Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Construction, Deconstruction, Reconstruction

12. October 2006 • Juliew
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Liberty Lofts opens for move-in. Looks like ten units are currently available via the multiple listings and at least one unit is for sale by owner (at $16,000 less than he paid).

The News confirms a report that an environmentally-friendly building has been proposed for the tiny corner lot on Ashley and Washington. This eight-story building would have six condos, retail and commercial space, and a small underground parking area. Is this the only building proposed downtown with any environmentally-friendly components? This proposal includes geothermal and solar heating, energy-generating wind turbines, stormwater capture, and green roofs.

Tower Plaza is going turquoise. Renovations to the south side of the building are decidedly colorful.

Broadway Village remains in limbo.

Another floor is being added the Fourth and William parking structure, which should provide 125 more parking spaces downtown by May.

The Polhemus house is getting ready to move. The move date is Sunday has been changed again to October 29, because AT&T needed more time to prepare for moving telephone wires.

  1. I’ve heard the proposal at Ashley and Washington is going for LEED standard? I’ve not heard of any other in the downtown that meet those standards … although the RFP for the Kline’s lot suggests meeting some level of LEED.

    The William Street Station project has a number of environmentally friendly and innovative design features. Kingsley Lane, too.

       —Jennifer Hall    Oct. 12 '06 - 11:26PM    #
  2. It may go for platinum LEED certification, an exceedingly high standard. The only LEED-certified building in Ann Arbor is the U-M Dana SNRE building, with a Gold rating (though the NSF and WCC registered for LEED certification for additions, a preliminary step to actual certification).

       —Dale    Oct. 12 '06 - 11:53PM    #
  3. It has been a while since I saw any plans for William Street Station. What sort of environmental designs does it include?

    Peter Allen talks a good “green” game for Kingsley Lane, but other than no parking, what are they doing that is environmentally sound? From their web site, they say “the project is planned with light-gauge steel construction supported with cement, low-emitting paints, bamboo and cork floors and highly energy efficient windows and appliances,” none of which is particularly impressive from an environmental point of view. The construction technique is cheap, energy efficient windows and appliances are nice but about all you can get now (federal regulations for highly efficient appliances are required as of 2007), and the bamboo and cork floors are the hot thing now so that isn’t really going out on a limb. Low-VOC paint is nice, but again, it is an easy thing. This is nothing like doing geothermal heat or solar or green (living) walls or composting toilets or grey-water recycling. I’m not saying Kingsley Lane is bad, but the “green” is mostly PR.

       —Juliew    Oct. 13 '06 - 12:14AM    #
  4. Re: the Ashley project, I’ll believe it when (if) it gets built. There have been other projects proposed downtown that had environmentally-friendly features, most of which were taken out due to financing problems. The Collegian, for example, was going to have a vegetated roof. Also remember that this site had approval for a 6-8 story building before, and nothing ever happened with it.

       —KGS    Oct. 13 '06 - 12:14AM    #
  5. It’s outside the city limits, but I seem to remember hearing that the Unitarian Universalist Religious Education Wing was LEED certified.

    IF the Ashley project gets built and IF it gets its LEED certification, I can see the environmental features really paying off as a niche marketing device. I imagine there would be enough Ann Arborites with enough cash who are willing to pay a premium to live in a green building to make this worthwhile. That alone makes the green strip stormwater system valuable—it makes the environmental commitment visible to the passerby. It’s a great marketing move.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Oct. 13 '06 - 12:24AM    #
  6. Not to be too snarky, but the mere fact that the Unitarian Universalist church is located in a former farm field in the exurbs would prevent it in my mind from having any sort of environmental cred, LEED or no.

    I agree with Chuck that if the Ashley building gets built, it will be a showpiece. Since the owner is in the construction business, I don’t think that is a coincidence. As for it getting built, maybe it won’t, but the owner/developer has deep pockets, might need a bit of extra office space for his company (the Ann Arbor office is located on the opposite corner of the block), and supposedly several of the residential units are already spoken for so it isn’t too far-fetched.

       —Juliew    Oct. 13 '06 - 12:52AM    #
  7. I’m sensitive to Juliew’s point about the UU congregation, and I think about it every time I need to go there for work and don’t trust the contintions on Ann Arbor-Saline enough to bike it.

    They did put in showers for folks who bike to services, and I’ve seen parents with kid carriers bike there, but I’m not that brave.

    Snarkiness aside, I don’t see any place in town that would fit them and that they could afford. And I’m happy to see a progressive religious community like that growing and thriving, even if it does mean outgrowing their previous home. I don’t want only conservative mega-churches growing in numbers.

    As for the former farmfield aspect, I’ve seen excellent work there on native plant restoration and other conservation things. A big parking lot is a step down from a farm field, but their conservation efforts are a step up.

    Finally, a worship space is something that’s used all week but only full on weekends. Most of the time its mostly empty. For a big congregation, this seems to me like a good fit to put on the edge of town and save in-town space for things that are used more heavily more of the time. (one reason why I’m not excited about the Kiwanis proposal to move next to the Y).

    One last note, and I hope it’s not one for the snarky file. About a year ago the community changed their name from “First Unitarian Universalist Church of Ann Arbor” to “First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor.” Apparently this worked better for their Jewish members who find it easier to tell their families they are part of a “congregation” than part of a “church.”

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Oct. 13 '06 - 01:24AM    #
  8. Juliew hit the nail on the head with so many LEED-certified structures on auto-dependant suburban greenfield sites.

    LEED-ND looks to address this problem…

    While I’m here …hi from Brooklyn. The amount of heated discussion I’m having with folks here re: dense infill development is surprising… even Brooklynites fear “Manhattanization.” It seems the young hipsters are often the first to lead the outcry, strangely. The tables have turned? Oh, the Park Slope yuppies, too, of course. The immigrant/minority communities, on the whole are appear more likely to favor/be indifferent to such things, interestingly.

    My talking points have boiled down to the fact that, due to the regulatory/market framework we’re working in and given the cost of new construction and land, most new housing will be for semi-wealthy folks. Accepting that, the choice is mainly between sprawl and gentrification: people with dough demand new housing somewhere, and that somewhere can either be within existing cities, where they use existing infrastructure, already-developed land, transit, can walk places, contribute dollars to existing urban economies, support new cultural endeavors, and add tax base to urban places that dearly need it, all while actually interacting with people who are different than them…. or, you get exurban sprawl on large lots. I find the first the lesser of two evils. Moreover, most of these neighborhoods get more expensive, anyway, whether new strucutres are added or no. I’ve become a gentrification apologist, somehow… perhaps out of a feeling of powerlessness to find a realistic Third Way anytime soon.

    The problem is, we’ll all need to move every 5 years… if Williamsburg is the new Lower East Side, Bushwick is the new Williamsburg, Brooklyn is the new Manhattan, Queens is the new Brooklyn… everyone will need to move to the Bronx in 20 years? Okay, and if entry-level commuters are living in the Bronx, then are the poorest of the poor (and real artists, for that matter) pushed to the suburbs at some point, where transit isn’t so good? And we all spend 2 hours commuting?

    Perhaps the answer in all of this is government intervention, but thus far I’m not sure where affordable housing policies have made a truly appreciable difference…


       —Brandon    Oct. 13 '06 - 02:58AM    #
  9. Which brings us to another point… Ann Arbor’s small size creates the problem that there are few areas left to gentrify… so, there’s Ypsi, I suppose, and maybe it’s inevitable that someday the yuppies, too, will all reside there. Forcing everyone else into the townships?

    I miss your cheap rents, by the way…

       —Brandon    Oct. 13 '06 - 03:01AM    #
  10. “I don’t see any place in town that would fit them and that they could afford”

    The ‘fit’ and ‘afford’ are simply due to the massive surface parking lot this and many churches surround themselves with. This is exactly why Chuck W. is so very wrong about placing religious facilities on the outskirts of town. The churches do need parking but if they are located downtown during the week the lot can be used for businesses. Then on the weekend the same lot can be used for churchgoers. It can be a very sympathetic relationship.

    There are also the soft issues of identity and symbolism that religious facilities have in the past offered to urban development. However many newer facilities have been opting for warehouse style structures to save money and wouldn’t contribute on that score anyway. Nevertheless, locating churches and other religious buildings in cornfields is a crime.

       —abc    Oct. 13 '06 - 04:52PM    #
  11. It looks like Tower Plaza is going to expand the size of each unit by about a half foot outwards, removing the old windows inside. Space must really go for a premium!

    What’s just as surprising is that they started this work so late in the year. I wonder if they expect to complete it by winter …

       —Kevin    Oct. 14 '06 - 01:11AM    #
  12. As noted above, the Polhemus House move has been postponed again to Sunday, October 29.

       —Juliew    Oct. 14 '06 - 06:06PM    #
  13. juliew wrote: “bamboo and cork floors are the hot thing now so that isn’t really going out on a limb … This is nothing like doing … composting toilets …”

    So in that context, juliew, are you suggesting that installing composting toilets WOULD be like going out on a limb? Cuz, you know, it’s advertised to be like just going on a regular toilet, but maybe it DOES feel like you’re out on a limb.

    I suspect that if you drop your cell phone in a composting toilet, you have an easier time of it than you do if you drop it in a regular toilet, although earlier this week, I found that a standard issue Verizon set will tolerate an astonishing amount of ‘moisture’.

    But seriously, what exactly is the deal with composting toilets and City codes? Are they perfectly legal? Can you rent out a property with the only bathroom option being a composting toilet? At some point you have to empty them, right? And I would guess you’re not supposed to scatter human fecal matter (no matter how well composted) across your yard? I’m thinking that a composting toilet might be an easier way to convert some space to an Accessory Dwelling Unit than running a new sewer line.

       —HD    Oct. 14 '06 - 08:31PM    #
  14. HD, the Dana Building on campus has composting toilets. It also has low-flow plumbing fixtures, high efficiency lighting, a ceiling-mounted radiant cooling system, rubber flooring made from recycled rubber, ceiling panels made from biocomposites, bathroom tiles made from recycled glass and toilet partitions made from recycled plastic bottles. These are some of the reasons they were LEED certified. The City’s Leslie Science Center has composting toilets and a gray water garden so I‘m assuming they approve of them.

    Composting toilets are being used more and more for homes so a composting toilet would be great for an ADU, if such a thing were legal …

       —Juliew    Oct. 16 '06 - 05:31AM    #
  15. re: church parking

    Vacant commuter parking is not the only way downtown churches benefit. Sunday parking is also free at all city lots, structures, and meters. On top of that, street parking is permitted in many “no parking” zones on Sundays.

    In comparing this free resource to the expense of buying land for, building, and maintaining large suburban parking lots, it seems downtown should be an attractive option for churches (at least as far as parking cost goes).

    The fact that free parking isn’t attracting churches downtown indicates that parking is not the deciding issue.

       —Scott TenBrink    Oct. 16 '06 - 07:23AM    #
  16. The Polhemus House move was delayed yet again. Detroit Edison was too busy restoring power knocked out by Saturday’s high winds. New move date is most likely next Sunday.

       —Juliew    Oct. 31 '06 - 01:25AM    #
  17. The answer to my own question regarding the motivation for putting new windows on Tower Plaza can be found in this press release.

       —Kevin    Mar. 19 '07 - 12:54AM    #