Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

State Review Board rejects Glen Ann Place

27. January 2007 • Murph
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The State Historic Preservation Review Board has rejected an appeal that would have allowed Glen Ann Place (pictured) to move forward, upholding the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission’s action against that project.

From the Michigan Business Review:

A state-level appeal by the developers of Glen Ann Place was denied Tuesday in a ruling that affirms the decision of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission to prevent demolition of two houses necessary to make way for the 10-story mixed-use development.


An initial ruling from an administrative judge authorized the demolition in the fall, but this month’s decision overturns that in favor of the original vote not to allow demolition.

Among the points in the opinion, the state says the houses are inhabitable and do not require demolition; the HDC was not biased against Freed; and that the HDC decision supports historic preservation goals, since both houses are over 100 years old, possess a substantial amount of original historic material, and contribute to and complement the historic character of the Old Fourth Ward.

Text of the State Historic Preservation Review Board Decision:

Previously on AU:

  1. This is great news for historic preservation, and a big victory for Stephen Postema, our City Attorney.

    I’ve asked Stephen for a copy of the opinion. If it’s in electronic form I’ll post it here.

       —David Cahill    Jan. 27 '07 - 11:17PM    #
  2. What a shame. The amount of reality-denial necessary to believe there are “historic” houses in Ann Arbor is incomprehensible. To believe that the absurdly low-density housing situation should be preserved is even worse.

       — Concerend resident    Jan. 28 '07 - 08:00AM    #
  3. Who made that 3d model? Do I sense Google Sketchup?

       —MattH    Jan. 28 '07 - 11:53AM    #
  4. Sure, there are plenty of “historic” houses in AA – and I’m not talking about mansions.

    For example, AA has the largest number (or close to the largest number) of Greek Revival houses in Michigan outside of Detroit. They date from the 1840s through the 1860s.

       —David Cahill    Jan. 28 '07 - 06:58PM    #
  5. Oh, please. I’ve been through this exercise before. Ann Arbor is, surprisingly, the most historic city in the whole wide world. It’s SO historic, in fact, that nearly all of downtown Ann Arbor is historic. The biggest ‘non-historic’ white swath to the east belongs to UMich.

    Here’s the criteria they use “According to the criteria, a historic resource is typically 50 years old or older and is noteworthy for its association with a significant person or event, for its design or construction techniques and/or for its information potential.”

    Now does anyone really expect us to believe that the majority of downtown Ann Arbor (it’s that high because you have to exclude UMich) fits the above criteria? Please. There’s “old”, and then there’s “historic”. Ann Arbor has shown zero ability to distinguish between the two.

    And here’s a nice excerpt that shows that the lawsuit had more than a little merit:

    “Are demolitions allowed in local historic district?

    Yes. The historic district commission can issue a Notice to Proceed for demolition of a building. However, the commission must find that retaining the resource is a hazard to public safety, will deter a major improvement project of significant benefit to the public, or cause undue financial hardship to the property owner due to an action beyond the owner’s control, such as an act of God or a governmental action, created the hardship. A building can also be demolished if it is determined not to be historically significant or if it has lost its historic integrity.

    They could’ve been allowed to proceed if we decided that density and walkable housing was an important goal of our community, or if we realized that the two homes that needed demolition were simply old, not historic.

    My favorite part of this map exercise is that it illustrates that, hey, if this historic thingy is a priority, that’s fine, but shouldn’t we therefore stop playing Goldilocks with construction in the tee-tiny swaths of non-historic land downtown, and allow buildings of any size since we are seeking to protect such a large area of the city from anything but the smallest and expensive projects?

       —todd    Jan. 28 '07 - 10:38PM    #
  6. Sidestepping the debate over whether the two little dilapidated shacks next to the gas station that time and hell forgot have historic significance or not:

    Whatever happened to the idea of moving these houses?

       —FAA    Jan. 28 '07 - 10:45PM    #
  7. The two rundown old houses and gas station that would be displaced by the new building are ugly and decrepit. There is nothing remarkable about them in any way. There is no historical value to them. Together with the gas station, they are an eyesore.

    They also sit across from a UM parking structure and the largest concentrated employment center in the city, UM Hospital. What synergy it would be to have 100 units within walking distance of the resident’s jobs and classes. In addition, the project would contribute $1.2 million to affordable housing in the city. It would also pay hundreds of thousands in taxes to the city. Money they could surely use in the coming years.

    This was a horrible decision by the Historic Board in A2. They used their positions to prevent an attractive and needed building from going in. This was NIMBYISM and anti-growth behavior at its worst. It was an affront to the environmental values this community professes to hold.

    It is a perfect example of the lengths some in this community will go to protect their little fiefdoms.

       —Laura B    Jan. 28 '07 - 10:50PM    #
  8. Those houses, even if they were historic at one time, can’t possibly meet the “uncompromised historic integrity” criteria. It’s a crappy area now and Ann Arbor has missed yet another opportunity to decrease the parking problem by allowing housing that’s walkable to a major place of employment. What a pity.

       —Anna    Jan. 29 '07 - 12:29AM    #
  9. Well, apparently the State Historic Preservation Review Board disagrees. We’ll have to see if their opinion makes sense. Has anyone else requested it?

       —David Cahill    Jan. 29 '07 - 01:21AM    #
  10. FAA asked: “Whatever happened to the idea of moving these houses?”

    Based on the minutes of the meeting, the re-location of these houses seems to have been a part of the proposal that was finally rejected at the 8 September 2005 meeting of the HDC. Details of who was to pay for the transport (developer or purchaser of the houses) were discussed at the August HDC meeting and resulted in a withdrawal and resubmission of that part of the proposal (as near as I can tell).

    The minutes of the 8 September meeting [PDF file] suggest that the project’s rejection had more to do with its size (height) than the fate of those two houses. The minutes approach, if not equal, the detail of a verbatim transcript. Having watched the CTN broadcast, it definitely captures the flavor of the meeting, with frustration showing on both sides. It’s worth a read, particularly the part recounting the confusion of some HDC commisioners about the drawings they’d been shown at a previous working session, in which they claimed the developer had fraudulently potrayed a 10-story building to be shorter than a 5-story building (a confusion fueled apparently by a failure to take into account the surrounding topography and the aerial perspective … )

    There’s even line numbers to the minutes. The action starts on line 332.

    A quote from Commissioner Bruner just before the vote: “There’s tremendous pressure being placed on us. We’ve been ‘out run’ and ‘out gunned,’ to the point where it’s almost like … we have to approve it… or be “Bad.” Like I said, back in January, I thought a lot about this and that those two little houses that were standing in the way of a very large and beneficial project. I could see them gone – moved would be nice, but, gone.”

    Bruner voted for the project. But two abstensions and four Nays killed it.

       —HD    Jan. 29 '07 - 01:55AM    #
  11. On the face of this decision, it appears to be a joke.

    Those two houses are the structures which are out of character in that immediate area now.

    Perhaps if they weren’t allowed to decay as crap rental housing i might have agreed that they need to stay.

    Maybe a 10-story building doesn’t need to placed there, but something with more density definitely does.

       —kena    Jan. 29 '07 - 03:20AM    #
  12. This project has been a mess from the beginning. The original proposal was well-received from the Old Fourth Ward and the Historic District with the stipulation that the two houses be moved. Freed said they would pay for the moving and everyone was pretty happy. Historic districts are there for a reason. Demolishing any house in a historic district just because an individual might think it is “ugly and decrepit,” or “little dilapidated shacks” is exactly why historic districts exist. If Freed had even attempted to play the game, this would have had a different outcome, but they didn’t. The only attempt they made to have the houses moved was to put a tiny ad in the paper that “inadvertently” said the new owner would have to pay for the moving costs (which was not the agreement Freed had made). Then they said they couldn’t move the houses because no one had come forward in the 30 days the ad had been up. Then the new sketch showed a much bigger building (five stories more) than had originally been approved and Freed blamed that on the parking the city required for the first-floor retail and Angelos. Basically Freed decided they didn’t have to play by any of the rules and were going to just do what they wanted on this site. The only body with any teeth was the Historic District Commission and their decision has been upheld by the State body which has very strict guidelines so obviously this was not arbitrary. There were, and are, a lot of options on this site, but Freed is developing it exactly how they would a shopping center or strip mall (their specialties) by just demolishing what is there and building something not at all in character of the neighborhood. Freed bought this property knowing full well that there were restrictions. They didn’t even make a good-faith attempt to work within them.

       —Juliew    Jan. 29 '07 - 04:43AM    #
  13. “Demolishing any house in a historic district just because an individual might think it is “ugly and decrepit,” or “little dilapidated shacks” is exactly why historic districts exist.”

    I don’t understand. Why would it be a problem to demolish these two houses?

       —Bruce Fields    Jan. 29 '07 - 05:03AM    #
  14. Because they’re in a historic district? 8-)

       —David Cahill    Jan. 29 '07 - 05:09AM    #
  15. Yeah, yeah, I get the joke:

    Q: Why do we have historic districts?
    A: To prevent demolition of houses such as these two.

    Q: Why would it be a problem to demolish these two houses?
    A: Because they’re in a historic district.

    But I was hoping someone might have an answer that didn’t beg the question….

       —Bruce Fields    Jan. 29 '07 - 05:21AM    #
  16. City Council established this historic district a long time ago. Council decided that these houses were worth protecting. When Council approved the Glen Ann Place project, it said that the project also had to be approved by the Historic District Commission. It wasn’t. What’s so hard to understand?

       —David Cahill    Jan. 29 '07 - 08:06AM    #
  17. I have a problem with “character of the neighborhood” in post 12. What character are we talking about? The worn down gas station, the tall parking structure across the street, the hospital complex looming high to the east? A ten story building would fit nicely into this neighborhood. If 200 more people were walking to and fro 4 times a day and 200 fewer cars were clogging Glenn, maybe then we could talk about character.

    The court did not rule on the merits of the decision the HDC originally made. It simply upheld the right of the A2 Historic District Commission to make the decision and to have it be binding.

    What’s hard to understand is how the HDC made such a poor decision.

       —Laura B    Jan. 29 '07 - 08:21AM    #
  18. Uh, Mr. Cahill, I thought you were just joking when you introduced that bit of circular reasoning; but now that you’ve just substituted into the bit of circular reasoning above the definition of a historic district:

    “City Council established this historic district a long time ago. Council decided that these houses were worth protecting.”

    ... it becomes more tiresome than funny.

    “What’s so hard to understand?”

    I don’t understand how our community would be made worse off by the demolition of those two particular houses. Anyone else want to attempt an explanation?

       —Bruce Fields    Jan. 29 '07 - 08:26AM    #
  19. “Demolishing any house in a historic district just because an individual might think it is “ugly and decrepit,” or “little dilapidated shacks” is exactly why historic districts exist.”


    For each and every structure in a historic district, you can probably find a person who thinks it ought be demolished. The creation of a historic district is a statement that demolition/construction/alteration has an impact on the greater community, and that the community, having an interest in changes, ought have a say in them. This say applies to all properties within the district, not just a few, as districts are generally created by drawing a line around an area and saying, “This is a historic district,” and using a selection of properties within that line to demonstrate the significance of the area.

    So these particular houses were, indeed, protected because they were in a historic district. That part of the circle holds as written.

    Council decided that these houses were worth protecting.

    Being inside a historic district doesn’t mean that a given property is essential to the district, nor that it can’t be changed, or even demolished. As Todd so boldly notes above, properties in a historic district can be demolished if they are found to not be of historic significance. The fact that it’s explicitly possible to find a property within a district to not be significant demonstrates that the circle doesn’t hold – inclusion in a district does not automatically assure significance.

    Furthermore, as Todd notes, demolition can be justified even if the property is historically significant. While David holds historic districts to be sacrosanct, completely immune to change, the structure of the district specifically allows for the possibility that a proposed development can serve community needs better than an inflexible preservation of the district.

    So, sure, the fact that these particular houses are small and kinda crappy doesn’t mean that they’re not historic, or that they are of no significance. As Dale and Juliew frequently point out, older buildings are more affordable buildings, and the crappy little historic houses tend to be the affordable houses. (I live in one in large part for this reason.) Additionally, reuse of housing stock, and therefore of building materials is environmentally desirable. Finally, historic buildings, as part of a historic neighborhood, tend to provide social benefits through a good urban design. Historic districts ain’t just about history.

    So let’s assume that these little houses were significant, even setting aside David’s fetishism for the historic qua historic, in which context I’ve not heard any compelling argument in these houses’ favor.

    Even assuming the set of social benefits that I’m granting these houses, of course, I’ve long since declared that I think the social benefits of Glen Ann Place to be greater. Considering the infill proximity to campus and medical center; position along a major thoroughfare; design features that I, a regular walker of that corridor for years, think would be a cosmic improvement; and surrounding buildings, I think that this is an excellent building for this location, and well worth building even with all of the above benefits of the status quo granted. If the existing houses can be moved, the affordability and sustainability benefits of the status quo can be maintained in addition to to the benefits of the new construction. Wins all around. Truly, a project that would be of “major improvement” or “significant benefit to the public.”

    I hope Freed decides to offer an olive branch and the HDC decides to take it, rather than pissing and moaning back and forth about whose fault this is. I’d suggest that Freed return to the original plan of moving the houses themselves (e.g. at their expense), take active steps towards finding locations for them, and make sincere-sounding noises about a misunderstanding and about being apologetic for it. In return, the HDC can acknowledge that they didn’t like being jerked around with insincere promises to move the houses, and that they are happy with a solution that allows the benefits of the new project to exist in addition to salvaging the old houses.

    Everybody wins.

    (Except the people who hide behind historic districts as an excuse to selfishly block publicly beneficial projects.)

       —Murph.    Jan. 29 '07 - 09:31AM    #
  20. “For example, AA has the largest number (or close to the largest number) of Greek Revival houses in Michigan outside of Detroit. They date from the 1840s through the 1860s.”

    Does anyone outside of AA know about them? Are they described in history books or famous autobiographies? Did they have famous residents? Are they otherwise notable?

    The Sears tower, although not old, is historic. While some houses in Ann Arbor might be old, I have yet to hear of even one that is historic by any common-sense reading of the term. So it is unsurprising that the AA HDC will make decisions that plainly contradict reality; the existence of the board itself is already absurd.

       — Concerend resident    Jan. 29 '07 - 09:39AM    #
  21. In the specific case of these houses, Ann Arbor would certainly NOT be made worse off by their demolition — the character of the neighborhood has changed and there’s little nearby that would be adversely affected. In fact, most everything nearby would be better off with GAP.

    HOWEVER, it’s pretty clear that the HDC was well within the appropriate use of its power to deny demolition because, while run down, these houses were and are still viable individually and as part of the historic district. The national, state, and local legislation has established a set of priorities and the HDC appropriately applied them in this case. People’s beef should not be with the HDC on the decision, in this case, but with the legislation.

    Freed screwed up here, as they should have worked harder to move the houses. Both Freed and members of the HDC acted like jerks in the process (I’m annoyed Freed fenced off the property and took those two units off the rental market to make the place seem even more derelict). But move the houses and it’s a whole different story. It’s clear that for a number of HDC members, the height caused their opposition; I’m sure their feeling ignored was also a factor. But the issue of demolition was the pretext or grounds that HDC had to reject GAP. Move the houses and it would be politically untenable (and senseless in terms of preservation) for HDC to stop GAP. Again, Freed was stupid or bitter and decided to withdraw their reproposal to move the houses and try to legally eviscerate the HDC. They gambled and lost and now their reputation here is suffering.

       —Dale    Jan. 29 '07 - 09:50AM    #
  22. Ah Murph, you beat me to it, though we disagree about what it takes to justify demolition.

    Concerned citizen, there are 15 structures in Ann Arbor documented in the Library of Congress’ collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey. 14 are available online. (The 15th is the DKE Shant, which is not online yet.) In addition, there is a Frank Lloyd Wright house over by the Arboretum (can anyone claim that such a house is not historic?). Leaving aside the idea of historic districts, I don’t think a building has to be a world’s tallest or a nation’s oldest to have historic significance — state, regional, and local identity and history are important, as well.

       —Dale    Jan. 29 '07 - 10:09AM    #
  23. “As Dale and Juliew frequently point out, older buildings are more affordable buildings, and the crappy little historic houses tend to be the affordable houses.”

    I can believe that it provides affordable housing for the few people that live there.

    But is there good evidence that regulations to preserve older housing really help make the city-wide housing market more affordable? Just offhand, it seems like an extremely roundabout way of ensuring affordability—I would’ve expected that over time the little housing they provide would be outweighed by the affects of restricting the supply of new housing.

       —Bruce Fields    Jan. 29 '07 - 10:24AM    #
  24. I didn’t realize there was a Frank Lloyd Wright house in AA; that certainly qualifies as historic. “Local identity and history” are too often codewords for pro-status-quo, anti-development, or xenophobic NIMBY residents.

    I agree with Dale that the state historic district legislation is the real problem here, more than the local board. But the fact that so many other local residents support these historic districts is also a shame.

       — Concerned resident    Jan. 29 '07 - 08:39PM    #
  25. I understand why historical districts exist, but I guess I just don’t see the larger community’s commitment to its historical heritage in the way that many other communities seem to.

    I’ve been on a couple of walking tours in AA, but largely I never seem to hear much of anything about many buildings’ historical significance until somebody wants to make some developmental changes to those buildings or in the immediate area.

    I might be more inclined to agree with the historical or architectural value of more AA structures if the community did a better job of documenting and communicating their significance on a more widespread basis.

    I travel virtually every weekend to Detroit to go on a historical or architectural tour of some building. Yes, I know that Detroit has a much larger population, but it also has a diminished set of resources in many ways in comparison to AA. Yet somehow they pull this stuff off. Why can’t we do that here? We could tour the entire downtown area in the span of a few years!

    I guess that I grow frustrated because it seems like local historical value seems to be present in this town mainly when there’s an evil developer to be stopped.

       —kena    Jan. 30 '07 - 12:29AM    #
  26. Aren’t those two houses split into apartments? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but if they are, how can they possibly meet the “alterations” part of the criteria? Yes they made it through the state commission, but like Bruce, I’m interested in something a little less circular. Do they retain original features, or have some interesting past? Is any of the paperwork about those houses online? Why is that block included in the historic district, anyway?

       —Anna    Jan. 30 '07 - 04:06AM    #
  27. Kena, you have a good point, that the historical significance of Ann Arbor architecture is often not communicated well to people. There are some really neat historic projects that have been done over the years and a lot of people are invested in the history of Ann Arbor but it seems others don’t know about these projects. For the most part (except for the museums noted below), we use our historic buildings as they were meant to be used: housing, offices, churches, theaters, stores, and we don’t always think about their significance until they are threatened.

    So here are some examples:

    The Making of Ann Arbor project is a fabulous on-line resource for historic Ann Arbor which includes text and photos from The Pictorial History of Ann Arbor 1824-1974 (edited by J. Fraser Cocks, III), Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan by Susan Wineberg and Marjorie Reade, postcards from 1890 to the present, and really nifty historical maps of the city. The Downtown Historical Street Exhibit has a good web site that explains the many exhibits downtown. The Huron Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has a guide to Ann Arbor Architecture whose entries “were chosen based on their architectural, historical and/or cultural significance, and the guide is intended to highlight just a small cross-section of the many beautiful and significant works of architecture in our community.”

    The University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library is great resource for historical documents of Ann Arbor. The University has a Committee on History and Tradition which includes a walking tour of campus architecture, including the fully restored Detroit Observatory.

    Another Ann Arbor has histories of the African American population in Ann Arbor which are very tied to many of the historic buildings, including, but certainly not limited to the Kerrytown area.

    The Michigan Theatre is an example of an historic structure that was threatened and Ann Arbor residents literally bought it back. In 2006, it won the Outstanding Historic Theatre Award from The League of Historic American Theatres.

    The Kempf House shows what life would be like in Ann Arbor during the 1800s, while Cobblestone Farm shows rural life in Ann Arbor during that time. The Museum on Main has a regular program of historical events related to Ann Arbor.

    And of course, there is the Old West Side Homes Tour, which has been held yearly since 1973.

       —Juliew    Jan. 30 '07 - 09:50AM    #
  28. “I understand why historical districts exist, but I guess I just don’t see the larger community’s commitment to its historical heritage in the way that many other communities seem to.”

    Which communities would those be? I would say that historic preservation and appreciation for local history is the exception in Michigan, not the rule as you seem to imply. There are some communities that have very nice historic districts – Marshall, Manistee and Northville are three that come to mind. But often these are less the result of a concerted community effort and more the benefit of local economic conditions (lack of growth tends to keep old buildings around) or the efforts of individual residents and businesses.

       —John Q.    Jan. 30 '07 - 10:01AM    #
  29. Most of the other central cities in Michigan demolished their 19th century downtown areas during the urban renewal craze in the 1960s. In most cases, the promises of better new development made during that era never came to pass.

    The one I’m most familiar with is Lansing, where the north half of downtown (including many architecturally significant buildings) was razed and remained vacant land for ten years. Eventually, it became a kind of office park. Retailing is completely dead there.

    In the 1960s, Ann Arbor’s opening proposal for urban renewal was to level what is now the Kerrytown area. That idea (and any further urban renewal) was stopped by local opposition.

    That turned out to be wise. Now, Ann Arbor is the envy of other Midwest cities. Kerrytown itself is a thriving neighborhood, as are businesses in attractive 19th century buildings along Main Street. Historic preservation created these opportunities and is partly responsible for Ann Arbor’s success.

    Yes, there are other reasons, like the presence of the university. But the other cities with destroyed downtowns have assets, too. Lansing has state government with thousands of employees working downtown; Pontiac is the county seat of one of the nation’s most affluent counties, as is White Plains, NY. None of these cities has a viable central business district, specifically because urban renewal destroyed the old buildings that made them human-scaled and attractive. Instead of a traditional downtown, they each have something resembling an office park.

    The two houses on Glen Ave were not individually designated. They were included in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District when it was set up many years ago. The legal basis for historic districts encompassing entire neighborhoods is considered much stronger than designation of individual outstanding buildings, because historic district designation (like zoning and deed covenants) involve reciprocal benefit and burden. Coincidentally, perhaps, it’s better planning policy to designate neighborhoods than isolated structures as historic. The decision as to what properties or neighborhoods merit historic designation is made at the local level, the same as for zoning.

    Here, a strong case could be made for removing the two now-isolated houses from the historic district and/or moving the houses to infill sites within the district or elsewhere. I sure hope the developers are listening to Murph’s suggestions above.

    On the one hand, I’m glad to see the city’s historic district authority upheld by this decision; on the other hand, I wish it was the Anberay they were protecting instead of this site.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jan. 30 '07 - 12:00PM    #
  30. Historic homes in Ann Arbor?
    There are a number of Sears, Montgomery Wards and Alladin kit homes built in the 20s that I certainly consider noteworthy and historic, and they have been featured in publications and articles regarding that style of building. A number of them are also in the Old West Side, including my Montgomery Wards kit home built 1926. It doesn’t compare to a Frank Lloyd Wright home, but these affordable, well designed, and well built homes did impact homebuilding and design in Ann Arbor’s earlier history.

       —Linda Diane Feldt    Jan. 30 '07 - 08:21PM    #
  31. I just got the full opinion from the State Historic Preservation Review Board. It is 75 pages long – so long that it is in two .pdf files!

    I’ll post some excerpts here soon, and send the .pdf files to Juliew for the creation of a link to them from here.

    From a brief skim, it seems that the Board was really upset at the developer.

       —David Cahill    Feb. 1 '07 - 04:52AM    #
  32. Reading Ann Arbor Business Review from Jan 11-17, I just caught a fun tidbit – the rental house at the NE corner of Glen and Ann is going to be razed. By the University. For a parking lot. They bought it for $475k.

    Let’s hope Freed decides to return to the table and play nice with Glen Ann Place rather than selling it to the ever expanding Med Center Parking Empire. (Think of Glen Ann Place as a moat against the U – a barrier made of property too expensive for the U to buy up and raze for parking…)

       —Murph    Feb. 3 '07 - 03:07AM    #
  33. I have sent the .pdf files of the Board’s opinion to Juliew. Hopefully she will provide links to them.

    The first part of the opinion is an extensive statement of the facts and proceedings. After that, the Board proceeds to reject all of Freed’s arguments that the City has no authority to regulate new construction in a historic district. Then, the Board turns down the rest of Freed’s claims. Here are some excerpts, with footnotes omitted.

    The record on appeal shows that the Commission grappled at some
    length with the “major improvement program-substantial community benefit” issue. In
    general, the commissioners acknowledged that the project would afford some benefit to
    the community at large. However, various commissioners questioned whether the Glen
    Ann Place project had the necessary substantiality of public benefit to the city. For
    example, Commission Wineberg observed that it was not as if a public library or some
    governmental building, project, or program were going up on the site. She also
    noted that the Commission had previously approved demolition necessitated by a
    quasi-public use, the new YMCA, which the Commission perceived as benefiting the
    community at large. By way of contrast, Glen Ann Place is a profit-making business
    venture driven by economic considerations.

    None of the project’s purported benefits rises to the level of meeting the major
    community benefit standard found in the [state law] or the local ordinance. Furnishing
    pedestrian- and bike-friendly businesses and apartments for a sector of the University
    community is, by definition, not a community-wide benefit. While “improving” the
    aesthetic quality of the streetscape arguably is an “improvement,” it is limited to a single
    block and at the same time is destructive and detrimental to the historic appearance of
    the streetscape. Further, cleaning up a contaminated gas station and paying property
    taxes are duties of property owners; therefore, such actions do not constitute public
    benefits in the sense contemplated in law. Finally, much was made by Petitioners
    about the public benefit of the pro-offered affordable housing “contribution.” It must be
    observed, however, that Petitioners’ so-called donation is unrelated to the physical ten-
    story building, except that, in general, the larger the residential portion of a PUD
    building, the larger the payment the city requires in lieu of constructing affordable
    housing on the site. To that extent, the contribution is not voluntary at all but rather is
    an alternative form of a duty. As observed by Commissioner Hildebrandt, if
    Petitioners’ benefit argument were accepted, private developers would be able to
    finance the destruction of historic districts simply by proposing to erect very large
    buildings in districts, accompanied by related “contributions.” In other words,
    developers could henceforth buy their way around historic preservation laws. This
    would be an absurd result! Statutes and ordinances must be interpreted to avoid
    absurd results inconsistent with the purposes and policies of law. (pp 59-61)

    * * * * *

    The official record contains considerable evidence proving that the two homes constitute
    historic resources of value. Three commissioners personally inspected the homes and
    made individual reports concerning their physical home tour. All three found that the
    houses possess a high degree of historic integrity. Commissioner Henrichs reported
    that both homes were livable and fixable, noting that the wood siding on the two houses
    was original, that the interior wood trim in one house was original, and that the trim in
    the other house had its original shellac finishes. Commissioner Wineberg offered
    corroboration of those observations, adding that it struck her how much of the material
    present in the two homes was indeed original; she particularly reported that the
    windows and porches were all original, and she ended her statement by expressing
    surprise about the relatively good condition of both homes, given their age of 100 years
    plus. Commissioner Derr offered a similar report, noting that the homes’ foundations
    seemed quite secure and that all repair work was do-able.
    Petitioners also assert that the homes lack value because the theme of the
    District is the preservation of the earliest and grandest Ann Arbor residential
    neighborhood. Petitioners add that the architectural style of the two houses, which is
    Homestead, is not the style of any of the significant houses in the District. Petitioners
    also emphasize that the two houses are modest homes associated with a different era
    than the prominent houses located in the District’s heart.

    We reject these arguments as bases for reversal. Only a third of the houses in
    the District are mansion-like structures. The bulk of the District’s historic homes, like the
    Glen Avenue houses, are structures complementary to the District. As the study report
    observed, complementary historic structures contribute to the District and, while less
    unique than other buildings, taken together they establish the District’s basic
    characteristics of style, scale, and mass. The study further noted that with appropriate
    repair and restoration, a complementary historic structure could qualify for designation
    at the higher level of significance.

    Moreover, the fact that a resource is modest makes it no less important to
    defining the overall historic character of the District than one of its more ornate
    neighbors. Materials describing the federal historic preservation scheme make clear
    that regardless of whether a building is complicated or relatively plain, its character and
    characteristics may well contribute to a better understanding of a valuable historic
    resource. (pp 68-69)

    * * * * *

    The houses in
    question sit on and demarcate a historic district boundary. They are the only remnants
    of the early houses in the area. As such, they represent the last physical record of a
    chapter in the city’s past in the neighborhood. Consequently, it is more important that
    such homes be preserved, and be preserved in place if possible, than other homes
    which do not stand in an “anchor” location. The lack of a direct linkage to other similar
    historic properties is regrettable, but the absence of nearby structures does not
    mandate demolition. (p 70)

    * * * * *

    Petitioners advance the conclusion that the benefits of their development to the
    majority of the community outweigh the community benefit in resource retention. We
    reject this conclusion. Clearly, the Petitioners’ development will benefit the Petitioners,
    who repeatedly stressed to the Commission that the financials of their ten-story building
    would generate significant (although unspecified) profits for them. However, convincing
    evidence of city-wide or community-wide benefit is missing. The “benefits” of the new
    buildings are directed primarily at the nearby University of Michigan Medical Campus
    and Research Center, where professors, students, and other staff may have a need for
    townhouse apartments and retail services, such as a sandwich shop and a dry cleaners.
    This segment of the community represents only a small fraction of the residents of the
    City of Ann Arbor. Only this small portion of the wider community would benefit from
    razing the two complimentary houses. Conversely, the majority of the citizens of Ann
    Arbor would be harmed by the demolition, in that two irreplaceable historic resources
    with a great degree of historic integrity would be lost forever. On the other hand, the
    majority would not be harmed if the houses continued on site.

    In summary, we find no fault with the Commission’s failure to determine retaining
    the resource was not in the best interest of the majority of the community. (pp 70-71)

    * * * * *

    Federal, state and local historic preservation laws are intended to promote the
    protection and preservation of historic resources. The homes at 213 and 215 Glen
    Avenue in Ann Arbor are both over 100 years old, possess a substantial amount of
    original historic material, are situated within a duly established local historic district, and
    contribute to and complement the historic character of that historic district.
    We commend the Commission for its decision and conclude that the denial was
    consistent with the goals of historic preservation and in keeping with the public interest. (pp 74-75)

       —David Cahill    Feb. 3 '07 - 09:11PM    #
  34. Also, this area is already really built up with the University’s medical and research buildings. The houses just look out of place next to the huge university buildings. Don’t be afraid to build UP, Ann Arbor. How do you think sprawl is propagated? Ann Arbor has to stop wanting to hold on to its “small town charm” and embrace the city that it is becoming. If it doesn’t keep up with the times its only contributing to the stagnation of Michigan’s economy and culture.

       —Geoffrey George    Feb. 5 '07 - 11:00AM    #
  35. I have added the text of the Glen-Ann decision (in two .pdf files) to the main post above. It really is interesting reading. The State Historic Preservation Board skewered Freed on every one of their assertions. They commented that the proposed building had more in common with the medical center across the street than it did with the historic district in which they were building. They said that because these two houses were the only ones left on that street, it was particularly important to save them. They took Freed to task on their “public benefit” assertions and especially the donation to the affordable housing fund (they pointed out the development itself included no on-site affordable housing), commenting: if Petitioners’ benefit argument were accepted, private developers would be able to finance the destruction of historic districts simply by proposing to erect very large buildings in districts, accompanied by related “contributions.” In other words, developers could henceforth buy their way around historic preservation laws.

       —Juliew    Feb. 11 '07 - 03:40AM    #
  36. Thanks, Juliew!

       —David Cahill    Feb. 11 '07 - 05:59AM    #
  37. Density is going to happen. It needs to happen. I think all these arguments are valid, but are overlooking the obvious. Does it always have to be an “either-or” decision? Why don’t we as a community (developers and preservationists alike), publicly claim that we value our history, then demand that developers incorporate existing structures? We don’t have to tear down or relocate when we can incorporate, but we don’t demand the creativity of design and cooperation between special interest groups that is needed to attain this goal. It is time everyone looks at the big picture and realize that with cooperation and hard work, we can have the best of both worlds.

    As far as post 11 goes…
    “Perhaps if they weren’t allowed to decay as crap rental housing i might have agreed that they need to stay.”
    what are you doing to see that structures aren’t allowed to decay? Get moving. Demolition by neglect is a big problem and a self fulfilling prophesy, tell me how you would make an owner take care of his personal property without being big brother?

       —meredith    Feb. 16 '07 - 08:38PM    #
  38. Thanks for your insight Meredith.
    As the poster from number #11, what do you propose i should do as an individual?

    I’m not a property owner. I don’t own the properties in question.
    Should i go and maintain the properties for these people using my own resources?

    My solution is to tighten up the regulations and codes and then go out and actually enforce them.

    Apparently i can’t use regulations to enforce proper maintainance of these facilities because that’s too “big brother”.

    What are my other options? I do talk to my local officials about this type of thing, and many of them take your position. I’m not going to run for public office anytime soon, so what are we supposed to do?

    I as an individual can’t force a neighbor to maintain his property and apparently “big brother” shouldn’t either. Where does that leave us?

       —kena    Feb. 16 '07 - 10:49PM    #
  39. Meredith, it is really difficult to incorporate an existing structure into a new, much larger structure without destroying the historic value of the existing structure. Developers like Freed want to build huge buildings (for bigger profits). They are not interested in incorporation.

       —David Cahill    Feb. 17 '07 - 01:32AM    #
  40. “The two rundown old houses and gas station that would be displaced by the new building are ugly and decrepit…Together with the gas station, they are an eyesore.” -Laura B

    While that may be true, it’s probably intentional. If the HDC said “they’re eyesore, so we’ll waive the historic designation,” then developers would just need to let houses become rundown eyesores to raze them. I think the HDC is careful to avoid rewarding non-maintenance, but developers can still gain some public sympathy by making properties uglier. It seems to have made an impression on you, based on your comments.

       —A    Feb. 17 '07 - 02:55AM    #
  41. A – I’d say the gas station and houses aren’t in much different shape than they were five years ago, before Freed was in the picture. I don’t think it’s intentional. I think it is.

       —Murph.    Feb. 17 '07 - 04:40AM    #
  42. Murph, I have to disagree. The houses had people living in them prior to Freed and they were being updated enough to get occupancy permits. Now the houses are sitting empty. Houses deteriorate quickly when they sit empty.

       —Juliew    Feb. 17 '07 - 06:53AM    #
  43. Also, the HDC can order repairs so that structures do not suffer what is called “demolition by neglect.”

       —David Cahill    Feb. 17 '07 - 07:20PM    #
  44. On #39: Their big building would have housed hundreds of people right across from the most concentrated employment center in the city. All sorts of community benefits are going by the wayside without it. It would have paid a couple hundred thousand in taxes every year to the local governments, city, library, AATA, etc. and as I recall it would have paid over a million into the affordable housing trust fund. Plus there would have been the synergy of all those people living where they work and study, reduced traffic and pollution, etc.

    Instead we have old houses that never had any historical significance, right across from new UM developments. Makes no sense. What a shame the anti-growth people were able to stop this.

       —LauraB    Feb. 17 '07 - 07:24PM    #
  45. I have to agree with LauraB on this. I drove by the site last night. Those houses are totally out of place, and really aren’t that historic to begin with. There are houses like that all over town. I think the Ann Arbor Rock Band school is located in house like that.

    Having lots of people live near where they work makes a lot of sense.

       —JennyD    Feb. 18 '07 - 03:11AM    #
  46. The State Board said these houses are the eastern anchors of the historic district. So I guess how you feel depends literally on how you look at the area.

       —David Cahill    Feb. 18 '07 - 08:16PM    #
  47. what is the process for changing the borders of a historic district?

       —peter honeyman    Feb. 19 '07 - 05:36AM    #
  48. If we start changing historic district boundaries, let’s make it a package deal. Two Glen Avenue houses out, Anberay in.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Feb. 19 '07 - 07:13AM    #
  49. Done.

       —Dale    Feb. 19 '07 - 10:35AM    #
  50. Maybe Ann Arbor can set up a Transfer of Development Rights program that involves historic landmarks rather than farmland and open space?

       —Murph.    Feb. 19 '07 - 05:48PM    #
  51. Changing the boundaries of a historic district requires the formation by Council to study the change. The committee’s report is run by the state for comment, then Council makes a decision one way or another.

    This description makes the process sound simpler than it is in reality. Typically the process takes years to complete, if at all.

       —David Cahill    Feb. 20 '07 - 12:56AM    #