Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Approval Edition

18. December 2006 • Juliew
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Monday, December 18 at 7:00 pm.
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda

Highlights:

  • Resolution to Approve Non-motorized Transportation Plan
  • Resolution to Approve Contract for the Greenbelt and Parkland Acquisition Millage Program
  • Resolution to Authorize Renewal of Lease for 40 Apartments at Tuscan Creek Apartments for former Y residents.
  • Resolution to Approve Housing Rehabilitation Agreement, Housing Affordability Agreement, Mortgage, Note and Subordination Agreement with Parkhurst Apartments Affordable Housing.

Planning Commission
Tuesday, December 19 at 7:00 pm.
Planning Commission Agenda

Highlights:

  • Public Hearing and Action on Bandemer Ridge–Elks Lodge Planned Project Site Plan and Special Exception Use, 2.49 acres, 220 Sunset Road. A proposal to construct a 85,227-square foot, four-story, 37-unit residential condominium building, with 72 parking spaces (53 garage spaces) and a new 4,752-square foot, two-story Elks Lodge building with 38 parking spaces.
  • Public Hearing and Action on 922 Church Street Apartments Site Plan, 0.22 acre. A proposal to construct an 11,132-square foot, three-story, four-unit (total of 24 bedrooms) apartment building and six parking spaces.



  1. The Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday will be the first look at the Elks Lodge site plan. For those of you who have never been there, it is one of the most beautiful spots in Ann Arbor, currently being used as a surface parking lot, the Elks Lodge, and a grassy yard. With lovely views of the river and downtown, it is amazing that it hasn’t been built on before this. From what I have heard, the Elks will retain ownership, but have sold the development rights. I haven’t seen the plans, but I have heard that the developer is a local person who wants to build green buildings, would like to keep the condos affordable, and has already had several meetings with the neighbors.

    There are however, several real concerns with the site: 1) Erosion is potentially a big problem here. It will be interesting to see how this is addressed by the developer. Currently there is a paved parking lot and a grass lawn so it is fairly impermeable. 2) Traffic will potentially be a problem. Sunset at that point comes down a steep hill and ends in a hard turn, followed by a stretch which is often blocked by dance school traffic, and then ends at a stop sign with a nearly blind entrance. 3) Public/private use. In the past, mountain bikers and walkers have used the entrance to the park on the North side, which is technically trespassing. Last I heard, the developer has agreed to maintain that open use policy. 4) Destruction of the existing Elks Lodge. I’m not sure when the Lodge was constructed or what it is like structurally, but it is a lovely older home/lodge. From what I can read, the existing structure is going to be torn down, which is a shame. 5) Design guidelines. Hopefully this development will look nice. I think the design will have a lot to do with how well it is accepted. 6) Parking. There is a lot of parking requested on this site (110 spaces total, including 53 garage spaces). It will be interesting to see how it is incorporated into the site.


       —Juliew    Dec. 18 '06 - 11:38PM    #
  2. The A2 News has an article on the Y residents , including a discussion on the state of the proposed William Street Station development:

    Michael Jacobson, chairman of HDC, said he expects to break ground near the end of the first quarter of 2007 on the $77 million project. Jacobson said once the deal is closed with the city, he would take responsibility for the temporary housing of the displaced residents.

    The Michigan State Housing Development Authority granted tax credits worth $17.3 million to the developer this fall.

    Miller said the developer needs to have one temporary certificate of occupancy completed for an affordable housing unit by December 2008 or lose the tax credits.


       —Murph.    Dec. 19 '06 - 12:05AM    #
  3. Thanks for the update Murph, is there any word on where the residents will live post-completion? If I remember correctly, the new facility will be affordable but not as cheap as the old Y was—will the Y residents be able to cover the difference in costs? If not, what happens to them?


       —Chuck    Dec. 19 '06 - 03:16PM    #
  4. Re: the Elks lodge. Part of me wants to see development pushing that way anyhow, slowly coaxing the state into calming down main street there. If nothing new goes in, main street south to downtown will stay one long exit/entrance ramp for 14.

    I think one super thing they could do would be to make this more of a gateway to bluffs park and to the city. I’d like someone to promise not to call the cops when I ride through the parking lot. It’s also an obvious point to have some creative architecture, what with the rail bridge and river and entrance to downtown.

    The extra traffic over there doesn’t seem like a huge problem from a can-i-still-get-to-work standpoint. That’s a quiet street as things are, and most of the traffic will be going right out onto main street. An extra hundred trips per day there is a drop in the bucket. If it doesn’t get built those 37 families are just going to move to Brighton, and the extra traffic will wind up going along main street anyway.

    Assuming all the obvious environmental and aesthetic concerns are addressed, it seems like a nice location. Close to the hospital and downtown. Awesome views. Access to an under-utilized park. I’d sure move in there.

    Not that it won’t put my fellow Sunset-Brooksians into a dither. The Elks lodge is lightly used, and adding a more intensive use there isn’t going to be popular. Even my wife, indoctrinated into urban planner think is hating on it.


       —Patrick    Dec. 19 '06 - 03:44PM    #
  5. A couple of comments related to Julie’s concerns over the Elks development:

    1. The city’s natural features guidelines were updated within the last year to include language regarding development on steep slopes. Not sure if this site falls within the areas of regulation, but if it does, it will get special consideration during the review process.

    2. The parking onsite isn’t really “requested” by the developer, but rather required by our city code. Some sections of the code have a minimum and maximum number of spaces, which this may fall into because of the Elks Lodge use on the site. My assumption (without seeing the plan) is that the majority of the parking is being driven by the residential use. If the parking requiremenet does have a min/max … I would hope planning commission would encourage the minimum here.

    3. Bluffs Park access – A lot of developments near parks either donate a piece of the site to the city for parks access or give the city an access easement. I had thought I heard that this development was making the access official (like donating the access or giving an easement). I can’t say for sure, however.


       —Jennifer Hall    Dec. 19 '06 - 08:18PM    #
  6. Chuck (W. in this case, it appears?) –

    This article in particular didn’t address the cost breakdowns. I remember that being discussed at the meeting at the AADL that I went to – and Juliew as well, so maybe she can help fill in the blanks – and seem to remember the developers saying that WSS would include a number of units that were significantly cheaper than the Old Y units. Additionally, many of the units that were more expensive would be housing people from the VA and other such programs, which would pay directly for housing, so the increase would not be an out-of-pocket cost for those residents. Or something. At any rate, I left that meeting with my fears of mass displacement quelled. But, like I said, I don’t have numbers – this is just 2-year-old memory.

    The article did note that the City is only housing about 40 of the Old Y’s residents now; the others “have found housing elsewhere”. I’m curious as to what that means.


       —Murph.    Dec. 20 '06 - 12:13AM    #
  7. “If the parking requiremenet does have a min/max … I would hope planning commission would encourage the minimum here.”

    Actually, it is the parking minimum requirement that is causes more of a problem. When the city requires a minimum number of parking spaces per unit or floor area, the developer loses the freedom to explore alternate transportation and parking solutions.

    I’m pretty sure your intention was to say that the the city should encourage less parking supply here, but the way to do that would be to lower the parking maximum and eliminate the parking minimum instead of encouraging it. It’s a small but important distinction.

    Considering the hike up the hill that is not solved by AATA service, maybe this isn’t the best place to push for alternate transport solutions. I’m surprised that Patrick would be willing to hump it up that hill on a bike every day, especially considering the joyless reward of a a steep downhill with a stop sign at the bottom. Of course if you can work Bluffs Park into your commute, it may be worth it.

    If you think increased density will put neighbors in a dither, just imagine the dither that would result from increased density with “insufficient” parking. We’ll have proposals for a Bluffs Greenway expansion before you know it.


       —Scott TenBrink    Dec. 20 '06 - 03:43AM    #
  8. The Elks Lodge development was very disappointing. The condos are going to be in the 1800-2800 square feet range, with a price of $250/sq. ft. So, yes folks, that would mean these sell for $450,000-$700,000 each (plus condo fees)! Most existing homes in the neighborhood have sold for under $200,000.

    The developers are trying to work a lot of angles, none of them very successfully. They maintain it will be ADA compliant, but that would only be within the buildings because the slope is too great to actually do an ADA compliant sidewalk and, well, the adjacent properties don’t have sidewalks anyway. They have a lot of “green” words like “solar orientation,” but there were no specific commitments to the green building. They have a green roof planned, but the developer said all the green options would be the first things dropped if they had to make any modifications to the plan so the green options seem to be added on as extras. None of the neighbors nor the Planning Commissioners seemed to believe these claims.

    The plan is interesting in that the stated purpose was to give the Elks a new lodge free and clear. So the residential would need to not only pay for itself, but also have to pay for the new Elks building. There was a lot of sentiment to keep the Elks on that site since they have been there for over 50 years. But this requirement is perhaps a difficult one.

    The proposed residential building is extremely large. Four to six stories with heights of 58 feet in parts (some of the details were hard to follow so I am not entirely sure of the exact numbers). It will be entirely separate from the Elks Lodge, which looks to be at the bottom of the site. Much of the site will be taken up with parking, which was problematic for a lot of people. I didn’t see the actual look of the buildings, but people didn’t seem happy with it.

    Erosion was considered a large problem. There would be a lot of excavation and regrading and there was concern that this would cause a lot of problems, especially if they remove many of the existing large trees.

    The resolution was tabled pending quite a lot of further information from the developer. Every speaker who spoke, other than the developers, was in opposition to this plan. There was a large turnout.


       —Juliew    Dec. 20 '06 - 05:21AM    #
  9. Scott,

    I’m guessing that what Jennifer was getting at is that, given a range of “allowed” parking spaces, she’d hope the bottom of the range would be encouraged rather than the top. I do understand (and agree with) your contention of “why have a minimum at all?”, but it doesn’t sound, from Juliew’s description, as though this is a popular enough project to use as leverage for changing the parking requirements.

    From Juliew’s description, yeah, a little bit of ugh. I definitely think that site would be fantastic for housing of some sort, and I’d even go so far as to say that a $700k condo there seems more realistic to me than a $700k condo in LoFT322. But this isn’t what I was hoping for when I heard about this project.


       —Murph.    Dec. 20 '06 - 02:13PM    #
  10. What I would love to see at the Elks site is some version of a co-housing project similar to those at Sunward Cohousing, Great Oak Cohousing, or Touchstone Cohousing (thanks for the links Murph!). These supposedly eco-friendly, sustainable living situations are almost always located in the exurbs somewhere, which is about the least eco-friendly, sustainable situation you can find. This would be such a good opportunity to do something like this in a neighborhood close to downtown where it actually makes some sense. I also would like to see if it would make any sense to rehabilitate the existing Elks Lodge (which is quite a beautiful older building) and do an addition to that if they need more space. Then a development of condos could be wrapped around the Lodge with some shared parking and not require such a large residential building that is grouped all in one tall area surrounded by surface parking. The physical logistics of the site are difficult so they were discussing that they were going to have to have twelve foot retaining walls and huge excavations, which made everyone nervous. It just seems like there should be a way of doing a development here that is acceptable to most people and that would benefit the neighbors, the Elks, and the developer.


       —Juliew    Dec. 20 '06 - 11:03PM    #
  11. What I would love to see at the Elks site is some version of a co-housing project similar to those at Sunward Cohousing, Great Oak Cohousing, or Touchstone Cohousing (thanks for the links Murph!).

    I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but how do you think the detached-single-family homeowners of this neighborhood would react if you suggested that they adopt a simplified communal lifestyle?


       —ann arbor is overrated    Dec. 20 '06 - 11:24PM    #
  12. Heh, I know some of these people and, well, that is pretty much exactly the lifestyle they have already chosen already. They just choose to do it in a less formalized way. I was talking about this to one neighbor this summer and he said actually he knew two of the homeowners in the area had moved to one of the co-housing projects. So I think this neighborhood as much as any in town would be receptive to this sort of development.


       —Juliew    Dec. 20 '06 - 11:42PM    #
  13. When I was in Peter Allen’s real estate development class, his son (slash property manager) was in my project team, and actually took us up to that exact site as someplace he thought we could hypothize up a good cohousing community. So I’ll have to extend my previous agreement with Juliew to specify that I do think the site would be fantastic for cohousing of some sort. Just not cohousing 6 stories tall and $400k expensive.

    Cost could probably be brought down easily by not building the darned things 2800sf large. I have no idea what the existing lodge building is like, but presumably it could be rehabbed pretty easily into a common house, plus possibly a few small units? Your standard urban 800-1000sf condo unit becomes downright generous when you throw in not just the fact that it’s part of a cohousing community but also has the view and the backyard (okay, “park”, if you must) of this site.

    And I’ll second Juliew – the people I know in that area already do live the most post-hippie lifestyles in town.


       —Murph.    Dec. 21 '06 - 01:14AM    #
  14. (On the other hand, the people I know aren’t the ones saying dumb stuff like, “I would be looking at an asphalt jungle,” and “This project is an assault on one of the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods in the city,” in the News article. How ‘bout we discuss this without the trite, calculated theatrics, shall we?)


       —Murph.    Dec. 21 '06 - 02:26AM    #
  15. Remember that what is said atpublic hearings won’t have much effect, if any, on what the Planning Commission (and later the City Council) will do.

    A while ago Coy Vaughn, who heads the planning staff, told a developer worried about adverse public comments that “We hold the public hearing and then we move on.”


       —David Cahill    Dec. 21 '06 - 06:14PM    #