissioners voted to postpone action on a master plan update – they’re expected to discuss it at a retreat set for Tuesday, May 29.

The final item of the meeting was dispatched quickly, as commissioners recommended rejecting a proposed revision to the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance. The proposal – recommended by the medical marijuana licensing board – was to strike one sentence from the zoning ordinance: “Medical marijuana dispensaries and medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall be operated in compliance with the MMMA (Michigan Medical Marijuana Act).” Commissioners expressed caution about the implications of eliminating the sentence, with Mahler stating that the change would authorize illegal uses, and would have severe consequences for the city. [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Zoning Heads to Council

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Oct. 5, 2010): Zoning for medical marijuana businesses was the main agenda item for the commission’s Oct. 5 meeting. The issue drew more than a dozen people to council chambers, and six people spoke at a public hearing on the topic.

Jill Thacher, Bonnie Bona

Jill Thacher, left, of the city of Ann Arbor's planning staff, has been the point person in drafting a zoning ordinance to address medical marijuana businesses. She outlined changes to the draft ordinance at the Oct. 5 planning commission meeting. Next to Thacher is planning commissioner Bonnie Bona. (Photos by the writer.)

The draft ordinance that was ultimately approved unanimously, and forwarded to the city council, contained several changes from the version that the commission considered at its Sept. 21 meeting. During the Oct. 5 deliberations, commissioners also approved three out of four proposed amendments, some of them in response to input from the public.

In a separate vote, the commission approved a motion to recommend that the city council institute a medical marijuana business license. Eric Mahler cast the lone vote of dissent. There was little discussion and no details about what the license would entail, aside from a general intent “to address issues that fall outside the scope of the zoning ordinance, such as building security and code compliance for electrical use, fire suppression, and ingress/egress.”

Commissioner Jean Carlberg questioned Kristen Larcom of the city attorney’s office about whether the license would only apply to dispensaries, or if it would be required of cultivation facilities and “home occupation” businesses as well. In reply, Larcom said she didn’t know – they hadn’t yet drafted it. Commissioner Kirk Westphal asked if the license might include a cap on the number of dispensaries in the city – Larcom said that it might.

In their final item of business, planning commissioners unanimously agreed to reconsider a petition they had rejected at their Sept. 21 meeting – to a special exception use that would allow for the expansion of Arbor Dog Daycare, a business located at 2856 S. Main St., near the corner of Eisenhower. They then immediately tabled action on the item until their Oct. 19 meeting. The owners spoke during public commentary urging commissioners to reconsider, but later in the meeting commissioner Jean Carlberg said she’d spent more than an hour in the neighborhood near the business, and was disturbed by the level of noise coming from barking dogs there. [Full Story]

Fuller Road Station Plan Gets Green Light

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Sept. 21, 2010): In a marathon meeting that lasted past midnight, the planning commission handled two major projects: Site plan approval for Fuller Road Station, and a medical marijuana zoning ordinance.

Rita Mitchell

Rita Mitchell and Peter Zetlin talk during a break at the Sept. 21 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting. Both spoke against the proposed Fuller Road Station during a public hearing on the site plan. (Photos by the writer.)

City council chambers were packed with people wanting to address the commission on those two issues, which were the final two items on the night’s agenda.

Before getting to those, commissioners dealt with several lower-profile items. One was a request by the owners of Arbor Dog Daycare asking for permission to expand their business. A neighbor came to oppose it, saying “to expand the operation means more barking.” The commission voted on it twice – an initial vote, then a reconsideration at the end of the meeting at the request of commissioner Evan Pratt, who arrived late and missed the first vote. In both cases, the project failed to get the necessary six votes for approval.

The commission also approved the site plan for a Lake Trust Credit Union branch at the southeast corner of West Stadium and Liberty, despite some concerns about tearing down the existing building.

Later in the meeting – after three hours of staff presentations, a public hearing and commissioner deliberations – Fuller Road Station’s site plan did win approval, with two commissioners dissenting. The project will now move to city council for a vote.

And the final public hearing of the night – on zoning changes that would regulate dispensaries and “home occupations” for medical marijuana – drew 15 speakers. All of them, to varying degrees, urged commissioners not to restrict safe access to medical marijuana. The planning staff had recommended postponement, and commissioners followed that advice. They voted unanimously to postpone action on the proposal, allowing time to incorporate feedback heard during the meeting’s public hearing. The commission is expected to take up the issue again at its Oct. 5 meeting. [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]

Planning Commission Draws Line Differently

woman sitting at desk with projected image behind her of a map

Bonnie Bona, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission, leads the commission through discussion of the 322 E. Kingsley property. On the map projected behind her, that's the light blue sliver to the east of the thick dashed line. The dashed line is the DDA boundary.

At its Tuesday meeting, Ann Arbor’s planning commission voted to adopt a downtown plan that was different in significant ways from the one they’d previously adopted just three months ago. A small D2 (interface) in the South University area has been carved out, when none previously existed on the planning commission’s map. And  a one-parcel-wide expansion of the D2 area has been undertaken to include a property owned by Zingerman’s Deli.

Why was the commission considering the changes? Since the plan’s previous adoption, the city council had undertaken revisions to the proposed city zoning ordinances that had rendered the downtown plan inconsistent with those ordinances.

While the city council has final say over the ordinances, the council and planning commission must agree on the adoption of the same downtown plan. [See previous Chronicle coverage of the commission-council relationship on this issue.]

The planning commission’s action taken Tuesday night does bring its adopted downtown plan closer to consistency with the city council’s proposal for Ann Arbor’s new downtown zoning, but a significant incompatibility in the South University area remains. Before planning commission met, the revised downtown plan was scheduled to be presented for action by council at its June 15, 2009 meeting, with consideration of the final vote on the zoning package on July 6, 2009.  Now that time frame could change, depending on the path taken by council. More on possible outcomes after the break. [Full Story]