Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Glen Ann Place stalled by Historic District Commission

16. September 2005 • Murph
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The Glen Ann Place project already approved by Planning Commission and City Council has been stalled by a Historic District Commission vote against the plan.

Supporters of the project like the $1million affordable housing fund contribution, the property taxes the project will generate for the city – $300k/year, says the News, and importantly outside of the DDA’s TIF district – the addition of residents and businesses within walking distance of many other uses, and the improvement of a currently hostile pedestrian streetscape. Members of the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, on the other hand, fear such a project on the edge of their neighborhood will encourage similar, large projects to push further into the neighborhood.

The News article linked above outlines the history of the project with HDC, CPC and the Council, and presents a picture of high tension between those groups over the project.



  1. Never let it be said that Ann Arbor lacks for inflated egos and those intent on protecting their turf. What are the real issues worth considering?
       —John Q    Sep. 16 '05 - 01:52PM    #
  2. John:

    Direct public impacts: loss of two marginally “historic” houses (Sonia Schmerl, ex-HDCer is quoted as saying she wasn’t thrilled by the value of those houses) which are also existing affordable housing . Potential of overflow parking into the OFW, shadowing and “looming” concerns (check the first link in the main post for a representation).

    Indirect public impacts: “slippery slope” concerns – how likely is this to lead to more projects of similar scale deeper in the OFW?

    Direct public benefits: $300k annually to city budget. (What cuts will this prevent next time around?) $50k for a year’s funding of a historic preservation coordinator position (currently cut by budget problems). $1m to the affordable housing fund. More “eyes on the street” – try waiting for a North Campus bus at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and see how many people you can count around you right now. Not everybody might agree with me on this one, but I’ll list “improved pedestrian environment” on Glen. A nice solid object there will cut down on the sense of exposure to the street that a pedestrian feels. (I speak as somebody who’s spent 6 years travelling between North and Central campuses carfree.)

    Given significant benefit there, how do we mitigate impact?

    * Are those houses really valuable historically? Will they really be a loss in that sense? I heard lots of rhetoric during the budget process that the HDC would be crippled without a staff member – is funding that position for a year a good trade for these houses? Does anybody with a sidelot want to give it to me so that I can buy one of these houses (I’m betting Freed would accept an offer of $10) and move it off site to live in?

    * The loss of two affordable rental housing units I think is already mitigated by the $1m. contribution.

    * Overflow parking concerns can be mitigated by a RPP district that doesn’t include Glen-Ann Place. (Yes, I still think the RPP program is terribly broken, but I’d gladly make another one than sacrifice this project.)

    * “looming” concerns – nothing really can be done.

    * “slippery slope concerns” – everything around this site is R4C and in the historic district. This is not going to make it any easier for a second project like this further west – it would still have to be rezoned to PUD and site planned (that’d be at least 1 CPC hearing, 1 city council hearing, 1 CPC vote, and 3 city council votes (2 readings of rezoning, 1 approval of site plan), and would also have to go through the HDC. As we see here, the HDC has not insignificant power to stop the next project that comes along. It’s kind of ironic that the HDC is acting on their worry about the next project by demonstrating that they have too much power to have any reason for worry.

    So, sure, there are impacts, but I think that the impacts can be fairly easily mitigated in order to make this a clear win.
       —Murph.    Sep. 16 '05 - 02:26PM    #
  3. Setting aside whether or not the project’s benefits outweight the drawbacks, the idea that the Historical District can veto this project and there’s no way to appeal this ruling locally is just BS. Having a commission with such power that is quasi-democratic at best is a problem.

    Perhaps the developer should sign an agreement with the U. The U can contract the developer to build it and then the developer can buy it back when finished.
       —mw    Sep. 16 '05 - 03:31PM    #
  4. A historic district like the Old Fourth Ward is, in general, not supposed to have huge new construction in it. City Council made that decision long ago when it approved the creation of that district. Plus, the City Council’s resolution approving Glen Ann Place said expressly that the Council’s approval was conditional on the Historic District Commission’s approval. So what are assorted Council members whining about?

    Plus, Council has recently appointed most of the Historic District Commission’s members. If their own appointees oppose the project, maybe the HDC knew what it was doing.

    The gossip I have heard says that the Old Fourth Ward’s neighborhood association had made a deal with the developer under which the developer would move the two historic houses elsewhere in the district, and then the neighborhood association would not object to the development. Somehow that deal fell through, with resultant finger pointing.

    Also, the fact that Council wanted the developer to pay the salary for the vacant city staff position of historic district coordinator, in return for the Historic District Commission’s approval of the project has been considered a major insult, in addition to extortion/bribery. This staff person is supposed to support the work of the Historic District Commission, which regulates development. We should not have that staffer dependent for his/her salary on developers. What could Council have been thinking?
       —David Cahill    Sep. 17 '05 - 10:09AM    #
  5. As a nearby property owner,we watched this develop for over 4 years…The first indication the developer gave in early conversations to Old Fourth Ward members was a 5-6 story building. I think a sensitive design would gotten through…

    After the U approved the new glass medical research building, the plan then appeared as 10 story building, matching the height of the mechanicals across the street. The developer never budged from 10 stories, claiming “the numbers don’t work”. (They’re the same developer that took Arborland to the max and are now selling it off to some REIT, and could walk away (back to Chicago) with 30 Million in their back pocket.) It was quietly dropped during the presentation to the Historical Commission that they had answered the concerns of the owner of a 5-story 60’s apartment building on Catherine by buying the building…one would of thought that integrating that site into the plan might have opened some opportunities for a more appropriate solution…but not a word was offered as to their intentions..there was a moment of silence as everyone internally ran out their own vision of the future of that site…

    I flashed on the apartment tower clusters seen from the train to Chicago…

    The issue all along has been the appropriate scale to the street and neighborhood. The houses were never the deal killer.

    With their saccharine courting of favor, and then the transparent leveraging of that as a way to circumvent Historical Commision and The OFW,
    the developer has drawn the eyes and ire of the community…They’re buying property on Ashley, having watched the Calthrope downtown visioning exercise…They think this town is a plum to be picked…to come in, develop and sell. So just when we need visionary developers that can take the long view, Big Box boys come in and option their way to the table…

    Eyes up folks, we deserve better.
       —WAP John    Sep. 18 '05 - 12:15AM    #
  6. Big Box boys come in and option their way to the table…

    I don’t understand this statement. “Big box” is something that has actual meaning – if not particularly well-defined – and that I don’t see an application to here. Big box usually refers to monolithic, single-story, single uses, usually retail, set well back from the street, with large quantities of surface parking and no connection to the land uses around them. The only part of that description that’s even arguably the case here is “no connection”.

    It’s good to voice objections, but they have to be accurate in order to be meaningful. I was with you up until you got to this point.
       —Murph.    Sep. 18 '05 - 10:27AM    #
  7. Two items from this morning’s (Sunday’s) AA News bear directly on this issue.

    In the first-page “Building Blocks” story, jumping to page 13, Freed and Associates’ vice president Ed Connell says he worked on his proposed $30 million Glenn Ann Place project for five years. This time line confirms WAP John’s comment.

    Also, on the first page of the Local section, the City has revealed a “surprise” cash budget surplus of $1.6 million for the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

    If he wants his project to go through, Connell should submit the original 5-6 story concept to the City. I’m sure Freed would make a bigger profit off a 10-story building than a smaller one, but less of a profit is better than no project at all.

    And with its surprise budget surplus, the City should pay the $50,000 salary for the historic district coordinator directly, instead of the bribe/extortion attempt it used with this project.

    With these two changes, and if Freed submits the project to the Historic District Commission before it comes back to Council, everyone should be smiling sweetly.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 18 '05 - 10:44AM    #
  8. I’m betting the project does not have anything close to 5 stories of profit in it. I’d ballpark that maybe 1 story, tops, is “profit”. Knocking off five stories would definitely change the economics of construction, and would require other major changes to the design. What are they? I don’t know, but I’d assume a lot of the underground parking would have to go – less height but more surface parking is more in character with the neighborhood? Hmmmm. The affordable housing contribution would be slashed more than in half (eliminate 5 stories of housing, leaving 3 stories – so we’d be down to $350k or so contribution); the Parks impact fee would similarly be slashed by something like 5/8, since that’s based on residential units.

    It’s not a simple matter of “how much is the developer pillaging the public for?” It’s a matter of “what public benefits are we willing to give up in exchange for other desires?”
       —Murph.    Sep. 18 '05 - 11:04AM    #
  9. Well, if the developer originally was willing to go for 5-6 stories, then he should be willing to settle for that, rather than nothing.

    With the city’s newly-revealed surplus, there should be enough pieces of the puzzle lying around to put together a revised deal. I hope.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 18 '05 - 11:15AM    #
  10. Their mindset is simply the bottom line…recognize a profit opportunity, “value engineer” it, and sell it. Look at Arborland, there was minimal effort in the entrance, parking, plantings and property lines: they built big, cheap structures, filled it with retailers who salivate over the area’s demographics and relatively bright economic future, they then spin it to the REITS, who see it as a perfect deal. Developer cashes out, and is on to the next opportunity…I suppose this is okay for typically suburban retail development with a 20 year lifecycle, but urban Ann Arbor development deserves a more thoughtful, more innovative effort. It takes an organization with a long view, and desire to be part of the community ( I’d put up First Martin..Valassic…O’neal in that group), not a developer with a “Big Box” mindset…
       —WAP John    Sep. 18 '05 - 01:33PM    #
  11. If profit is the only thing on the minds at Freed it’s probably because they’re a business (who’d like to stay in business). And even if Freed has no intention of being a part this community 5 minutes after the completion of the project I fail to see the negative nor the parallel to Arborland. The project in question, whether 5 or 50 stories, is beneficial to the city’s bottom line and the type of mixed-use property which has been proven to be a positive asset to residents and businesses alike in countless areas. They’re not building a mini-mall…
       —FAA    Sep. 18 '05 - 04:18PM    #
  12. If this isn’t an appropriate site for a 10-story building in this town, I don’t know what is. It’s at the bottom of the bloody hill across the street from similarly bulky buildings and on a major traffic corridor and within walking distance of many major employment centers.
       —Brandon    Sep. 18 '05 - 05:00PM    #
  13. The problem with seeing this site as perfectly appropriate for a ten-story building is that it does set up the slippery-slope argument. Once the new Life Sciences building went up, people kept saying that the Glen-Ann site is good for ten-story housing because of the huge building across the street. But then the next development into the Old Fourth Ward will be “well, there is that ten-story building there, so an eight-story building will block that.” I’ve seen it happen a few times just in the last year. It seems a shame to be building ugly buildings just to block the view of other ugly buildings. The Old Forth Ward is a historic district. This developer started off by working with the Old Fourth Ward and designing a building most people were happy with but has changed the plans so much that it makes it almost impossible for the Historic District Commission to approve it. Going from a five-story building to a ten-story building is a big change for a building in a neighborhood.

    As for the much vaunted “affordable housing contribution,” I would like to see some action on that using existing funds. So far, this fund has provided no affordable housing, no upgrades of existing affordable housing, and no plans for what anyone might do with the funds, so adding more money to it is just talk at this point. It isn’t doing anything for affordable housing at this time and I’m not sure it ever will.
       —Juliew    Sep. 18 '05 - 05:26PM    #
  14. “If this isn’t an appropriate site for a 10-story building in this town, I don’t know what is.”

    It sounds like the concerns of the neighbors is that they’ll experience a domino-effect where each 10 story structure justifies the next structure and onward. Whether that’s a real concern or not, based on the past history of the site, you can see how those concerns develop.
       —John Q    Sep. 18 '05 - 05:28PM    #
  15. Geez, Juliew beat me to the punch and said it better to boot!
       —John Q    Sep. 18 '05 - 05:31PM    #
  16. But then the next development into the Old Fourth Ward will be “well, there is that ten-story building there, so an eight-story building will block that.”

    I can’t imagine another viable spot in the OFW upon which to develop a building to block the view of the proposed Freed building. Besides, the Glen Ann Place looks a lot better than the university buildings the OFW currently sees… Not to mention being a step or three up from the broken down gas station the 50’s forgot and parking lot combo currently occupying the space.

    When did the view of a building become such a dreadful thing?
       —FAA    Sep. 18 '05 - 06:22PM    #
  17. The problem with seeing this site as perfectly appropriate for a ten-story building is that it does set up the slippery-slope argument.

    Except that this particular building would be on a major street – anything else next to or near it would not be and, therefore, would not have that important justification.
       —mw    Sep. 18 '05 - 08:06PM    #
  18. With all due respect, Juliew, you have no clue what you’re talking about.

    First, this project cannot be used as part of the “slippery slope” argument because there are much larger and uglier buildings in that area that are CLOSER to the OFW (e.g., the 11-story UM building that’s up the hill).

    Second, the City’s affordable housing trust fund has provided a lot of money for new affordable housing. For example, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to support the Stone School Townhomes in southeast Ann Arbor, which are under construction. These condos are being purchased by low-income working families, many of which earn 60% of the Area Median Income.

    Third, because the trust fund has done so many things, there is not much money left—about $300,000. That doesn’t go very far. The developer’s contribution of $1m would be the biggest in the history of the fund.
       —Long-time reader, first-time writer    Sep. 18 '05 - 08:16PM    #
  19. David’s comment above (With these two changes, and if Freed submits the project to the Historic District Commission before it comes back to Council, everyone should be smiling sweetly.) gets at a major problem I see with development in this town. We (citizens, developers, the city, OFW, affordable housing advocates, parks advocates, etc) lose when development becomes a negotiation. We need to have clear zoning, ordinances, and master plans that will guide the planning commission, city council, historic district commission, and others in making decisions about projects. We say we want mixed-use projects that include affordable housing, walkable streetscapes, parking, green roofs, open space, and other public amenities … and the only way we can get them is through a PUD process. This creates a mentality (and approval process) that every last detail of the project is up for negotiation by everyone in town. The end result is confusion, conflict, delay, and less than ideal projects (and frankly, no good reason to say NO to a project that includes some or most of these things we want, but might be a bit too tall, too wide, or have the wrong color brick). This is not to say that good things haven’t come of PUDs … but don’t you think with clearer guidelines and expectations we’d see projects without so much conflict?

    It was interesting to read Gantert’s article in the paper today – the “good” project he cited was the parking garage and the “bad” project was the Corner Lofts. There could be another reason for this … the Corner Lofts went through the city’s site plan process (I’m assuming it was a PUD). The parking garage went through an RFP process (which means the city got to specify what they want, how much it should cost, etc up front and the design team didn’t have to figure out how to fit in the “extras” that the community may or may not demand as part of the approval process). I’m hopeful that through the Calthorpe visioning process we can figure out what it is we want in our dowtown (and they maybe later the rest of the city) ... and amend our codes and plans accordingly.
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 18 '05 - 08:58PM    #
  20. Interesting LTRFTW. Good to know that the affordable housing fund is being used for something. In talking to several City Council and Planning Commission members over the last few months, their comments led me to think otherwise. I checked out the Stone School web site and don’t see the City of Ann Arbor Housing Trust Fund on the list of partners. Interesting too that it is done by a Christian “Faith-based Community Development Corporation.” I wonder how our non-Christian residents feel about the city promoting faith-based affordable housing. Does anyone out there have more information on this?
       —Juliew    Sep. 18 '05 - 09:01PM    #
  21. “Well, if the developer originally was willing to go for 5-6 stories, then he should be willing to settle for that, rather than nothing.”

    As WAP John stated, that was years ago. The difference in the past year or so is that the price of steel and cement has risen greatly due to increased demand in China (primarily). At least one other local development is on hold for this reason.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 18 '05 - 09:06PM    #
  22. I watched the HDC meeting (noting it in real time here) and thought the members were generally unreasonable in their behavior. They were upset about 2 things: that they felt slighted by the developer over the past year and that the building wasn’t 5 stories instead of 10 (which they had suggested). Both seemed petty to me, but I think they voted correctly (though I would love to see a mid-rise building go here).

    An historic district ordinance exists for a reason and should be followed (as should any duly developed city ordinance). However, this part of the district is really no longer historic. Check this 1931 Sanborn map and you’ll see much of the historic context for these two homes are gone. The gas station isn’t even in play. Let’s rewrite the ordinance without this section, and maybe include some measures for exchange of resources within an historic district (eg allow for a project like this and moving the houses as long as there is re/investment within another part of the historic district).

    I’d hate to give up the million dollars in affordable housing money, but I hate a byzantine political process for new developments even more. Affordable housing and preservation should not be played off against each other as they are in this project. They really can work together, and I’m with JHall on the need for clear, meaningful planning guiding development.
       —Dale    Sep. 18 '05 - 09:36PM    #
  23. “They’re not building a mini-mall…”

    no, but their development process is the same: short horizon view, gaming the system, “value engineering”, develop and flip…

    and from their deafing silence after they dropped the news of the purchase of 1010 Catherine, we can only expect the same game there…

    In granting the PUD, the city is handed Freed a gold mine: one couldn’t imagine a more lucurative rental senario; well-paid professionals in a recession-proof industry who see the future and want to park the car.($2200 /one bedroom was mentioned in working sessions). The REITS will love this story… In return, Freed offered up mediocre design, then in lieu of meaningful negotiation, cash payments specifically planned to divide the community…This smells, we deserve a better process.
       —WAP John    Sep. 18 '05 - 10:28PM    #
  24. ”[B]ut don’t you think with clearer guidelines and expectations we’d see projects without so much conflict?”

    In theory – the problem is that most of the things that you listed as being desirable public amenities (affordable housing, walkable streetscapes, parking, green roofs, open space, and other public amenities) would likely not stand up to legal challenge if they were made requirements of the zoning ordinance or as a standalone city ordinance.

    Cities don’t have the legal authority to require developers to provide affordable housing or build green roofs or provide open space, etc. That’s why they are negotiated through the PUD process. The city can “extract” those public benefits in exchange for concessions on areas which the city can legally regulate – zoning, height, density, etc. So in a world where everything could be regulated, you could have ordinances that would require developers to provide everything. But that’s not the current legal framework for development in Ann Arbor or any Michigan community. So you do the best you can with the tools that you have.
       —John Q.    Sep. 18 '05 - 11:55PM    #
  25. I think massive zoning reform ought to become a major priority for city leaders—we mandate Livonia-style suburbia in our ordinances, and make developers have to go through an arduous PUD process to build anything remotely urban and pedestrian-oriented. As usual, Ann Arbor is so “Progressive.”
       —Brandon    Sep. 19 '05 - 09:38AM    #
  26. Can I ask – what exactly would we find acceptable? AFAICT, this project has a lot of the things that this town has asked for.

    * all underground parking
    * mixed uses, with pedestrian-oriented ground floor and residential above
    * large contribution to the affordable housing fund
    * infill (and I’d guess brownfield, considering the gas station) redevelopment, including removal of surface parking
    * reduction in impermeable surfaces (since new construction has to retain storm water)

    And what did it take to put that all together? Five years of work. And now we’re going to say, “no, totally off-base. go spend another few years on it.” How many more times do you think we can jerk them around before they decide that Pulte and Toll Bros have the right idea, that trying to work within Ann Arbor is useless, and that the right way to build this project is to plop each of the 120 housing units on half acre lots somewhere in Superior Township, the office in some bland office park down on South State Street, and the retail in a strip mall off I-94?

    How many times are we going to sneeringly misapply “mini-mall” and “big box” before the developer takes us up and goes to build exactly those? I can assure you that building mini-malls involves nothing like 5 years of work – the fact that Freed has spent so long trying to pull this project together is evidence (to me, at least) that they’re committed to producing good developments. If they were just interested in extracting the maximum profit from their project, it would not be downtown.
       —Murph.    Sep. 19 '05 - 09:39AM    #
  27. all underground parking
    mixed uses, with pedestrian-oriented ground floor and residential above
    large contribution to the affordable housing fund
    infill (and I’d guess brownfield, considering the gas station) redevelopment, including removal of surface parking
    reduction in impermeable surfaces (since new construction has to retain storm water)

    The problem is that this building only has these things after five years and lots of haggling and it comes at a cost, which is that it is twice the size of the originally-proposed building. Now it may be that we simply can not have all of these items unless the building is a minimum of ten stories, but it is done all the time in other places so I’m not sure I believe that. It would be much better to have these things as requirements up front, so a developer knows going in what the costs are and then can design a good building around those requirements. Unfortunately the system we have in place ends up making everyone unhappy. I think we can agree that spending five years working on a project that is eventually turned down by the Historic District Commission is a ridiculous waste of time and money. The big question is: how do we actually fix the process so it works better for everyone?
       —Juliew    Sep. 19 '05 - 11:09AM    #
  28. And, as long as I’m on the topic of “never satisfied” –
    I wonder how our non-Christian residents feel about the city promoting faith-based affordable housing.

    This non-Christian feels just fine about it. Obviously, if it comes out that they’re denying applicants based on religious beliefs, family status, or sexuality, then I expect the city to take the money back with interest, but, as long as they’re not doing anything of the sort, I say, “Affordable housing – right on!”

    Looking at the Stone School operation’s webpage, it looks like they’re doing the “affordable homeownership in perpetuity” thing pretty well. The only improvement that could be made would be to include in the resale formula an assessment of home condition and capital improvements made by the homeowner in the allowed resale price, rather then restricting it to a pure AMI calculation. This would, of course, mean that units either gradually work their way out of affordability or else require small additional subsidies at each turnover in order to buy them back down to the target affordability level.

    I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of the view of homosexuality that the CDC’s parent organization, Christian Love Fellowship Ministries International, espouses. If I’m reading their webpage right, they define homosexuality as a lifestyle or an act emerging from a gender identity that is confused as a result of incest.

    But that just brings me back to my original point – as long as their housing operation does not discriminate, I’d rather have them providing affordable housing than nobody.
       —Murph.    Sep. 19 '05 - 11:21AM    #
  29. Now it may be that we simply can not have all of these items unless the building is a minimum of ten stories, but it is done all the time in other places so I’m not sure I believe that.

    Examples?

    Part of the difference is location-specific. I’ve heard developers (guest speakers in Peter Allen’s class) state that every builder in the region tacks on an “Ann Arbor premium” to the cost of work done here (can’t remember what percent they stated; I’d have to dig back through notes). There’s also a cost to working with a demanding populace – having lawyers, architects, engineers, and planners working on a design and PUD agreement for five years (as well as maintaining options on the properties – from the tax DB, it looks like Freed hasn’t bought the two houses yet) gets awfully expensive. I don’t have any way of knowing for sure how much or little profit Freed would get out of 10 stories, or what would have to be lost to back down to five stories, but what Freed says is at least consistant with everything else I know about local development.

    I think we can agree that spending five years working on a project that is eventually turned down by the Historic District Commission is a ridiculous waste of time and money.

    Yes, definitely. How to fix it? I don’t know. John Q. notes that it’s hard to put things like green roofs into zoning because they might fall into the category of unconstitutional exactions – though I think that, with a well-written plan and codes, it would be all right. The Supreme Court has upheld exactions as long as there’s an “essential nexus” between some legitimate public purpose and the exaction required (Nollan, 483 U.S. 825 (1987)), and that the exaction required is “roughly proportional” to the impact upon the public purpose created by the project (Dolan, 512 U.S. 374 (1994)).

    Controlling stormwater runoff and flooding is, I think, a clearly accepted “public purpose” that a green roof requirement could be tied to. I don’t know if the “urban heat island” effect has ever been used as a public purpose justification for any exaction, but a decent case could be made for it in terms of “health and general welfare”. Pile up enough of these justifications in the plan behind the code, and developers won’t want to go to the effort of testing “rough proportionality” in court. They’ll either accept it or they won’t. (And “won’t” means they’ll go build Canton Twp style developments instead, so we can’t go too nuts here…)

    The other way to go would be to use pre-defined “premiums” – extra FAR for certain features, in order to codify trade-offs involved in the PUD process. (Much like the affordable housing units-or-cash formula currently existing), but I can hear the CPC and Council members reading this wince already. You can thank poorly-designed existing premiums in the zoning code for the stupid arcade around 1 North Main – yes, they actually got bonus height for making the building less pedestrian-friendly.

    (This post is a test to see whether my Legal Aspects of the Planning Process professor is reading…)
       —Murph.    Sep. 19 '05 - 11:42AM    #
  30. “Now it may be that we simply can not have all of these items unless the building is a minimum of ten stories, but it is done all the time in other places so I’m not sure I believe that.”

    In addition to what Murph wrote in response, I suspect there’s a difference between what “is done all the time in other places” and what was done there not so long ago, due to some important cost differences which I mentioned in #21.

    So if you’re looking for comparable examples, going back more than a year probably wouldn’t result in a fair comparison.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 19 '05 - 11:50AM    #
  31. Of the “benefits” offered;
    Parking: there is no parking for visitors or employees.
    “Mixed use” is a no brainer; it’s the most profitable.
    You get infill and storm water reduction with any project in the city these days…
    Money…we get money. Affordable housing will blow through that in a year or two, and the mediocrity will stand for a century…

    “the fact that Freed has spent so long trying to pull this project together is evidence (to me, at least) that they’re committed to producing good developments..”.
    no, it’s because it is so damn profitable…

    If they come downtown, propose plans to have an impact on the citizens for decades to come, then will develop and flip…they ought to play by “the rules” this town is known for; you work with all parties, have a little give and take, develop a consensus, ... The Hospital did that when developing the parking deck behind 300 North Ingalls…Luckenbach people came in, presented a series of preliminary designs and got feedback…and delivered a sensitive design to the streetscape and neighborhood.

    Freed offered no changes to their original plan other than faux cosmetic changes and simply upped the cash pay-offs…Their clumsey, insensitive behavior got them into this situation….They’ve earned the “sneeringly misapplyed” Big Box developer title by their Arborland effort…actions speak louder than…
       —WAP John    Sep. 19 '05 - 12:19PM    #
  32. “Money…we get money. Affordable housing will blow through that in a year or two, and the mediocrity will stand for a century…”

    I question whether this is worth responding to, but your evaluation of affordable housing is telling. Quite so.
       —Dale    Sep. 19 '05 - 01:16PM    #
  33. The mediocrity I was referring to was the Freed designed building, not affordable housing.
       —WAP John    Sep. 19 '05 - 02:02PM    #
  34. While many of the things Murph and others would like to see may be beneficial, the Freed project puts them in the wrong place.

    If a property is within a historic district, the City Council has already ruled the property “off limits” for big developments. The Historic District Commission is in charge of handing out narrow exceptions.

    As for Jennifer’s suggestion that not everything should be subject to negotiation, in this town, big developments always will be. There are too many active interest groups for the situation to be otherwise. And if Council strays too much from what the voters want, there are annual elections.

    Any attempt to write standards for projects that will give definite results is doomed to failure. An abstract system of standards will not satisfy property owners and others whose properties are not abstract to them: they are real.

    Can someone post the text of the ordinance that sets the standards that the Historic District Commission is to follow for new construction in the Old Fourth Ward?
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 19 '05 - 02:10PM    #
  35. Examples?

    Murph, I just returned from a week in Minneapolis and it seemed like four to six-story condos and mixed-use buildings (most with on-site parking) were popping up all over the place. I just found this site which doesn’t go into detail, but shows some of the properties that were built in the last year.

    While I was poking around, I found a link to a pertinent article on building “sustainable” buildings in Minneapolis and the pros and cons of adding such requirements to the code.
       —Juliew    Sep. 19 '05 - 04:05PM    #
  36. Here is the language from the Old Fourth Ward Historic District title of Ann Arbor’s Register of Historic Places:

    8:6.  Demolition.  No person shall demolish or move a significant or complementary historic structure unless such demolition or moving is authorized pursuant to City Code Section 8:409.  In either case, the Historic District Commission may approve the demolition or moving if it receives satisfactory evidence that it will be replaced by a structure having a design which is consistent with the historic architecture of the district.  Non-contributing structures may be demolished, altered, or moved without the prior approval of the Historic District Commission.
    8:7.  Administration.  Where the prior approval of the Historic District Commission is required, the Commission shall make its determination following adequate notice and hearing based on the compatibility of the proposed work with the style, materials, period, proportion, design, roof pitch, number and location of openings, scale, color, and texture of the building  and based on its impact on adjacent buildings in the historic district.

    End of text.

    No wonder Glen Ann Place was turned down! There is no way that the proposed 10-story building fits these criteria.
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 19 '05 - 04:49PM    #
  37. I have a feeling that land, construction, and approval costs are much lower in Minneapolis as well. But someone can correct me if this is incorrect.
       —Brandon    Sep. 19 '05 - 04:52PM    #
  38. Brandon, looking at the prices of some of these condos, I definitely think you are correct that the costs of building are lower in Minneapolis. However, looking at census data, the “rent as percentage of household income” is closer than I thought. Minneapolis is at 25.7% and Ann Arbor is 28.7% (Ann Arbor’s household income is about $10,000 more/year than Minneapolis). The big difference is in home ownership where average cost/month here is $1,369 and it is $957 in Minneapolis. Surprisingly, the average home age is much older in Minneapolis (1939) than in Ann Arbor (1961). Presumably that will change somewhat after the next census with this building boom. The sense I got was that Minneapolis has made building as easy as possible in order to reverse some period of urban decay. As one woman I talked to said: “Minneapolis is now a city of condos.”
       —Juliew    Sep. 19 '05 - 05:22PM    #
  39. If a property is within a historic district, the City Council has already ruled the property “off limits” for big developments. . . .As for Jennifer’s suggestion that not everything should be subject to negotiation, in this town, big developments always will be.

    So historic districts aren’t really “off limits”, it’s just that there’s something extra added to the negotiation?

    Any attempt to write standards for projects that will give definite results is doomed to failure.

    Such as a standard that says, “Within a historic district, all properties must conform to these requirements”?

    too many active interest groups for the situation to be otherwise. And if Council strays too much from what the voters want, there are annual elections.

    I’m certainly glad that you’re not one of those ridiculous people objecting to being called an “activist”, but that you go ahead and acknowledge that “no change in historic neighborhoods” is one among many interest groups. And I’ll certainly agree that if Council doesn’t go along with what the voters want, there are periodic opportunities to mete out consequences. I suppose the question is, “How many of the voters really want Ann Arbor to stay just the way it is?”
       —Murph.    Sep. 19 '05 - 08:24PM    #
  40. How many property owners are there in the city?
       —Dale    Sep. 19 '05 - 08:43PM    #
  41. The big difference is in home ownership where average cost/month here is $1,369 and it is $957 in Minneapolis.

    This is due to the much higher percentage of condominium to single-family housing in Minneapolis than in Ann Arbor.

    The sense I got was that Minneapolis has made building as easy as possible in order to reverse some period of urban decay.

    Right you are – though WAP John would call a number of the properties “Big Box” quality, and this time I would agree.

    “Minneapolis is now a city of condos.”

    And it has been having an interesting affect upon housing. Add a gentrification-inducing condo to the middle of an otherwise depressed area and the surrounding homes are bought and fixed up (and in turn valued up) nearly as fast as developers can finish their building.
       —FAA    Sep. 19 '05 - 08:49PM    #
  42. Does anyone want to make a principled argument that Glen Ann Place does indeed meet the legal criteria I have posted in #36 above?
       —David Cahill    Sep. 19 '05 - 09:40PM    #
  43. “Does anyone want to make a principled argument that Glen Ann Place does indeed meet the legal criteria I have posted in #36 above?”

    Browsing through the (extremely annoying) municode.com interface to the city code, I can’t find any 8:6 or the text you quote. Maybe somebody else can explain this to me….

    There is a section 8:409, which, though it lists some “considerations”, doesn’t appear to require the commission to use only those considerations when deciding whether to accept an application.
       —Bruce Fields    Sep. 19 '05 - 10:22PM    #
  44. Bruce, what I cited is not in the City Code itself, but rather in the Register of Historic Places. I found it by going to the City’s web site, choosing “Historic Preservation” from a list of services, then clicking on Historic Districts, and finally clicking on the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. The text of the provisions governing the Old Fourth Ward are there.

    I was confused also.
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 20 '05 - 10:33AM    #
  45. “However, looking at census data, the “rent as percentage of household income” is closer than I thought. Minneapolis is at 25.7% and Ann Arbor is 28.7% (Ann Arbor’s household income is about $10,000 more/year than Minneapolis). The big difference is in home ownership where average cost/month here is $1,369 and it is $957 in Minneapolis.”

    Students are often counted as part of their parents’ household in the census, which might throw things off a bit.
       —ann arbor is overrated    Sep. 20 '05 - 10:54AM    #
  46. “Bruce, what I cited is not in the City Code itself, but rather in the Register of Historic Places. I found it by going to the City’s web site, choosing “Historic Preservation” from a list of services, then clicking on Historic Districts, and finally clicking on the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. The text of the provisions governing the Old Fourth Ward are there.”

    Oh, I see, thanks! So the register of historic places is a separate document from the city code, though the two refer to each other.

    It’s a bit complicated to figure out how the two interact; if one would permit the commission to approve an application, and the other wouldn’t, which takes precedence?

    I think it’s going to be difficult, though, to make an argument that the commission is legally required to consider a limited list of criteria when accepting an application; 804:9 seems to allow an awful lot of lattitude. (For example, it may approve an application if “Retaining the structure is not in the best interest of the majority of the community”).

    Even if the registry overrode this, which I don’t think it does, the text you quote isn’t so restrictive: “the Historic District Commission may approve the demolition or moving if….” Note that’s an “if”, not an “if and only if”.

    Hm, the language in 8:409 on “deterioration” is interesting; I doubt my previous landlord at 311 E. Ann was in compliance…. A cute old house, but he didn’t seem very interested in taking care of it.
       —Bruce Fields    Sep. 20 '05 - 11:26AM    #
  47. Just a quick correction/clarification, popping back up to the discussion of Stone School Townhomes and POWER – with a little more digging, it looks like POWER is not the primary entity in Stone School, but one of the members of the Washtenaw Housing Education Partners , which looks like a Washtenaw County / MSU Extension service, with either WHEP or Community Housing Alternatives as the primary parrtner in Stone School. It’s just that POWER has the best website. (CHA I can only find a phone number for?)

    Hopefully nobody was too put out by the idea that a bunch of radical right-wingers were in charge of this housing – re-reading the part of their site that talks about it, I can’t really tell what their role is relative to anybody else’s – the only mention of approval requirements I can find is that applicants (and resale prices) have to be approved by the City of Ann Arbor.
       —Murph.    Sep. 20 '05 - 11:35AM    #
  48. Here’s the City page that Bruce and Dave are referring to – Old Fourth Ward Historic District

    Bruce – from sitting on the ICC’s board for a while, I can tell you that the Historic District requirements can discourage upkeep of houses. (The ICC has 7 houses in the OFW, I believe.) If you’re required by the Historic District to do exterior upkeep in the most expensive manner available, and you’re trying to run an affordable housing operation, then the obvious way to deal with the Historic requirements is to put off exterior upkeep as long as possible (without it creating further problems) so as to discount the cost of doing it. (I think we finally got permission to put faux-wood siding (made of blown or spun concrete?) on one of the houses, which should save some repaint/repair cycles, but it took years of negotiation.)
       —Murph.    Sep. 20 '05 - 11:47AM    #
  49. I don’t mean to sound like I’m totally anti-historic district, by the way. I’ve always felt the OFW and the OWS to be among the more pleasant residential neighborhoods in town – though I’ll also put the South (“student”) neighborhood in that category. These neighborhoods are not pleasant because of the historic districts, obviously, but the other way around – the historic districts are set up because the neighborhoods are recognized to have desireable features.

    Where I disagree with Dave, I think, is that I don’t see the Historic Districts as forbidding change. I think they’re set up to acknowledge that there’s something there worth preserving, and that change should have some higher standard of scrutiny in order to make sure it will not cause undue harm to the things that are preserving, but treating it as a way to make an area totally “off-limits” to any sort of change is not useful.
       —Murph.    Sep. 20 '05 - 11:53AM    #
  50. The sad thing is that the amount of money that this property owner pissed away on this single project could have paid for a City Planner and a “professional” Historic Preservationist, plus overhead, to work for an entire year to get this project approved…and he’d still come out ahead.

    And, hmmmm, I wonder if the city would have like to have had the, oh, million-plus dollars in tax revenue that we missed out on….

    The same could have been said for my dinky little project. We could have paid the salary and overhead for 3 or 4 staffers at Planning and Building to work on our project for a week or two and still have come out ahead on costs…..and we would’ve been open six month earlier. Lame.

    This system is so beyond broken, I can’t believe that anyone finds this situation even marginally acceptable. I am praying to god that we follow the Calthorpe exercise to its logical conclusion, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Anyone catch the presentation at the library by that Bob Gibbs fellow on retail shopping in the Ann Arbor area? His lecture sounded awful familiar…......
       —todd    Sep. 20 '05 - 01:15PM    #
  51. could have paid for a City Planner and a “professional” Historic Preservationist, plus overhead

    Todd – is the developer hiring these people to find ways to make the project agreeable to its detractors? Or to tell him that it’s useless no matter what and to take his business elsewhere?
       —Murph.    Sep. 20 '05 - 02:47PM    #
  52. As for Jennifer’s suggestion that not everything should be subject to negotiation, in this town, big developments always will be. There are too many active interest groups for the situation to be otherwise.

    True, big developments will always be subject to some level of negotiation. But I don’t agree with the suggestion that too many active interest groups in this city is a reason to keep the system as is. It’s because of these passionate and active interest groups that I believe the city would be better served by clearer expectations. At the end of the day, I think the entire community broadly supports many of the goals these specific interest groups represent: we all want a community that can house a diverse range of people with varied incomes, we all want to protect the environment, we all want to see the historic elements of our community preserved. If we have the greens fighting the affordable housing advocates or the affordable housing advocates fighting the historic preservationists ... who wins in the end? What we get is a lot of conflict and a project that tried to cater to one or more of these groups, but is really making no one happy. I’m not sure how to do it (but it’s become a mission to try) ... but we need to have a set of clearer standards and processes so we get better inspired projects that include elements of what we want.

    I do agree with Murph, the Glen Ann project does contain a number of things that are beneficial to this community. That’s one reason I recommended approval. (Does it have everything under the sun that we could possibly want … NO, but is it reasonable to expect that any project will?) The CPC has a different set of standards than the HDC when evaluating the project in relation to the neighborhood and my evaluation of the neighborhood did not just include the OFW … it included the parking structure on Catherine, the medical campus, the Life Sciences bldg and the Power Center as well as the OFW.

    The sense I got was that Minneapolis has made building as easy as possible in order to reverse some period of urban decay.

    Minneapolis established a program a number of years ago called the Neighborhood Revitilization Program or NRP. The city decided it would better serve the citizen’s interests (and get more housing in the city) if they gave the $$ to neighborhoods directly to decide how to spend it. These were mostly state funds and the stipulation put on by the state legislature was that something like 40% of the $$ citywide be spent on housing. Each of the city’s officially recognized neighborhoods (think more like small council wards, not neighborhoods like here in A2) could decide how much of it’s $$ to allocate to their schools, parks, environmental protection, housing, business development, etc. I lived in Minneapolis for 5 years and served on my board for nearly all that time. Our neighborhood had pretty good housing stock, so we put most of our $$ into the school, traffic calming, environmental protection and parks. Other neighborhoods, in bad need of affordable housing and commercial revitilization, spent their $$ on that. I’m not suggesting that this program was always rosy (there were conflicts and an incredible amount of red tape) ... but I do think the key to the success stories (and there are many) is the public-private partnership in the development. The neighborhood controlled a lot of the $$ that went into these developments – that means they got to have a say as to what they looked like and who they served.

    I’ve thought a lot about the NRP program and it’s applicability to A2. I’m not sure it’s possible or even needed … but one lesson we could learn from it is related to the development of city owned lots downtown. I hope the city issues a very specific RFP, based in part on output from the Calthrope process, so we get the kind of project (design, scale, mixed-use, affordable housing, green roof, green design, etc … ) that we can all celebrate and will be an example for some other city to model.

    Sorry for the long winded message … I don’t get on the computer often enough to keep up with the discussion and really wanted to share these thoughts.
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 20 '05 - 04:21PM    #
  53. Bruce, in legal drafting style “if” in this usage means “if and only if”. And yes, the Register language governs.

    And will someone get Jennifer to a computer more often? 8-)
       —David Cahill    Sep. 20 '05 - 05:54PM    #
  54. “Todd – is the developer hiring these people to find ways to make the project agreeable to its detractors? Or to tell him that it’s useless no matter what and to take his business elsewhere?

    Well, I guess that I meant that the process is so slow, cumbersome, and expensive, that it’d be a better system if, as an example, I had paid the full salary and overhead for the whole of the planning and building staff to sit down with Scott and I personally for 48 hours to approve our project. It would take a bit longer for the larger project, obviously, and more staff.

    What is in the way, as usual….is public comment. So my repsonse, as usual, is to move the public comment upstream, long before this project was dreamed up, and put out bfp’s for the whole damn area. Problem solved. Spec out entire blocks. We would gain millions in tax revenue. Housing/rents would hold fast or drop. We’d get the retail that is so sorely needed, and we’d compete with all the big box retail and McMansions that are/will be springing up all over town. In addition, we could save/strenghten the “historic” parts of town, and save what little local business is left here. Heck, you could even find a way to pay for a greenway if the infastructure and tax base exists to support its installation cost and maintenance.

    This city is in desperate need of a benign dictator to force citizens to think long term instead of this crippling project by project crap. My hope is that Calthorpe has started the process….

    Calthorpe said that there was, what, one nice large building in the downtown area currently. The current system isn’t working….unless, of course, you own property near downtown and could give two figs about anyone but yourself.
       —todd    Sep. 21 '05 - 09:34AM    #
  55. Problem solved.

    To play devil’s advocate –
    What about the people who think Ann Arbor is fine “just the way it is” and doesn’t need to change? I think there are a number of people in this town who would be happy to have public comment moved upstream so that they only have to mobilize once in order to shut down everything. Problem solved, but not in a way you or I would like.

    It’s a lot harder to mobilize people to think of a better future, to honestly examine problems and agree to work towards solutions, than it is to get people out to protect what they already have. Ann Arbor’s got plenty of conservatives, in a literal sense – they’ve got something they like, and they fear anything that might change anything, because any change might threaten what they have.

    Of course, if we did move public comment upstream and this was the result, it would make my decision of whether to househunt in A2 or Ypsi a whole lot easier…
       —Murph.    Sep. 21 '05 - 10:31AM    #
  56. Calthorpe said that there was, what, one nice large building in the downtown area currently.

    Yes, and I’ve heard them say that that one building is the bank building at the corner of Washington and Main … it’s about 100 years old?

    move public comment upstream

    There is a third option for public participation … and that is at the concept stage. We have seen many examples where the developers sought out the neighborhood for input long before they were committed to a particular design. And I think it does work to decrease the amount of conflict because it involves all stakeholders in the design and creation of the project. It is very important that citizens have input (I do disagree with Todd’s suggestion that city staff alone approve a project … government oversight by the citizenry is very important for all levels of government … we wouldn’t want Bush’s staff to have free reign over our country, now would we?) ... but the public hearing phase is often too late for meaningful change to happen (too much money has been invested already). Some cities have ordinances that require these neighborhood meetings early in the project … do you think that would be desirable or work in A2?
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 21 '05 - 10:54AM    #
  57. “What about the people who think Ann Arbor is fine “just the way it is” and doesn’t need to change?”

    My simple answer to them is that they are the people who are changing Ann Arbor the most. I’ve explained this several times here at Arbor Update. The biggest changes in Ann Arbor (cost of living, housing, loss of local business/character) are a direct result of doing absolutely nothing.

    “It’s a lot harder to mobilize people to think of a better future, to honestly examine problems and agree to work towards solutions, than it is to get people out to protect what they already have.”

    If this is the case, and maybe it is, then Scott and I were wise to change our business model so that, when the time comes, and rents and taxes are through the roof, we will leave. I have zero interest in living in a city that operates like a resort town….where the haves tell the have nots “not here, pal”. Ann Arbor is supposed to be a trend setting town, with many, many educated citizens who care about things like social justice and honest, no holds barred environmentalism. I want no part of a community that focuses on property rights rather than human or environmental rights.

    I am telling you and Jennifer that this input must be moved upstream, or Ann Arbor will continue down the same path that cities like Boulder have…and it will be a city for rich white guys surrounded by miles of shopping malls. Jennifer: you just returned from Boulder. What did you see? Tell me I’m wrong.

    If, as you say, Jennifer, public input must be included…..then make them an oversight committee. Allowing public input after a plan comes to the Commission is recipe for disaster, for all sides.

    We’re going to keep getting what we’re asking for: middling mediocrity with no truly great integrated projects. The construction $$$ will continue to run to surrounding areas, because the demand is there. Ann Arbor half-assed liberals (who are really Republicans) cannot shut down the demand for housing and retail. It will appear in Wash. County whether they like it or not. Focusing these projects outside of city center will increase our taxes, jack up the cost of living, and make housing for anyone but the very wealthy impossible.

    Anyone with an IQ above room temperature can see this. It’s economics at it’s lowest level. If a pinhead distiller can figure this out, where the heck are the rest of all the brilliant Ann Arborites when you need them?

    Doing nothing is not an option if you care about affordability or walkability/honest environmentalism. That’s a given.

    Enough rant…....
       —todd    Sep. 21 '05 - 11:32AM    #
  58. Todd –
    I agree with you mostly. Currently we’re operating on a system with almost no upstream planning (existing master plans are mostly pretty vague and hold little power, else we wouldn’t be in this situation), which leads to everything being up for discussion at the project approval point. How many times has CPC had the discussion about whether it’s right to put the burden of affordable housing on PUDs, or whether it should be on all development, and whether in lieu payments are a good idea, and whether affordable housing is desirable in A2 at all, and whether it’s possible in A2 at all?

    Too many – this is a discussion to have maybe once every five years on a level at which it’ll actually stick, so that CPC doesn’t have to spend an hour on it during every PUD approval. And there are a great number of conversations that need to be held on such a level and at such intervals. E.g. “How sacrosanct are historic districts? ‘Untouchable’, or, ‘heightened scrutiny’?”

    There’s still some place for project-level review, though – the upstream input/requirements still need to be applied to the individual project. This is what CPC should be doing, if we were giving them enough leverage/guidance to do it, rather than throwing them out there to flail around and grab hold of whatever they can. Public input is appropriate at this phase, but in the context of upstream decisions, and not trumping. “I think that in-lieu-of payments are bad and that affordable housing should be required on site!” Noted, but we’ve already decided that in-lieu-of fees are acceptable, and that’s not something that’s up for negotiation on this project.

    Of course, we can’t totally halt everything while we fix all of the upstream stuff – we’d never get going again.
       —Murph.    Sep. 21 '05 - 12:23PM    #
  59. Jennifer, I really like your idea of early neighborhood meetings! That way, people’s ideas might actually be taken into account by the developer.

    Which cities use this approach?
       —David Cahill    Sep. 21 '05 - 12:47PM    #
  60. Which cities use this approach?
    Auburn Hills has this ordinance. I have the specific language in a michigan planning newsletter – I couldn’t find it online. If you email me at jennifer.s.hall@sbcglobal.net, I’ll send a scanned copy to anyone who’s interested.

    Jennifer: you just returned from Boulder. What did you see?

    Yes, Boulder has a bit of a Stepford feel to it. All of us from A2 felt proud that A2 had more economic and cultural diversity (for those who may not know, a delegation from A2 … dda, merchants associations, planning commission, city council, city staff recently went to visit Boulder and to the International Downtown Assoc conference in Denver).

    That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t something to learn from Boulder. They wrote a VERY specific comprehensive plan for their downtown. It only took them 2 years. Our Northeast Area plan is going on 6 or 7 years … (and every week that goes by that we’re still debating over site recommendations, that’s a week that we don’t have good guidance for our decision making).

    The developers said they like the plan because they now know what the community wants and since it’s adoption, they don’t get held up during the review phase. And … their review phase includes multiple trips to a design review board, historic review board and the planning board.

    I agree a lot with Todd and Murph’s comments. This town depends on businesses like Leopold Bros. to be successful … so we shouldn’t be making it hard for them to locate here or stay here. I am tired of having a 1 hour debate about affordable housing for every PUD that comes forward. It’s not a good use of anyone’s time. It’s not why the planning commission exists. And every bit of time that is spent debating the merits of our cash-in-lieu system … we aren’t spending time looking at design issues, site plan issues, etc. which are part of our purvue.

    How do we get it to stop happening? Citizen participation ordinances? Faster master planning? More access/more communication? I’m searching for ideas …
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 21 '05 - 03:20PM    #
  61. Re: improvements that can be made to the city process: I think we need professional planners to write the zoning ordinances. It’s ridiculous that the planning commission committee writes the ordinances and holds them up for months at a time (b/c they meet only once a month). If we had even one staff person who could be dedicated solely to revising the ordinances full-time, the zoning ordinance wouldn’t be the sorry piece of outdated policy it is today.

    I also think we need to give more leeway and credence to the planners, not less. The NEAP has taken so long almost solely because of the huge and muddled citizen input process. It’s a nightmare for nearly everyone involved, and it ought to have passed long ago.
       —KGS    Sep. 21 '05 - 06:39PM    #
  62. “Bruce, in legal drafting style “if” in this usage means “if and only if”. ”

    Weird. Where is that documented?

    “And yes, the Register language governs.”

    Why is that?
       —Bruce Fields    Sep. 22 '05 - 10:05PM    #
  63. KGS, thanks for the support for my profession! I was a co-oper long enough to agree that writing rules by committee is painful and ineffective – better to have a present-comment-revise cycle.

    Definitely there is a point in these processes where planners, lawyers, architects, and historic preservationists need to have strong hands – the public process can be used to figure out what’s desired, but you then want somebody with the domain-specific knowledge writing the ordinance. And maybe the CPC comes back with, “well, this sounds like it would do x, is that true?” and the professional does the research to find out how to fix the undesireable behavior noted.
       —Murph.    Sep. 23 '05 - 07:22AM    #
  64. Bruce, in a nutshell, “if” is used here because the City is granting the HDC authority. Also, the register’s language governs because that is its purpose. It contains the specifics for each historic district.

    I’m just a harmless suburban lawyer. You might consider asking another lawyer for his/her opinion on these issues.
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 23 '05 - 09:16AM    #
  65. “I think we need professional planners to write the zoning ordinances.”

    Is that how the process actually works? I can’t believe the commissioners actually write the text. Doesn’t the staff and lawyers draft the text and the commissioners review it and suggest changes?
       —John Q    Sep. 23 '05 - 12:32PM    #
  66. “Bruce, in a nutshell, “if” is used here because the City is granting the HDC authority.”

    In math one leaves out the “only if” in definitions (“call an integer even if it is divisible by 2”) so by analogy I guess the same convention makes sense for an initial grant of authority. Although in this case the HDC already has such authority; hence my assumption that the list of criteria here is just adding to the preexisting list granted by 8:409.

    “Also, the register’s language governs because that is its purpose. It contains the specifics for each historic district.”

    I have a hard time squaring that with stuff like, from 8:407, “All of the procedures and penalties set forth within this chapter are applicable to the properties set forth in the register.”

    “You might consider asking another lawyer for his/her opinion on these issues.”

    Opinions are boring, it’s reasons that are interesting….

    But nitpicking aside, if your interpretation were right, that’d be kind of a shame. You wouldn’t really want to keep a building when doing so is “not in the best interest of the majority of the community”, would you?
       —Bruce Fields    Sep. 27 '05 - 09:06PM    #
  67. At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, the Glen Ann Place developer e-mailed the City saying that they were withdrawing the project!!

    So the Historic District Commission took no further action.

    A great victory for the people of the Old Fourth Ward and the City as a whole.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 11 '05 - 11:30AM    #
  68. Dave, you could start your own blog instead of spamming all the news and discussion blogs around the city.
       —Dale    Nov. 11 '05 - 12:50PM    #
  69. A great victory for the people of the Old Fourth Ward and the City as a whole.

    Actually, I think this whole process is sad and really points out all the problems with Ann Arbor’s development process. This had the potential to be a nice development which would have added a lot of good housing and tax base to the City and been an asset to a great part of town. The original plan was something that seemed pretty acceptable to the 4th Ward, the developer, and even the Historical District, but as time went on the process became more and more confused, the PUD was a mess, Council and Planning Commission asked for random additions to the plan every time it came up, and the developer just decided to agree to everything by adding a story for every request and ignoring the Historical District. Ultimately what came out wasn’t acceptable to anyone. It became an ugly game of who could be less reasonable and everyone involved shares some of the blame for the project not going through.
       —Juliew    Nov. 11 '05 - 12:56PM    #
  70. Yay! Truly a victory for the OFW! The picturesque views of the decrepit gas station and parking lot are safe… For now…
       —FAA    Nov. 11 '05 - 12:58PM    #
  71. Amen to that JulieW.

    This may come as a surprise to some, but I actually think that protecting historic buildings and areas is a very good thing.

    However, there must be compromise. IMHO, a 10 story building can support the mission/goals of the HDC if it is designed properly. The first few floors are the most importants, and there are a ton of architecture “tricks” that can downplay the apparent size of a building in a neighborhood like this one.

    You’ll note that on AAIO, the HDC chair left the door open for tall/big footprint buildings as she said that there aren’t any restrictions per se. This either means that a well designed 10 story building is possible in a HD, or that the HDC needs to get off its duff and put the footprint/height restrictions in writing so that we can avoid messes like this one. Of course, I’m hoping for the former idea.

    Julie hit the nail on the head. This, like the Greene St. proposal is yet another example of how messed up the design process is. Without hard and fast design criteria/zoning/height restrictions, we end up with a big pile of crap.

    The problem is that people like Dave C. here (sorry, but I have to single you out yet again) think “well, we defeated that development. Problem solved”. Dave and his crowd are going to be awful sorry about taking this approach in the coming years.
       —todd    Nov. 11 '05 - 01:22PM    #
  72. Others have said we’re in a “culture war” between neighborhood/parks people and development people. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that view has substantial merit.

    It’s nice that your intrepid Arbor Update reporter (yours truly) has given us two genuine news scoops within far less than 24 hours!
       —David Cahill    Nov. 11 '05 - 03:47PM    #
  73. David, You’re going to get precisely the Ann Arbor you deserve. I hope you stick it out another ten years.
       —Anna    Nov. 11 '05 - 07:28PM    #
  74. Gee, I hope so, Anna. They say that you only leave Broadway in a hearse. 8-)
       —David Cahill    Nov. 11 '05 - 07:42PM    #
  75. David, I assume you’re mentioning this “culture war” as a war between folks who value what we’ve got and folks who want to destroy it.

    From “the other side”, the dispute is seen as between the “I’ve got mine” crowd and the folks who want to let other people in.

    The funny part is that, in most narratives of urban struggle, “neighborhood/parks people” tend to be the liberal coalition of social justice, environmentalist, and access to housing activists, while the urban growth coalition is capital-driven. In Ann Arbor, though, this is flipped upside-down, with the people who identify as “neighborhood/parks people” being exclusionary conservatives who want to keep “those people” out of the library er, neighborhood, while the pro-development types are the ones who are concerned about fair housing.

    I eagerly await somebody who can prove my view of the dichotomy is wrong…
       —Murph.    Nov. 11 '05 - 10:48PM    #
  76. Actually, I see two independent variables at work here. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before.

    First variable: Pro-development and anti-development.

    Second variable: Progressive and non-progressive.

    Mind you, these variables operate within the AA Democratic Party, so the ordinary national political alignments don’t apply.

    There are, I think, people in all four “cells” of a two-by-two matrix generated by these variables.

    I’m an anti-development progressive. Jean Carlberg is a pro-development progressive. Leigh Greden is a pro-development non-progressive. Hm. I can’t think offhand of anyone I know who is both anti-development and non-progressive, but it’s been a long day…

    I think the pro- vs. anti-development folks are the dominant combatants in this culture war. We’ll see how my analysis holds up from now through the August Dem primaries.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 11 '05 - 11:09PM    #
  77. David:

    Actually, I can think of someone who is both anti-development and non-progressive:

    You.

    Your opposition to all development taller than 4 floors—especially in your own backyard—is well known. By default, you therefore support sprawl or you oppose affordable housing. Both positions are not progressive.

    You also oppose the low-income housing program at the “Y”. You’ve never hidden the fact that you don’t like “those people” living near “your” library. (A point subtly noted by Murph in a prior posting).

    Your cause celeb is historic preservation, which you use to increase your housing values, stop affordable housing, encourage sprawl by making it too difficult to improve the housing stock, and maintain the status quo. Again, hardly a progressive value.

    So next time you’re updating your matrix, erase your name from the “progressive” side of the ledger, and then find the box for “anti-development” and “non-progressive” and write in “David Cahill.”
       —Cahill Is Not Progressive    Nov. 12 '05 - 06:24PM    #
  78. Gee – I’m flattered that someone has created an “anti-Cahill” persona. 8-)

    Since I set forth the terms, I get to define them. “Progressive” means someone in AA Dem politics who believes in raising so-called “national” issues in local politics. The most recent example of such an issue is the medical marijuana charter amendment. It was approved by 74% of the electorate. The reason it was needed is that marijuana prohibition can’t occur at the state or national levels because of what I call the “too many Republicans” problem.

    I was in favor of medical marijuana. Leigh Greden was not, and repeatedly tried to sabotage the charter amendment. One of Greden’s Council colleagues recently told me that Greden was a “Republican” because he opposed medical marijuana.

    Another example of being “progressive” was the resolution Council passed a couple of years ago opposing the Patriot Act. A lot of folks (particularly Republicans) argued against the resolution, saying the Patriot Act was a “national issue”.

    Other progressive anti-development Dems were/are Kim Groome and Bob Johnson. The litmus test for being pro- or anti-development for them was their opposition to the failed Broadway Village project.

    Sprawl and affordable housing are simply progressive-sounding stalking horses for developersymps. People who have committed themselves professionally to urban planning are also pro-development.

    Remember – I am suggesting two independent variables here.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 12 '05 - 06:41PM    #
  79. Dave—I’m an urban planner (student) and a preservationist. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    The reason I am (and most people are) preservationists—and I point to professional education, training, and experience as important qualifiers, much like in your profession—is because we believe that what exists and is already built is better than what is to come. For example, tearing down a block of old, dilapidated, but still beautiful block of brownstone townhouses for a strip mall. What exists—better than what is proposed. Another example: tearing down an historic hotel in Detroit for a parking lot; what exists is better than what is proposed.

    However, when small, single-family houses are proposed to be MOVED in favor of a moderate, dense, mixed-use development including residential that will also result in $1m of affordable housing money AND means that no structures will be destroyed, the preservationist should realize that what is proposed is BETTER than what exists FOR THE SAME REASONS THAT WE VALUE THE HOUSES OF THE OLD FOURTH WARD AND WANTED TO PRESERVE THEM.

    Preservation, I submit, is not about holding onto something because it is old. It is fundamentally about making judgments about structures and ways of living that are better or worse. THAT is why we have rows of 3-story brick buildings downtown instead of wooden storefront or the isolated houses of old Ann Arbour. YES it is fraught with contradictions and has potential for exploitation. But it cannot be anti-development and still be progressive. “Progressives” value also make fundamental judgments about making things better—“progress.”

    Those who oppose better buildings and developments in favor of old ones because they are old are NOT progressive; all they hope to preserve is the existing economic and power structure.
       —Dale    Nov. 12 '05 - 07:28PM    #


  80. Dale my point is that being pro- or anti-development is independent of any other political or social beliefs. I maybe wrong, but that’s my argument. You have people who are pro-development who are on both sides of any local issue. You have people who are anti-development who are similarly split on other matters.

    That’s what I meant by “independent variables.” Sorry if I wasn’t clear.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 13 '05 - 10:21AM    #
  81. I understood your point. My point is different.
       —Dale    Nov. 13 '05 - 11:01AM    #
  82. David,

    I can agree with you that being pro- or anti-development can be aligned with either progressive or anti-progressive political views (if that’s how you want to divide it), but there’s just so much else wrong with your past few posts.

    (a) anti-/Progressive and pro-/anti-development are not independent. Yes, they’re mathematically independent because either side of one can be aligned with either side of the other, however, the reasons a given person holds for being pro- or anti-development are very dependent on their socio-political views.

    (b) which is particularly important because being pro- or anti-development is not an overarching philosophy, at least not to anybody with any sort of nuance to their social awareness, but is a case-by-case determination that needs to be made by individuals comparing the given development to their political beliefs. “Does this help or hinder?” needs to be asked continuously, and not judged once and held to.

    (c) “sprawl and affordable housing are simply progressive-sounding stalking horses for developersymps” – this statement calls into doubt your ability to even speak the word “progressive” and act like you know what it means, let alone claim it as a badge of honor. The word has been in use for a century of American politics and activism, so no, you can’t define it to mean whatever you want. You need to come up with a new word if you want to describe a position as “paying lip service to progressive goals that act only at a distance while opposing anything that might take effect locally.”

    Point©, of course, explains why you think that pro- and anti-development are static positions and have a constant relationship within a given person. If you actually paid any kind of attention to progressive values, you might be able to understand how certain developments can help them and certain developments hinder.

    Since you don’t think that affordable housing has anything to do with progressive values, you probably won’t mind if I elaborate on my previous mention of “those people”, since, in your mind, it won’t cast any doubt on your claim to be “progressive”:

    I consider it ironic that Mr. Cahill calls himself a constitutional lawyer and takes pride in standing up for even highly controversial 1st Amendment cases and also sits on the Board of the Ann Arbor District Library – public libraries being institutions founded on principles of universal access to information and education – and also calls himself a progressive but would object to maintaining the affordable housing units in the redevelopment of the old YMCA site based on the grounds of, “How are you going to keep those people out of the library?”

    Note that AADL Board members are elected…
       —Murph.    Nov. 13 '05 - 11:08AM    #
  83. You think you have the moral high ground, Murph.

    You don’t. Get over it. 8-)

    Your argument about the Old Y proves my point. I am indeed a progressive (you didn’t mention my role as an ACLU cooperating attorney), but I don’t think that all kinds of allegedly “affordable housing” belong everywhere. I support the redevelopment of the Old Y, by the way; the new plan looks good.

    The problem with the former “affordable housing” at the Old Y was that they provided absolutely no social services for this population with special needs. Things will be different with the redevelopment.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 13 '05 - 05:19PM    #